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I'm trying to come up with a scheme for emphasizing parts of a document. I want something more then just using an italic font as it could be a couple of paragraphs.

Other parts of my document have strong emphasis as shown in the example below for a Requirement. I need another way to emphasize text; it needs to stand out, but not as strongly as this. Does anyone have suggestions on how to make this happen?

While I will eventually implement this in LaTeX, I'm not looking for LaTeX implementation—that I can do on my own. I am looking for different examples of how this may be done.

Example of strong emphasis

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Just to be clear... you want a gentler highlight than "Requirement..." only, or are you also asking about the rest? As i see it, "Requirement.." is the headline for the content of a box. From the top of my head, it seems you are really asking for suggestions to a document structure and hierarchy? –  Benteh May 28 '14 at 21:48
Are you using TeX or something similar to do this? There's a Stack for that. It strikes me that your need may be met by not using bold for the box header. –  Andrew Leach May 28 '14 at 22:01
As mentioned by Andrew are you asking how to do this in TeX or are you asking for an answer on how to design it better? –  Matt May 29 '14 at 14:15
While I am eventually going to do this in LaTeX, I'm not looking for LaTeX examples. I'm just interested in ways of different ways setting text apart but still looks professional and doesn't distract. –  Jeremy May 29 '14 at 14:27
You've already placed the title in a box. That, alone, is enough to differentiate it. So go ahead and use bold elsewhere. Or keep that bold, and still use bold elsewhere. There is no rule that you can only bold text in one section. FYI, this question is pretty broad at the moment. We really need to see the entire document and understand what specific text you need to emphasize. –  DA01 May 29 '14 at 14:27

2 Answers 2

Document hierarchies can be tricky, and it is almost a science in itself.

There are of course some basic rules of thumb. It seems to me that what you are making is a technical document with the traditional divisions of chapters, subchapters etc.


  • Use as few font families as possible
  • Use as few fonts as possible
  • Use as few font sizes as possible
  • Be careful of too much use of colours
  • Use indents
  • Mirror the content hierarchy in the table of contents
  • Do not try to highlight "everything", it gets messy
  • Be generous with whitespace - this is also a way of supporting the hierarchy

So I am just going to show you a basic model that I use myself for technical documents, and I will try to argue the choices I made.

Table of contents:

Reflects the structure of the document, use the same grayscale/colour as the respective headings and subheadings. If you use colour for headings, be very very careful; do not overdo colours, as it will be distracting. You want it to be wayfinding, not make it look like a children's book. I cannot stress this enough.

enter image description here

Headings hierarchy:

The use of bold, italic indent and grayscale (or gentle use of colour) helps a hierarchical structure. Keep the drill-down-headings to a minimum. In my experience four levels is usually enough, and when I get to heading 4, it is often a list-outs with short, simple content. After that, bullet points, tables, illustrations, images, quotes and possibly highlighted boxes will do the job. There is no reason to overdo the hierarchical structure. Of course, if heading 5 and 6 are really needed, make them. But make sure that is an informed choice.

enter image description here

Highlight box:

So, as per your example, I am going to assume that sometimes, you need to highlight something extra. Let us call it tip-boxes: short bits of content that really needs to stand out and capture the attention of the reader who quickly flick through your document. Use them sparingly. When you have a coloured/grayscale box to highlight, you do not need to highlight it more with bold/italic etc, nor do you have to use strong outlines on the box, shadows or other effects. The box is enough. Personally, I would probably go for a grayscale or a very soft colour, but consider this only a quick and dirty example:

enter image description here

Your highlight box should not be too big! if it takes up more than a few paragraphs, you might want to reconsider wether it should be in a highlight box at all, or if you can divide some of the content out of the box. The importance of the highlight box should also be reflected in the table of contents.

enter image description here

Be generous with space! Space creates and backs up a hierarchy, makes it easier to read, to scan, and to mentally sort.

enter image description here


  • Start every heading 1 on a new page.

Consider if you really have to use numerical identification for chapters and sub-headings. In my opinion, they are rarely as helpful as they seem. There are a few alternatives:

  • Skip them entirely, you will have page numbers
  • Put them at the end of the heading instead ("Data storage 1.1.1............... 12")
  • Make them a little more transparent than the rest of the heading
  • Keep the numbers on chapters only, or on the top three hierarchical elements.

Often, the idea of those reference numbers, are that it makes it easier to refer to in other publications:

"as John Smith highlights, (My Document Name, 1.1.2. Data storage) bla bla"

but just as often are references like this quite normal:

"as John Smith highlights, (My Document Name, p.12)".

Or sometimes

"as John Smith highlights, (My Document Name, ch. 1, p. 12)"

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While this is an excellent answer (+1) I believe his question is asking how to do this in TeX. –  Matt May 29 '14 at 14:14
Ah, I did not interpret it as such; I merely answered the visual tools and effects. –  Benteh May 29 '14 at 14:16
Absolutely nothing wrong with that but I think the OP is asking for how to do it in TeX possibly. –  Matt May 29 '14 at 14:17
This is a good response. While I am eventually going to do this in LaTeX, I'm not looking for LaTeX examples; I can do that on my own. I'm just looking for ideas on how to set text apart. –  Jeremy May 29 '14 at 14:26
I think it is a good overview. One Law Of Typography Which Should Never Be Broken (and sometimes broken if it suits you) is "never double emphasize." The idea really being "why do i think that adding more pieces of flair is proper?" –  horatio May 29 '14 at 14:28

You could try using different hierarchical methods to make that text stand out.

  1. Use different sizes of font.
  2. Use a different colour, making sure to create contrast with background, but within the colour palette that you're using.
  3. Use all caps for headers.
  4. Use all of the above.
  5. Consider adding imagery to support your statements.
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