Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Text formatting

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is the part of Wikipedia's Manual of Style which covers when to format text in articles, such as which text should use boldface or italic type.


Boldface (text like this) is common in Wikipedia articles, but only for certain usages. To create it, surround the text to be boldfaced with triple apostrophes: '''...'''.[1]

Article title terms

The most common use of boldface is to highlight the first occurrence of the title word/phrase of the article (and usually its synonyms) in the lead section. This is also done, at the first occurrence in running text, of a term that redirects to the article or one of its sub-sections, whether the term appears in the lead or not. These applications of boldface are done in the majority of articles, but are not a requirement. It will not be helpful in a case where a large number of terms redirect to a single article, e.g. a plant species with dozens of vernacular names.

Automatically applied boldface

In the following cases, boldface is applied automatically, either by MediaWiki software or by the browser:

  • Subsection headings of level 3 and below (===Sub-heading===, ====Sub-sub-heading====, etc., markup). There are 5 heading levels total in articles.[2]
  • The term in description (a/k/a definition or glossary) lists (example: Glossary of the American trucking industry)
  • Table headers and captions (but not image captions)

Manually added boldface markup in such cases would be redundant and is to be avoided.

Other uses

Use boldface in the remainder of the article only in a few special cases:

Citation templates, such as Template:citation, automatically supply all formatting (such as italic, boldface, and quotation marks). Therefore, applying manual formatting inside a citation template will cause undesired results.

When not to use boldface

Avoid using boldface for emphasis in article text. Instead, use HTML's <em>...</em> element (which usually renders as italic); this can also be rendered with the {{em|...}} template. Italic wikimarkup (''...'', or <i>...</i>) is often also used for this purpose, but is not semantically correct, and may be replaced (it is for non-emphasis italics, such as that used for book titles and foreign-language phrases, as detailed below).

It is technically possible to put non-Latin alphabets such as Greek or Cyrillic in boldface, but this should be avoided.

HTML's <strong>...</strong> emphasis (which usually renders as boldface) is generally not appropriate in article text, though it is common in project pages, template documentation, talk page discussions and other non-article contexts. It can also be rendered with the {{strong|...}} template.

Italic type

Italic type (text like this) is produced with double apostrophes around the content to be italicized: ''...''.[1] Italics, along with semantic emphasis (usually rendered as italics), are used for various specific purposes in Wikipedia, outlined below.


The use of italics for emphasis on Wikipedia should follow good English print style. The most accessible way to indicate emphasis is with the HTML <em>...</em> element or by enclosing the emphasized text within an {{em|...}} template. Emphasis may be used to draw attention to an important word or phrase within a sentence, when the point or thrust of the sentence may otherwise not be apparent to readers, or to stress a contrast:

Gellner accepts that knowledge must be knowledge of something.

It may be preferable to avoid the need for emphasis by rewriting a sentence more explicitly. Use of emphasis more than once in a sentence is rarely helpful to readers, unless the emphasized terms are being directly compared.

Other, non-emphasis, uses of italics on Wikipedia should use ''...'' markup, not <em> or {{em}} markup.[3]

Names and titles

Italics should be used for the following types of names and titles, or abbreviations thereof:

  • Major works of art and artifice, such as albums, books, video games, films, musicals, operas, symphonies, paintings, sculptures, newspapers, journals, magazines, epic poems, plays, television programs, radio shows. Medium of publication or presentation is not a factor; a video feature only released on video tape, disc or the Internet is considered a "film" for these purposes, and so on. (See WP:Manual of Style/Titles § Italics for details.)
Minor works (and any specifically-titled subdivisions of italicized major works) are given in double quotation marks. (See § When not to use italics, below, for details.)
These cases are well-established conventions recognized in most style guides. Do not apply italics to other categories or instances because you feel they are creative or artful (e.g. game or sport moves, logical arguments, "artisanal" products, schools of practice or thought, etc.).
  • Certain scientific names:
    • Genes (but not proteins encoded by genes).
    • Genera (and abbreviation thereof) and all lower taxa (including species and subspecies), but not higher taxa (e.g. family, order, etc.). The entire scientific name should be italicized, except where an interpolation is included in or appended to the name. (See § Scientific names, below, for details.)
  • Named, specific vessels: proper names given to:
    • Ships, with ship prefixes, classification symbols, pennant numbers, and types in normal font: USS Baltimore (CA-68). However, italicize ship names when they appear in the names of classes of ships (the Baltimore-class cruisers). (See Wikipedia:Naming conventions (ships) for more detail on ship and ship class titles.)
    • Aircraft: the Spirit of St. Louis
    • Spacecraft (often fictional): the Space Shuttle Challenger, USS Enterprise NCC-1701, Constitution-class starships (but distinguish the craft from the mission: The Eagle was the Apollo 11 lunar lander).
    • Trains and locomotives: the City of New Orleans (train)
The vessels convention does not apply to smaller conveyances such as cars, trucks, and buses. Also, most real-world spacecraft at this time are not given proper names, thus Apollo 11, Saturn V, Falcon 9, etc. are not appropriate, being mission names.

Use piped linking to properly italicize in wikilinks: "USS Baltimore (CA-68), the lead ship of the Baltimore-class cruisers", is produced by [[USS Baltimore (CA-68)|USS ''Baltimore'' (CA-68)]], the lead ship of the [[Baltimore-class cruiser|''Baltimore''-class cruisers]]

Words as words

Use italics when writing about words as words, or letters as letters (to indicate the use–mention distinction). Examples:

  • Deuce means "two".
  • The term panning is derived from panorama, which was coined in 1787.
  • The most common letter in English is e.

When italics could cause confusion, quotation marks instead may be used to distinguish words as words. Use one style or the other in a given context; do not apply both styles at once to the same terms, or switch back and forth between the styles in the same material.

A technical term being introduced is often being mentioned as a word rather than (or in addition to) playing its normal grammatical role; if so, it should be italicized or quoted. The first occurrence of a technical term may be both italicized (or quoted) and linked if the term also has its own article (or section) corresponding exactly to the meaning when used in the present article.

Italics may also be used where <dfn> tags or {{dfn}} templates mark a term's first use, definition, introduction, or distinguished meaning on the page. Note that <dfn> tags and {{dfn}} templates do not apply text formatting, so the italicization (or quoting) must be added if intended. For instance, in the Consciousness article:

Access consciousness is the phenomenon whereby information in our minds is accessible for verbal report and reasoning.
''<dfn>Access consciousness</dfn>'' is...

If, however, a term is strictly synonymous with the subject of the article (i.e. the likely target of a redirect), then boldface should be used in place of italics or quotation marks at such a first occurrence.


Foreign terms

Wikipedia prefers italics for phrases in other languages and for isolated foreign words that do not yet have everyday use in non-specialized English. Use the native spellings if they use the Latin alphabet (with or without diacritics)—otherwise Anglicize their spelling. For example: Gustav I of Sweden liked to breakfast on crisp bread (knäckebröd) open sandwiches with toppings such as messmör (butter made from goat's milk), ham, and vegetables. Use foreign words sparingly; for more information, see Wikipedia:Writing better articles § Use other languages sparingly. However, Loanwords or phrases that have common use in English, such as praetor, Gestapo, samurai, esprit de corps, e.g., i.e., do not require italicization. Likewise, musical movement titles, tempo markings, or terms like minuet and trio, are in normal upright font. If looking for a good rule of thumb, do not italicize words that appear in Merriam-Webster Online.

If there is a reason to include a term in a non-Latin script, it can be placed in parentheses. Text in non-Latin scripts (such as Greek, Cyrillic or Chinese) should neither be italicized as non-English nor bolded, even where this is technically feasible; the difference of script suffices to distinguish it on the page. However, titles of major works that should be italicized are italicized in Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, and Hebrew scripts (but not in Chinese,[4] Japanese,[5] or Korean).[6]

A proper name is usually not italicized when it is used, but it may be italicized when the name itself is being referred to. (See § Words as words, above.)

For better accessibility, Latin quotations should not be set in all caps or small caps. When reproduced for their content, inscriptions that were originally all caps should be transcribed according to standard rules of English capitalization. Please note, however, that simply undoing caps may result in incorrect orthography; for example, capital V may represent either the consonant v or the vowel u. Editors should be cautious about making their own interpretations when transcribing epigraphic and numismatic sources. Particularly on coins, a character that appears to be a letter may instead be a Roman numeral, a denomination, or a symbol. For articles that reproduce examples of epigraphy or coin legends, editors should consult the orthography of expert secondary sources (see also diplomatic transcription).

Scientific names

Scientific names of organisms are formatted according to normal taxonomic nomenclature.

  • Do not italicize (but do capitalize) taxa higher than genus.
  • Italicize all lower ranks (taxa): genus (capitalized), subgenus (capitalized), species, subspecies.
    • Names of genera are always italicized (and capitalized), even when not paired with a species name: Allosaurus, Falco, Anas.
    • The entire binomial or trinomial scientific name is italicized, whether given in full or abbreviated: (Liriodendron tulipifera, N. v. piaropicola).
  • Interpolations such as "cf.", "×", "var.", or "subsp." are not italicized: Ninox cf. novaeseelandiae, the chaussie is a hybrid cat (Felis catus × F. chaus).
  • Parenthetic expressions should not be italicized unless part of the scientific name, as in the case of a subgenus, which is always italicized, though the parentheses (round brackets) are not: Potentilla (Sibbaldiopsis) tridentata.
  • Do not italicize author names juxtaposed with scientific names: Subgenus Potentilla Syme and subgenus Hypargyrium (Fourr.) Juz. have been combined under subgenus Potentilla Syme.

Derived uses in non-biological contexts are not italicized: The largest carnivore in family Tyrannosauridae was T. rex itself, but Unicorn was an album by the band T. Rex.

Although often derived from Latin or Ancient Greek, scientific names are never marked up with {{lang}} or related templates.


It is normally incorrect to put quotations in italics. They should only be used if the material would otherwise call for italics, such as for emphasis or to indicate use of non-English words. Quotation marks alone are sufficient and the correct way to denote quotations. Indicate whether italics were used in the original text or whether they were added later. For example:

"Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince: And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!" (emphasis added)


Program variables

Variables in computer programs and symbols for program variables within plain-English prose and in computer source code presented as textual content can be marked up with the <var> element, or its wikimarkup equivalent, the {{var}} template:

  • ...where <var>x</var> is incremented on each pass......where x is incremented on each pass...
  • |id={{var|ISBN or other identifier}}|id=ISBN or other identifier

This provides richer semantic markup over simple italicization (or no formatting at all), that can aid in searching, accessibility, and disambiguation between variables and literal values.

Mathematics variables

Symbols for mathematics variables, either used within mathematical formulas or used in isolation, are simply italicized:

  • The value of ''y'' when ''x'' = 3The value of y when x = 3
  • ''E'' = ''mc''<sup>2</sup>E = mc2

Some things remain in upright form regardless of the surrounding text

  • Bold-face variables (such as vectors) and structures (such as Q, the rational numbers)
  • Letters with an arrow on top for vectors
  • Symbols for chemical elements and compounds such as HCl
  • Symbols for units of measure such as kg, ft/s
  • Symbols for mathematical operators such as sin and ln
    sin x, ln (p/p0)

The template {{mvar}} is available to distinguish between I (upper-case i) and l (lower-case L) as variables, which look almost identical in most sans-serif fonts, including the default typefaces of many browsers.

Uses of italics that are specific to Wikipedia

One-line notes that are placed at the top of articles or sections (most often to assist disambiguation or provide cross-references) are hatnotes. One-line notes may also be placed at the top of sections to cross-reference or point to additional information that is not directly linked in the text. Both of these are in italics and indented to distinguish them from the text of the article proper. The Disambiguation and redirection templates and Wikipedia page-section templates automatically provide the required italic formatting.

Special section headings for appendices such as ==See also== are not in italics.

A further type of cross-reference may occur within a paragraph of text, usually in parentheses (round brackets). For example:

At this time France possessed the largest population in Europe (see Demographics of France).

Here, the cross-referenced article does not topically make a good target for a running-text link from the phrase "largest population in Europe", or any other text in the sentence, but has been deemed relevant enough to mention in passing without relegating it to the "See also" section at the bottom of the article. These kinds of cross-references can be formatted easily with the {{Crossreference}} a.k.a. {{Crossref}} template (or, to other sections on the same page, {{See above}} and {{See below}}). In any case where such a link in running text would be proper, it is preferred over a parenthetical, explicit cross-reference.

Like hatnotes, these parenthetical cross-references are set off by being italicized in their entirety, as Wikipedia self-references, and not part of the article content proper. Unlike some traditional reference works, the convention that has evolved on Wikipedia is not to individually italicize "see" or "see also". Wikipedia's own article titles are not put in quotation marks in such cross-references.

When not to use italics

Italics are generally used only for titles of longer works. Titles of shorter works should be enclosed in double quotation marks ("text like this"). This particularly applies to works that exist as a smaller part of a larger work. These include but are not limited to: Articles, essays, papers, chapters, reference work entries, newspaper and magazine sections or departments, episodes of audio-visual series, segments or skits in longer programs, short poems, short stories, story lines and plot arcs; songs, album tracks and other short musical works; leaflets and circulars. (See WP:Manual of Style/Titles § Quotation marks for details.)

Other cases

How not to apply emphasis

Avoid various kinds of overemphasis, which distracts from the writing:

  • Exclamation points (!) should usually only be used in direct quotes and titles of creative works.
  • Bold type is reserved for certain uses. (See § Boldface, above.)
  • Quotation marks for emphasis of a single word or phrase, or scare quotes, are discouraged. Quotation marks are to show that you are using the correct word as quoted from the original source. For example: His tombstone was inscribed with the name "Aaron" instead of the spelling he used during his life.
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS and small caps for emphasis (see WP:Manual of Style/Capital letters § All caps). Italics are usually more appropriate.
  • Double emphasis, such as "italics in quotation marks" or italics and an exclamation point!, is unnecessary.
  • Underlining is used in typewriting and handwriting to represent italic type. Generally, do not underline text or it may be confused with links on a web page.

Other text formatting concerns

Font size

Editors should avoid manually inserting large and small fonts into prose. Increased and decreased font size should primarily be produced through automated facilities such as headings or through carefully designed templates. Additionally, large tables may require a decreased font size in order to fit on screen.

When it is necessary to specify an increased or decreased font size, the specification should be done as a percentage of the original font size and not as an absolute size. This improves accessibility for visually impaired users who use a large default font size.

Reduced font sizes should be used sparingly. Avoid using smaller font sizes in elements that already use a smaller font size, such as infoboxes, navboxes and reference sections. In no case should the resulting font size drop below 85% of the page font size (i.e. 11.9px in Vector skin or 10.8px in Monobook).


In prose

Prose text should never be manually colored. Refrain from implementing colored links that may impede user ability to distinguish links from regular text, or color links for purely aesthetic reasons.

In templates and tables

  1. Colors used in templates such as navboxes and infoboxes, and in tables, should not make reading difficult, including for colorblind or otherwise visually impaired readers.
  2. Colors that are useful for identification and are appropriate, representative, and accessible may be used with discretion and common sense. In general, text color should not be anything other than black or white (excluding the standard colors of hyperlinks), and background colors should contrast the text color enough to make the template easily readable.
  3. An "appropriate, representative" color, when intended to identify with an organization's logo or branding, should use the most prominent accessible color in the logo. For example, Template:Pink Panther should be using a background of F6D4E6 (the color of the body in File:Pink Panther.png) rather than E466A9 (the color of the background in that image). A representative color useful in a navbox is often already present in an article's infobox (if included), and these are sometimes specified programmatically. For example, the navbox associated with the National Register of Historic Places and other related categorizations should conform to Wikipedia's NRHP colors legend.
  4. In the case that no properly identifying, accessible color exists; or the subject of the template or table should not be identified with a particular color (e.g., an average biography), the default colors provided by the template or the table class should be used.
  5. If an article includes several navboxes whose colors conflict with each other, discretion should be used to minimize the visual disruption by using the default colors for navboxes.

Font family

Font families should not be explicitly defined in an article, with the exception of PUA characters (next section), because this interferes with Wikipedia's flexibility, and it is impossible to foresee what fonts will be installed on a user's computer.

Articles used to explicitly define font families for special characters, because older browsers could not automatically select an appropriate font. This is no longer dealt with by using explicit font definitions in the articles. Certain definitions can be invoked by using special templates (see Help:Special characters, {{Unicode}}, and {{IPA}}).

Capital letters

The use of capital (upper-case) letters, including small-capitals style, is covered in detail at WP:Manual of Style/Capital letters.


Text formatting in citations should follow, consistently within an article, an established citation style or system. Options include either of Wikipedia's own template-based Citation Style 1 and Citation Style 2, and any other well-recognized citation system. The formatting applied by the citation templates should not be evaded.[7] Parameters should be accurate,[8] and should not be omitted if the formatting applied by the template is not in agreement with the text-formatting guidelines above.

Private Use Area and invisible formatting characters

The only invisible characters in the editable text should be spaces and tabs. However, other invisible characters are often inserted inadvertently by pasting from a word processor. These can cause confusion with editors and handling problems with editing software. Any necessary invisible or Private Use Area (PUA) characters should be substituted with their decimal or hexadecimal code values (that is, as &...;) so that they can be edited properly. A template, {{PUA}}, is used to mark PUA characters; it has no effect on the text, but places the article in a tracking category. (See the next sections for examples.)

Mixed right-to-left text

When right-to-left text is embedded in certain left-to-right contexts, such as when tagged with a reference, it may require control characters to display properly. The marker to return to left-to-right text should be encoded as &lrm; or supplied through the template {{Rtl-lang}}.

Depending on your browser, there may be a difference between the display of unformatted Urdu:
     خ ?<ref>citation details</ref>:   خ ?[1] with formatted:
     خ&lrm; ?<ref>citation details</ref>:   خ‎ ?[1] or {{Rtl-lang|ur|خ}} ?<ref>citation details</ref>:   خ‎ ?[1]

and unformatted:
     (خ)<ref>citation details</ref>:   (خ)[1]
with formatted:
     (خ)&lrm;<ref>citation details</ref>:   (خ)‎[1] or {{Rtl-lang|ur|(خ)}}<ref>citation details</ref>:   (خ)[1]

If there is intervening LTR text, as in خ abc<ref>citation details</ref>, a control character is not required. Spacing and most punctuation, however, are not defined as either LTR or RTL, so the direction of the text needs to be reset manually.

PUA characters

Private Use Area (PUA) characters are in three ranges of code points (U+E000U+F8FF in the BMP, and in planes 15 and 16). PUA characters should normally be avoided, but they are sometimes used when they are found in common fonts, especially when the character itself is the topic of discussion.

Where PUA characters cannot be replaced with non-PUA Unicode characters, they should be converted to their (hexa)decimal code values (that is, &#...; or &#x...;). However, whenever a PUA character has a Unicode equivalent, it should instead be replaced with that equivalent (Unicodified). The Unicode may be obvious when text is copied and pasted from a document that uses the PUA for bullets or similar characters in Latin text, but similar things happen with punctuation and emoticons in documents using Japanese and other scripts, so an editor familiar with those scripts may be needed. In Chinese documents it's not uncommon for the PUA to be used for characters that now have full Unicode support, due to poorer support for Chinese characters when those fonts were designed. Such PUA characters, which are sometimes found on Wikipedia in references and footnotes, should not be substituted with their (hexa)decimal values, as that will lock in the illegible character. If you're moderately familiar with the script, an internet search of the surrounding text will often locate a fully Unicode version of the text which can be used to correct the Wikipedia article.

Because browsers do not know which fonts to use for PUA characters, it is necessary for Wikipedia to specify them. {{Unicode}} or {{IPA}} formatting is sufficient in some cases. Otherwise the fonts should be specified through html markup, as in the example below. Note that if a font is not specified, or if none of the fonts are installed, readers will only see a numbered box in place of the PUA character.

Tagging a (hexa)decimal code with the template {{PUA}} will enable future editors to review the page, and to Unicodify the character if it is included in future expansions of Unicode. This happened, for example, at strident vowel, where a non-Unicode symbol for the sound was used in the literature and added to the PUA of SIL's IPA fonts. Unicode didn't support it until several years after the Wikipedia article was written, and once the fonts were updated to support it, the PUA character in the article was replaced with its new Unicode value.

For example,

SIL added these letters at U+F267 and U+F268: <span style="font-family:Gentium Plus, Charis SIL, Doulos SIL, serif">{{PUA|&#xf267;}}, {{PUA|&#xf268;}}</span>.

which renders as:

SIL added these letters at U+F267 and U+F268: , .

See Category:Articles with wanted PUA characters and especially Tengwar § Unicode for examples of PUA characters which cannot easily be replaced.

See also


  1. ^ a b Technically, it is also possible to use the <b>...</b> HTML element for boldface and the <i>...</i> element for italics, but that is not recommended style on Wikipedia.
  2. ^ Pages on the World Wide Web are written in HyperText Markup Language (HTML); web browsers render HTML as formatted text. The MediaWiki software that Wikipedia uses converts wiki markup to HTML. HTML has six heading levels, notated in HTML as <h1>foo</h1>, <h2>bar</h2>, <h3>etc.</h3>. A Wikipedia article or page title is an HTML level 1 heading. Headings within an article or page use HTML level 2 through 6 headings. At the beginning of a line (only), MediaWiki wiki markup uses the same number of equal signs = before and after a heading. The number of equal signs on either side of a heading corresponds to the HTML heading level.
  3. ^ In particular, words as words, including introduced terms of art, and foreign words and phrases, use normal, typographic italics (''...'' or <i>...</i> markup). Do not use emphasis markup as an "escape" for italic markup. If you have a situation that would result in something like ''War and Peace'''s plot (in which the '' followed by a possessive apostrophe is apt to be parsed as turning on boldfacing instead of ending the italics), you can rewrite to avoid the possessive, or use a proper escape in various forms, including: ''War and Peace''<nowiki />'s plot, <i>War and Peace</i>'s plot, or ''War and Peace''{{'}}s plot.
  4. ^ "Chinese Italics: where are the Oblique Chinese fonts?". 
  5. ^ "Italics in Japanese". 
  6. ^ For indicating titles of works, these three languages surround the title with different kinds of brackets; see Chinese punctuation#Punctuation marks and Japanese punctuation#Quotation marks. For emphasis, printed text in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean normally uses a special emphasis mark placed underneath each character (or Japanese kana or Korean hangul syllable block), but support for this in HTML is poor.
  7. ^ In unusual cases, the default formatting may need to be adjusted to conform to some other guideline, e.g. italicization of a non-English term in a title that would otherwise not be italicized.
  8. ^ Attempting to misuse citation template parameters to output data they are not designed for typically results in garbled COinS metadata output. For special cases, use a textual note after the end of the citation template and before the closing </ref> tag.
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