10

In this question the OP wrote a lengthy example, hidden in which was a longish sentence that illustrated his question.

Diverse fields such as medicine, sociology, and marketing require the collection, analysis, and publication of large amounts of personal data. At some stage during this process it becomes imperative, for the protection of individual privacy, that such data be sanitized to remove information that could potentially identify some set of personal data as belonging to a certain individual.

Having grown used to non-native speakers inserting commas in odd places and misusing prepositions, I scanned the text for the word imperative, and saw only "... it becomes imperative, for the protection ..." Acting in haste — mea culpa — I responded to offer alternatives ("... it becomes imperative to protect ..."). After clicking the Submit button I (luckily) reread the example more closely and realized that the sentence in question was quite finely rendered as it stood. I deleted my question and posted a retraction in case the OP saw my first response (he had).

OK, that's the background. While I admit that I made an error in this case, I know that the more text someone ships in an example the more obscured the salient portion can become. On SO, the best code examples are edited down to a few lines to show the parts where the problem really lies so responders don't have to wade through references that don't apply. Ideally, on English.SE posters of questions should edit their examples down to just the choice bits. In this case, I think the OP's example would have been improved by his editing it down to

At some stage during this process it becomes imperative, for the protection of individual privacy, that such data be sanitized to remove information that could potentially identify some set of personal data as belonging to a certain individual.

or even

At some stage ... it becomes imperative, for the protection of individual privacy, that such data be sanitized ...

As someone with edit privileges, I could have made such an edit, but I feel a bit squeamish about chopping out pieces of people's examples, especially when the person obviously has a good command of English. So I wonder if it might be good practice in long passages to bold the text of the operative section, such as

Diverse fields such as medicine, sociology, and marketing require the collection, analysis, and publication of large amounts of personal data. At some stage during this process it becomes imperative, for the protection of individual privacy, that such data be sanitized to remove information that could potentially identify some set of personal data as belonging to a certain individual. [Emphasis added by Robusto]

That would accomplish the same thing, adverting to the crux of the question without butchering the prose.

So what do you think? Good practice? Still too intrusive? What would you do?

11

Yes, bolding the relevant part is very helpful. Highly recommended best practice. I don't even think you need to add the "emphasis added" note.

7

I use both bold and italics very liberally in my answers (and also in my questions). I think it really improves legibility in a typesetting system where we have few options for emphasis.

Regarding editing questions to add bold and italics, if done to improve clarity, I would be strongly in favour of it.

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