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A colleague of mine (web designer) would like to style the titles of content in italics for aesthetic reasons. The problem is those titles are also text links to the related full content view. When the pointer is over them, they will be both in italics and underlined.

E.g.

Content Title and Link

Desctiption description description...

Honestly it seems a bad idea to me because the italics style has been conventionally used for indicating foreign words, words-as-words, and emphasis, among other things.

This new "misuse" of the italics could lead the users not to recognize immediately the links as such.

What do you reckon?

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one of the standards we have to work with bans the use of italics due to supposedly being harder to read. –  jk. Dec 6 '11 at 14:01
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Italics are for emphasis and certain types of titles. They attract attention but not as much for scanning; italics are to be used for emphasis within a sentence. If you want to draw attention to text for scanning, make the text bold or change the color and it stands out outside the current paragraphs.

Italics are a soft emphasis. Links generally need a stronger "emphasis" to make them stand out. Don't take this as advice to bold all your links, mind you; they don't need too much emphasis either. Links should be noticeable as you scan the page, but they shouldn't steal attention like bold text. Too much bold gets very distracting and poor use of it will harm scanability.

I don't see how italics would make links look less like links; italics aren't for links but they don't especially express that something isn't a link either. I would focus on what makes them look like links, not what makes them not look like links. If you want people to recognize links, make them blue; users click blue links more and blue is the standard color of links.

Underlined text, while stylistically troublesome, also suggests a link. From your question it sounds like you're underlining links only on hover? Note that that is a cue that is only visible once the user is already hovering. Does your user have enough of a cue to try a hover action on your links?

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I don't understand why italicizing the text would make it look like less of a link. Are your links already distinguishable from normal text? I.e. are they blue and underlined (you score 100%)? Or are they underlined and a significantly different colour from your normal text (80-90% depending on colour chosen).

If italicizing your links really makes them look 'not like a link', then they probably don't look much like links in the first place ...

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If you have to explain what is a link and what is not a link, there's a problem. I agree with Boby Jack but i must also add that revealing links like that, with a hover action, is just plain bad because you force the user to comb the text looking for links. It's just frustrating.

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I believe that links should be indicated as is widely accepted - underlined and colored so that they stand out. If your text is in italics, then it is ok to put the link in italics as well. If you put a link in italics in a plain text, then, as you have noted above, it could be perceived as a word that should stand out (a foreign word) as well as a link, creating confusion.

If you need to style your titles so that it is clear that they are clickable, you can develop some graphic that makes a link look like a button or stylize it otherwise to make it different from the rest of the text and the titles that are not clickable.

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I don't think italicizing has anything to do with the underlying hyperlink or its discoverability.

Placing some text in italics for whatever reason is perfectly within the author's purview and not a UX issue.

I have never faced difficulty in identifying links as such when they are underlined and in their distinct color; nor missed any just because they happen to be in italics.

Above all, if there is a richly formatted document into which you would like to add hyperlinks [MS Word implements this] -- you can, and you should, by all means, do so without any hesitation, and without changing any of the formatting.

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