Introducing New or Technical Terms in Text
  • 4-minute read
  • 28th August 2023

Introducing New or Technical Terms in Text

Sometimes, customers will use words that might be new or otherwise unfamiliar to their audience. This may be because they’re technical, used in a non-standard way, or taken from another language.

It’s not uncommon for customers to get in a muddle in terms of how they treat new and unfamiliar terms in text, so it’s likely that you will need to introduce or enforce a consistent approach.

Launch the microlearning module below to learn more about introducing new and unfamiliar terms in text and to test your knowledge using our interactive quiz.



Alternatively, read on for a text-only version of the microlearning.

How to Introduce an Unfamiliar Term

When a term is new or unfamiliar to an expected audience, this should be recognized in how it appears in the text.

Generally speaking, such a term can be emphasized using italics, inverted commas, or a bold font (this last being most common in text written for the web). For example:

  • “First in, first out” is a data manipulation term used in computing.
  • First in, first out is a data manipulation term used in computing.
  • First in, first out is a data manipulation term used in computing.

In academic writing, italics are most common. You should only use one form of such emphasis in any given document (e.g., don’t use a mixture of italics and inverted commas).

Does the Term Need Introducing?

If the audience is unlikely to know what a word means, then it may well need to be introduced (and vice versa).

  • In an environmental journal article: “In recent years, the company has been lambasted for greenwashing.”
  • In a newspaper life and style article: “The concept of greenwashing is becoming more of an issue in the beauty and skincare industry.”

Term Introduced: Now What?

A customer only needs to italicize (or otherwise emphasize) the word the first time it appears in a document. If you have a document with lots of new terms being introduced, it’s wise to keep a note of which ones have already appears in the text, as otherwise it’s likely you’ll get in a muddle.

Emphasize the term or phrase the first time it appears in the main text, not in a title or heading.

If the term is emphasized in an abstract or footnote, it still requires emphasizing the first time it appears in the main text.

Referencing and Style Guides

There are some referencing guides that have an opinion on introducing new terms, such as APA and CMoS. As always, if a chosen style guide mandates a certain way of doing something, you should follow that style guide and be consistent for any instances not covered by its instructions.

Proofreader Intervention

You do not need to provide a definition for a highlighted term, although you should leave a comment suggesting that the customer define any such terms that might be unfamiliar to their readership.

In addition, you should use your judgement; you don’t need to take it upon yourself to highlight every unfamiliar term in a text, especially if the customer does not seem to be that concerned about the issue. If you wish to, leave a comment suggesting that they consider the approach they have taken (“You have introduced some of the more technical terms in this document but not others. You might want to review whether you introduce words such as ‘***’ and ‘***’.”).

As a proofreader, you should focus on ensuring or encouraging consistency. Questions to ask yourself are:

  • Has the customer introduced some unfamiliar words but not others?
  • Has the customer used different styles of emphasis (italics, bold, inverted commas)?
  • Has the customer emphasized a word repeatedly or inconsistently throughout the text?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you are likely to need to make some proofreading changes or suggestions.


To summarize: if a term is likely to be unfamiliar to the people reading it, it might need emphasizing (in a consistent way) the first time it appears in the text. It is then a known term that no longer needs any special treatment.

It is the customer’s responsibility to decide which terms should be emphasized, but you should keep an eye out for consistency.

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