This question arose from What are the commonly accepted guidelines specific to this site (2015)?.

User A has a strong aesthetic ideal of what posts should look like, in terms of colors, bold, proportions, etc. -- I will let that user's description speak for itself.

Unfortunately User A is a bit more isolated in this crusade for tasteful formatting than User A would probably like. And it is a big job. See an adjective meaning a question which can be answered several ways. In this thread, we see that the most glaring of the (subjectively determined) "bad" formatting was allowed to stand, while the low-hanging fruit was promptly taken care of.

In the referenced Commonly Accepted Guidelines question, I requested, "I'd appreciate it if you would avoid bringing up anything potentially controversial here."

I have noticed, however, that there seems to be some interest in discussing the topic of editing formatting, so I am posting this question here, to provide a venue for discussing precisely that.

On the one hand, those of us who appreciate precise and effective language use are more likely to have a strong aesthetic sense of what looks pleasing or jarring on the (web)page.

On the other hand, there are ELU users who would like to have personal control over their post formatting, and resist the idea of a rigid template for posts.

(I can sympathize with both sides of this issue.)

Is there a happy medium?

  • 1
    While correcting peak [someone's] interest (to pique their interest) in a question yesterday, I added a missing possessive apostrophe, whereupon the user complained that I was unjustifiably "changing the nature of [his] question". You can't please some of the people any of the time. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 19:32
  • @FumbleFingers - I just waded through that post. I don't see what was wrong with adding the apostrophe, and the apostrophe seems to be present now (whew!), but mainly I don't see what that apostrophe has to do with the formatting. If we have a consensus about formatting, I'd like to know! Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 20:12
  • I realise you're specifically raising the issue of formatting here, so that recent situation might not be directly relevant. But I think it's all about whether we should try (or are able) to "standardize" how questions are presented on ELU. In your case you're concerned with page layout, fonts, colours, etc. But if we can't even reach a consensus over whether those parts of the question text that don't specifically relate to the issue being queried should adhere to basic English grammar, I think there is little hope for agreement on a standardized "format". Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 20:56
  • 1
    In general, I don't really see much toe-stepping on posts as it relates to formatting here. Certainly not between regular / high-rep users, anyway; tchrist may cringe every time he seem one of my posts containing 19 different typefaces fighting each other like a bag of wet cats, but to the best of my recollection, he's never edited a single one of them. I have edited something like ~250 posts to take, most of them questions, almost all of them by new (and normally hit-and-run users). All of these edits have been for formatting and not content. I'm too chicken to edit for content.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 22:26
  • 2
    I think User B is missing there somewhere, unless user A has a multiple personality syndrome.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 22:32
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA One user, three persons, along with tfather and tholyghost :).
    – choster
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 23:11
  • @FumbleFingers - I'm more comfortable talking about one thing at a time, plus that's how things are supposed to work. I myself am not currently motivated to ask a question related to what you brought up; perhaps you would like to? Maybe you won't get as voted down as I seem to get on ELU Meta. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 0:56
  • When the question asks, "I need a word that conveys such-and-so," User A likes to reformat answers to get rid of the boldface. It has happened to me recently (rep of approximately 3k, which is very little compare to most of you guys, but clearly not a new user). // I'm now in the experimenting stage, sometimes using the User A styling -- italics -- instead of the bold I had been using, following the When in Rome approach. The problem with the italics, for me, is that I like to put the dictionary definition in italics, and I don't want the word and the definition to look the same. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 1:41
  • 1
    @aparente001 - most people get around that by putting the definition in a text box. Really, most people just get the hang of things by recognizing what's most commonly done. When I first got here, I actually didn't answer the question once! (That answer has been deleted.) Live and learn. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 6:30
  • I have been sometimes using the text box (the quote symbol) to repeat the crux of what the OP is asking for, or the sample sentence, when the question is rather rambling. Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 11:41
  • @aparente001: The thing about a meta question posed the way you've done it is people may downvote because they don't agree with what they think you're suggesting should be done. You might mitigate that effect by simply presenting the issue in the actual question, and answering your own question with your preferred approach. People might then upvote the question (because they accept that the issue merits attention), whilst downvoting your specific proposal. It works for me (sometimes! :) Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 12:52
  • 1
    I think the bottom line is ELU users either don't care much about "standardisation" (0 votes for my question about this), or if you have the temerity to propose any specific "standard", they don't want that (net vote total -12 for my proposal here). Personally, I don't think trying to enforce standard typeface conventions will work on ELU, but I'll upvote your question (partly because I see merit in discussing it, partly just to redress the balance a bit! :) Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 13:24
  • 2
    I am perfectly willing to add blockquoting, italics, and the occasional judicious boldfacing as well. I definitely prefer italics over bold or quotes for word mentions.
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 0:59
  • 1
    "I'm trying to find out if User A is the only person who finds it important to italicize a proposed word instead of bolding it." No, user A is not alone. Seriously, you should use the search function on meta a little bit more rigorously. For example this took all of 2 seconds, and you don't even have to click on an answer to see that the first answer, with 19 upvotes, states: "I would stay away from bold..." So, really, if that's what you want to know, the answer is "no". Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 5:47
  • 2
    @aparente001, if the bold-instead-of-italics was the only thing I had seen in your post, I would not have edited to change it. If there were a couple of typos or a need for paragraph breaks or another occasion where the word needed to be called out (in other words, enough issues to make me think it's worth editing), I would probably have changed the bold to italics along with fixing the other issues. I suppose there is a sort of unwritten style sheet that most of us more or less follow.
    – Hellion
    Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


I suggest that formatting should never be edited by anybody but the OP, with one or two explicit exceptions.

The exceptions would be such things as using code for emphasis, or ending a post "Thanks and best wishes", which are both proscribed by TPTB for specific reasons. Rather than asking OP to change, it is best to edit these yourself, and explain why in the edit field.

But straight quotes rather than curly quotes, italics rather than quotation marks, square or round brackets? Leave it alone. Any poster who has a strong opinion about the English language (i.e. any poster on ELU) already has his own opinions about these matters, and if it offends your "strong aesthetic sense" you can a) make a suggestion in the comments box or b) live with it.


I will propose a candidate happy medium:

As long as there is not an overly large proportion of boldface in the post, let the individual choose his own formatting.

  • AKA common sense
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 19:23

You must log in to answer this question.

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