What do we use this type of formatting for? I understand that

this type of text makes 
sense       for drawing 
diagrams              ,

but what use is this sort of text in the middle of a paragraph? I have seen some people use it in place of quotation marks, and I don't like it. It is especially annoying when used in comments. Here is an example from a recent question:

This is perhaps slightly related to this question, and specifically this answer which points out that the worship of angels [is] false doctrine ... praying to angels arguably may not be worship, [but] in my mind the line is far too fine.

I find this difficult to read, even without the change in background color. Is there anything wrong with just using quotes? For example:

This is perhaps slightly related to this question, and specifically this answer which points out that "the worship of angels [is] false doctrine ... praying to angels arguably may not be worship, [but] in my mind the line is far too fine."

We already have italic and bold. The only reason I have ever used it is to to highlight verse numbers 12 because bolding 12 does not make numbers stand out enough, but using "preformatted text" 12 does.

  1. Might we all agree that using "quotation marks" for longer passages of quoted text is better than using highlighting plus an entirely different font style?
  2. When should this style of text be used, if ever?

I ask #2 with hesitation: if there is no use for it, we shouldn't try to make one up.

  • 2
    I feel like this is too trivial of a matter to worry much about. It's another way to set apart particular text. Mar 22 '13 at 1:25
  • @El'endiaStarman I Don't KnOW, MySElf, It seems like the way we type and format our text might be important. I have trouble reading long lines of text of this form. I want to edit them out and replace them with quotation marks. Presumably we have certain standards for when we should use bold text and for when we should not, but I have no idea what the standards are for this nonsense.
    – Alypius
    Mar 22 '13 at 1:49
  • Aye, I know of no standards for italicizing and bolding text, and that's not a problem for me. I can read preformatted text just fine. Mar 22 '13 at 1:52
  • 3
    It's sometimes used to force linebreaks for poetry, but this can better be done by adding two spaces to the end of each line.
    – TRiG
    Mar 22 '13 at 14:35
  • Related: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/3849/… meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/3358/… There's also a post somewhere which says that using it for common words like and allows them to appear in search results. May 24 '13 at 14:24

On most sites, this is used for rendering code or commands where white space and exact character compliance is required and the monospace font used to render it is easy to read. It is not appropriate for quotations (which can be quoted and optionally italicized) or emphasis (for which bold is more appropriate). Unfortunately a lot of people seem to use it because of the background change as if it was a highlighter tool. It's not.

The one time it could be useful and appropriate on this site is for rendering terms in other languages, particularly Greek. If I'm going to rattle off something about the world evangelist I might mention that it originally came from a Greek word (εὐαγγέλιον) and give you it's etymology and meaning.

Almost any other usage is inappropriate on this site, and if you are editing to clean up any other formatting I would be happy to see inappropriate usages removed. Just don't go on an edit spree just for this.

  • I can't see the second character in the greek word. ? It looks like the rectangle error char.
    – fгedsbend
    Mar 22 '13 at 14:57
  • @fredsbend Then I think your computer is broken. Whatever font you have going on isn't the generic browser default or site-specific css one, or you have issues with UTF-8 encodings or something.
    – Caleb
    Mar 22 '13 at 15:01
  • Probably. Maybe we need a markdown for that. @fontface thing could make sure everyone sees it always.
    – fгedsbend
    Mar 22 '13 at 15:03
  • I suspect you don't really mean that the usual uses of emphasis should be bold. Perhaps: bold for making text "stand out" (which should not be over-used), and italics for emphasis?
    – Alypius
    Mar 22 '13 at 15:29

It's meant for text where it is important that the characters clearly appear exactly as typed. This is critical on sites where folks include programming terms or commands, but generally less important elsewhere. The verse-number usage is probably the closest thing you'll find here.

  • Is it appropriate to use this type of text to designate "quoted lines of text" on those sites?
    – Alypius
    Mar 22 '13 at 1:47
  • 2
    Generally, no. It would be used if this text was going to be typed verbatim into a machine somewhere - the spacing and font are chosen to make each character distinct and easy to recognize.
    – Shog9
    Mar 22 '13 at 1:52
  • I see. So if it is not a replacement for quotation marks, and we do not type things verbatim, I take it then that we have no need for it here?
    – Alypius
    Mar 22 '13 at 1:55
  • 4
    I tend to think you don't need it.
    – Shog9
    Mar 22 '13 at 2:04

As pointed out by nohat on English Language & Usage, preformatted text can be useful for tabular data.


Well lets see what the purpose of these things are from a web point of view.

  1. Bold:

    The b element represents a span of text to be stylistically offset from the normal prose without conveying any extra importance, such as key words in a document abstract, product names in a review, or other spans of text whose typical typographic presentation is boldened.* Link

  2. Italics:

    The i element represents a span of text in an alternate voice or mood, or otherwise offset from the normal prose, such as a taxonomic designation, a technical term, an idiomatic phrase from another language, a thought, a ship name, or some other prose whose typical typographic presentation is italicized.* Link

  3. Preformatted: Preformatted text is most notable by its use of monospaced fonts. That means every character, including the space character, are the same width. Text within this tag time also preserves all white space. This make it useful for "displaying text with unusual formatting [like a text made table or graph], or some sort of computer code [like you see very often on StackOverflow]." Link

What does this mean to us?

  1. Bold is meant to highlight important text within a paragraph. This is very useful on this site. When you have an answer 10 paragraphs long it is helpful to bold format five or six sentences throughout the paragraphs that summarize the answer or highlight the main points.

  2. Italics is for emphasis. I can say "Life is good" or I can say "Life is good." This is also useful on this site especially when the emphasis on a word or a missed clarifier like 'not' would greatly change the meaning of the statement.

  3. On preformatted text, well, basically, you are right that this kind of formatting is always misused on this site. We never have code in answers nor is there a reason for monospaced text except when you want to make a table or graph. I do see the draw to use it to highlight in a comment, but I think that is because bold doesn't work for some reason. If it is a quote then they should always use "quotes" or 'quotes.' That is what those characters are for.

What should we do about it when a user misuses these formattings?

Leave it alone unless it is really atrocious. It is their post and they think it looks best like that and conveys their meaning in the best way. Maybe comment and lead them to this post so they can make the edits or do it correctly next time, but not more than that; do not edit a post only for formatting unless it is really bad because the formatting is meant to show the intended way to read the text. Unless they have explicitly said it one way or the other else where do not edit it to what you think it should be.

*I realize that this is talking about the specific HTML tags <i> and <b>, however, these usages are derived from literary usages.

  • If this is misused as you say, then why wouldn't we modify it? We edit posts to adjust formatting all the time. For example, we put quotations into proper quotes using >. I've removed excessive bolding. I've had one of my posts shamelessly edited because I used the four-space style instead of > for quotes. Changing this to "this" does not alter meaning, and so seems to fall into the same category.
    – Alypius
    Mar 22 '13 at 4:51
  • @Alypius I guess I was thinking more for comments, but those are uneditable. Like I said though, if it is atrocious then do change it. Make it at least readable, which seems your major concern. If you can change the formatting without possibly changing the meaning then go ahead, but I submitted that I think it is an unlikely scenario. Meaning is subjective and text really is the worst way to convey emphasis, which involves tone and body language. That is why I say leave it alone and try to convince the OP to change it. Or better, ask them to clarify and simply ignore the bad formatting.
    – fгedsbend
    Mar 22 '13 at 7:53
  • @Alypius For example, your edit here is fine with me because it does not change meaning. [preformatted was changed to quotes for low rep that cannot see it].
    – fгedsbend
    Mar 22 '13 at 8:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .