At Folklore or official policy?, I wrote, "I feel like I've come into the movie theater in the middle of the movie. Please, help me understand what's going on in this site and what is expected of me."

Highlighting some material from that thread:

We write stuff in comments that is too obvious to qualify for an answer. [Such-and-so] is not really a topic for a site for linguists and etymologists, and we don't want it to become a topic.

As for formal or official policies, it seems to me Stack Exchange has a relative lack of them.

The closest thing to formal policies that I know of are the documentation in the Help Center, and the mechanics of the site itself.

SE etiquette is that meta questions are about an issue, not a user, so names are usually left out of questions on meta to avoid making it about a particular user.

Also, today I read

this site has a policy of not discussing poetry

at meaning of "trailing clouds of glory".

I'd like to assume that the goal is not to set up a mine field for newcomers trying to make meaningful contributions to this site. So let's be constructive. I would like to invite users in the know to help me assemble a compendium of generally accepted guidelines/conventions to this site. Answers would be preferred over Comments. I'd appreciate it if you would avoid bringing up anything potentially controversial here. (You could always create a different question in Meta about a particular item or set of items.) Also note, this question isn't about mechanics.

Here's another one: A word to mean the act of making two things equivalent?

Please set mentions in italic.

This is also confusing. I see many people setting their word or phrase proposals in bold.

I found another one!

'‘If we accept the axiom that trivial [/very basic] questions are bad for the site, then the proper response to [such] a ... question is: 1.Don't answer! 2… [Vote] to close. The point is not to encourage trivial [/very basic] questions. If you post an answer or vote up an existing answer, you're implicitly encouraging more questions like it.’

(taken from https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/270603/can-i-use-they-for-non-living-things)

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    This is a comment because it's not an additional policy to be documented in a formal answer: the help center does say that interpretation / lit-crit is expressly off-topic. Though that topic clearly covers both poetry and lyrics (and anything else hat requires subjective interpretation), I do wish it more explicitly called out those two topics. One issue is that HS curricula in the US (at least) conflate language and literature (so visitors to the site have an preconceived expectation that we'll discuss literature). Another problematic influence is Yahoo! Answers & its love of lyrics.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 14:35
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    See also What questions are on-topic and off-topic here? which is supplementary to and more descriptive than the help center.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 14:42
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    We already have "a compendium of generally accepted guidelines to this site". It's called the Help Center (or FAQ). So I think this question is "redundant". Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 16:42
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    Did you miss the part about searching meta and reading meta answers? We don't need to do this. This is something you want. If you want to learn the culture, read the answers to your questions and learn. Commented Aug 25, 2015 at 18:05
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    Here is a similar question: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/6852/… Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 2:30
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    Searching "answers in comments" will get you 676 results, of which the top few should provide a lot of insight (from the Folklore thread) - 676 is a lot of results to look at, especially when some of them may be obsolete, and there is a lot of discussion to wade through. Also, for rules or conventions I'm not aware of, I wouldn't even know what to google. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 2:34
  • Searching the site is different than googling. Searching the site is helpful, and you only need to read a few posts to learn a lot. You have plenty of rep on multiple sites, which means you're not ignorant of the system. Stack Exchange (including this site) is not broken. Please learn how to use the site. The down votes on your questions should inform you of something. Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 4:47
  • @aparente001 For a "starter kit", so to speak, of rules and conventions that you probably want to be aware of, check out the two links I offered in my second comment.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 10:19
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    I can follow the rules if I know what the rules are. I would really like to see folks collaborate on writing them down. Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 17:43
  • Clearly you would, but it isn't going to happen just because you would really like it. That's the whole gist of my comments. Look at your answer score and try to understand that you have 0 votes for and -4 against the suggestion. Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 18:36
  • Also, your latest edit appears to be incomplete. However, there is a difference between a single-word request being answered in bold, or a specific word being emboldened for emphasis in a question, and a simple use-mention distinction in bold rather than italic. I don't think I've seen that, so if you have a genuine example, that would be interesting.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 21:06
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    @AndrewLeach - I didn't quite follow the three different situations you mentioned, but here's where this came up: english.stackexchange.com/questions/269677/… Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 2:55
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    I would much rather that experienced users contributed meaningful answers. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 3:08
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    @FumbleFingers, The problem is that there're many things missing from the help center. If the help center had had all the info, this thread wouldn't've appeared in the first place.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 16:56
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    @medica, That was exactly how the community did it. As can be seen from the revisions of the thread linked by the previous comment.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Sep 27, 2015 at 17:03

1 Answer 1


“Please set mentions in italic”

Let me address the final point.

Yes, some people do set mentions in bold, but I really wish they wouldn’t. For the past five years, ELU editors have followed this simple standard posted by nohat♦ on October 15th 2010 at 8:05pm:

I usually use italics. Sometimes I use “double quotation marks” when referring to long phrases or whole sentences. I would stay away from bold, verbatim, or plain.

His policy offers these advantages at the least:

  1. It is the top-voted answer to the meta question about the matter. In the absence of explicit directives to the contrary, this therefore represents community consensus on site policy.

  2. Although it is one member’s preference and style, it was posted by one of our moderators, and this cannot help but carry some guiding weight.

  3. It is short, simple, and to the point. This makes it easy to remember and to apply.

  4. It has been there for five years as of this writing, setting long-standing precedent.

  5. It’s the standard used by dictionaries and professional linguistics journals, and is therefore the appropriate one on a site whose charter is “for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts”.

  6. Those of us who do the most editing have been consistently following this standard as long as the site has existed. This helps give our site a well-groomed look.

  7. It is typographically inoffensive, because the overall color (how much black, basically) of the Georgia italic face matches that of the Georgia roman one, allowing the page to look professionally put together.

  8. It presents a unified page color, which is highly desirable. Interrupting the smooth texture of the paired roman and italic with inline super-heavyweight bold scattered randomly about the page destroys that simple elegance.

  9. The default font weight all browsers give to bold in the absence of CSS to reduce it is much too heavy a weight to look tidy. Without a CSS hack which our style sheet does not have, we suffer a ponderous and plodding default bold weight that no publisher worthy of the name would ever dare set down in print.

  10. Bold used for things other than headers* leaves the page looking too SHOUTY, as though it were a cheap supermarket tabloid, a seven-year-old’s workbook, or a ransom note. It isn’t nice to be yelled at by a noisy page.

  11. To give the occasional point special emphasis, the skilled writer competent at his craft need use nothing but the English language itself — rather than tawdry typographical blunderbusses.

That’s plenty enough to convince me. I only hope it also persuades others.

* And even then you should rely on point size allowing the weight to scale proportionately.

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    WOW cool ᴘᴏsᴛ! 💯
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 13:41
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    There are cases where the single-word answer is typed in italic but because it is in a long post, people do not notice it. I see no harm in placing that key word or short phrase in bold type in a lengthy post. If nothing else it stops people from suggesting duplicate answers. I think a little individualism is permissible, EL&U is not a volume, it is made up thousands of different users who have their own quirks and styles. This doesn't mean I advocate titles in CAPS, or entire paragraphs in italicized bold type, there has to be limits otherwise the site would indeed look chaotic.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 16:34
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    As for @nohat simple style guide; it is useful, it is very sensible, it is aesthetically pleasing but 533 views in four years hardly represents a unanimous "community consensus".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 16:42
  • @MariLouA Single-word answers are frowned upon. :) Seriously, even the attention-deficited, video-gamed, sound-byted generation is expected to read an answer. Italic jumps right out at you without screaming. Maybe on a phone this is different, but on the real site it looks nice. And yes, I do think this represents consensus; meta votes not page views are how we measure these things. In any event, I intend to remain tasteful and encourage others to do the same.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 4:19
  • SE cares about the number of views a post has, a post that attracts less than two hundred views in two years suggests that people are not interested in that question. But a post that has attracted 20,000 views in two years suggests that visitors share the same problem. If these visitors do not post a question themselves it is because they found the answers posted satisfactory. Finally, there are badges for the number of views a post attracts; 1,000 (bronze), 2,500 (silver), 10,000 (gold). SE does measure views, eccome!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 2, 2015 at 6:50
  • So how are we to judge the single upvote your answer has so received?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 5:26

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