Using boldface for formatting

by | Nov 7, 2023 | Copyediting Style

Three common types of formatting followed in the publishing industry are italics, boldface, and underlines. In a previous post, we discussed the role of italics in formatting text. In this post, let’s discuss some occurrences where boldface is used.


As you know, a manuscript can have several prominent headings (first-level headings), under which several subheadings are presented. Usually, first-level headings are differentiated from the next-level ones by means of formatting, such as using a larger font size and boldface.

Some frequently occurring first-level headings in scientific writing are abstract, introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion, and references.

Items that contain both phrases and sentences

When bulleted items contain headings, the word or phrase at the beginning of the bullet is usually set in boldface. A common example is glossary.


goal: the end state towards which a human or nonhuman animal is striving. It can be identified by observing that an organism ceases or changes its behaviour upon attaining this state.

Components of a table or figure

The table number or figure number (e.g. Table 2.1) that appears above a table or figure is usually set in boldface. Furthermore, some publications prefer to use boldface for column headings in tables.

Boldface can also be used to add emphasis to values or pieces of text in tables. Such usages should be defined in table footnotes. However, make sure that the requirements of the publishers are adhered to.


Table 2.1 Statistical analysis of variables representing the heterogeneity of the sample

Chemical compounds

In manuscripts that deal with chemical compounds, instead of repeating the names or formulas of such compounds, boldface numerals can be assigned to each compound. These numeric identifiers are common in text; chapter or article titles seldom have these identifiers (understandably because the compound will only be defined later in the text).


This study discusses the syntheses, structures, and properties of hexacoordinate silicon complexes 1–4.

Vectors and matrices

Boldface is used to denote vectors and matrices, as well as multidimensional physical quantities such as H (which denotes magnetic field strength).


The transpose of the sum of matrixes A and B is the sum of the transposes of A and B.

Greek letters

While using Greek letters to denote variables, constants, or vectors, either boldface or lightface may be used, but the usage should be consistent throughout the manuscript.


Cronbach’s α is a reliability coefficient and a measure of the internal consistency of tests and measures.

ChemSet notation

In cases where a structure number is followed by the reagent sets associated with it, the former is set in boldface, and the latter in italics within curly brackets.



An important note

The information presented above is based on general conventions collated from different style guides, which may or may not apply to all publishers. Hence, before applying these conventions to a manuscript, understand the publisher’s requirements and make sure that implementing these conventions do not violate publisher requirements.

And a trivia: During the era of hardcopy editing (that is, editing on paper using a pen), a wavy line is drawn below a word or phrase to indicate that this part needs to be set in boldface. Additionally, the copyeditor may include a marginal mark, by writing “bf” and encircle it. To remove the boldface, the wavy line is crossed out and a marginal marking is made by writing “roman” and encircling it.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Similar posts you may like . . .

Punctuation differences between American and British English

Punctuation differences between American and British English

What strikes you first when you hear the phrase “UK/US variants”? For most of us, it would be spelling variants. Have you ever come across UK/US variations with respect to punctuation? In our recent blog post, the author discusses some of the most common punctuation-level variations between UK and US English, drawing upon the CMoS and the APA style guide.

Working with editorial preferences (pet peeves)

Working with editorial preferences (pet peeves)

Our latest blog post attempts to clarify some common confusions that a copyeditor may encounter while applying a few stylesheet requirements. We use the term “peeves” to refer to these requirements as a copyeditor may face editorial dilemmas in adhering to such requirements. Please read the blog post for further details and do let us know your thoughts.