Defining the use of styled text


Headings identify the content, context, and sections within any given written piece.

General usage

All headings must be both descriptive and concise. If there is only one main idea, use only the first level heading.

Do not add blank lines above or below headings. Ensure that the text that follows a heading is on the same page or column as the heading (in other words, do not allow a page break or column break to separate the heading from the following text).

In general, there should be at least 100 words below a specified level. If you find that you don’t have that much information, instead use a bold font (described below) in place of the level heading.


Use a maximum of five levels of headings.

  1. The highest, and main level is to be used to designate chapters of books, the main topic of a research paper, or the main heading of a web page. If only one topic is being presented, use the level heading once. Never begin a work with the heading “Introduction” as that heading is superfluous.

  2. If the content presents several topics, themes, subsections, or main points of consideration, use level two when denoting those. If only one topic, theme, or main point is being presented, do not use a level two heading.

  3. -6. These levels represent supporting points to be made. Each incremented level is used as a supporting header for the level above it.

Formatting of levels

In general, formatting should visually represent subservience of lower level headings to those above them.

Formatting (bold, underline, italic)

In general, bold and italic formatting should be included within the style guide for headings, link formats, and other named items within a CSS style guide.


Because most text can be written to leverage hyperlinks, only use underline formatting to denote hyperlinked text. And only underline the text to be used as the display text for the link. Example:

Click HERE for the style guide.


Bold should be used very sparingly as a strong emphasis for an idea, such as when you want to use bold text as a substitute for a heading level.

Bold text should also be used in a serial list when the list presents an idea, term, etc. followed by the definition or explanation of that text. Example:

Chicago Style – tells you to ignore using bold unless absolutely necessary.

APA Style – doesn’t cover bold at all.

Always bold the header row of tables, as shown below.

This is a header

And so is this

This is not a header, it is content.

And content should not be bolded in a table.

Otherwise, use italic (see below).

Never use bold formatting in any form of punctuation after a bolded term.


There are two reasons to use italic formatting: as a stylized reference and for emphasis. And just like refraining from bolding punctuation, never use italic formatting for any form of punctuation after an italicized term.

Italics as stylized references

Here are the cases and examples of when to use italics in references.



First use of key terms or phrases, often accompanied by a definition

Compliance as Code gives us the schemas, APIs, tools, and methodologies to simultaneously read, interpret, and output compliance requirements in human and machine-readable formats.

Titles of books, reports, webpages, and other stand-alone works

GRCschema Style Guide: A writing guide for standardization, clarity, precision, and inclusion

Titles of periodicals and periodical volume numbers (but not the comma between them)

Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, v1.1, § ID.BE.

English letters used as statistical symbols or algebraic variables

M, SD, t, Cohen’s d

Anchors of a scale (but not the associated number)

ranged from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) a Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree)

First use of words, phrases, or abbreviations from another language when readers may not be familiar with them; however, if the term appears in a dictionary for the language in which you are writing, do not italicize it

Their favorite term of endearment was mon petit chou.

Italics for emphasis

While it is always better to write for emphasis (important words being placed at the beginning or ending of a sentence instead of the middle, breaking long sentences into several shorter ones), use italics as we just did – to ensure that a point being made is visually discrete.

When adding emphasis to quoted text, always add “[emphasis added]” after the italicized text in the quote. Example:

With the Trump presidency, H.L. Mencken's 1920 prediction that one day the White House “will be adorned by a downright moron [emphasis added] has now come true.