I noticed when editing Is there any *mathematical* basis for the Bayesian vs frequentist debate? that entering italicized text in the title field is problematic. The markup *asterisks* = asterisks doesn't have the desired effect

What is the correct way to italicize text in the titles? Do we prefer $math$ = $math$ or *asterisks* = *asterisks*? Is there something better? Should we avoid markup in titles altogether?

Should we edit question titles with markup to conform to our chosen style?

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ In general, it's probably best to avoid it in titles. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Nov 10, 2016 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ Why is it so bad? $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Nov 10, 2016 at 5:53
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Abusing TeX markup to write italic text is $really$ awful - primarily because the font does not match, but more generally because syntactically it does not make sense: $$ denote a mathematical expression and nothing else. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Nov 10, 2016 at 7:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ My question asks about the preferred method of italicizing text in titles. I'm not advocating dollar sigms. The previous comments indicate that italics in titles are bad style. Why? $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Nov 10, 2016 at 7:56
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ meta.stackexchange.com/questions/237125/… $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:29
  • $\begingroup$ I see that you found it by yourself, but: indeed, we don't support markdown in titles, sorry. $\endgroup$
    – Konamiman
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @amoeba: In addition, compare e.g. effect & $effect$ - the spacing's all wrong in the latter if it's supposed to be a word. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Konamiman right, so should asterisks/dollars for italics be removed in titles? Should we edit qs and delete the asterisks/dollars that were intended for emphasis/italics? Same question for other unsupported markup eg bold. $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Nov 10, 2016 at 10:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Scortchi That's right, even though one could circumvent it with $\textit{effect}$: $\textit{effect}$. This would of course look horrible when un-rendered as e.g. in any google search. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Nov 10, 2016 at 10:38
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ One could of course argue that the unrendered *mathematical* (or _mathematical_) is nevertheless following a common convention for showing emphasis in plain text. On the other hand, even in print there seems to be a widespread aversion to using italics in titles. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ I'm a bit confused with the responses and downvote. I'm not recommending using italics, or any particular implementation of italics, in titles. I'm asking about the preferred implementation if a question uses italics in the title, and whether we should edit titles with markup to conform to our preferred style. $\endgroup$
    – innisfree
    Nov 10, 2016 at 11:47
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ As you perhaps know, on Meta the convention's that a down-vote indicates disagreement with a proposal rather than a low opinion of the question's quality. All the same I can't tell exactly what proposal the down-voter's disagreeing with. The comments are germane - they don't fully answer your question, but that's not the role of comments. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 12:27
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ See also Are the questions with TeX markup in titles excluded from Hot Network Questions?. (The answer's "yes".) $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ Note also that <i>word</i> (word) doesn't work in titles either. I'll say that I am not personally opposed to italics in titles, but it doesn't seem to be done & people seem to abhor the very idea of it, so maybe it's best to just go along to get along here. $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2016 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Scortchi The answer is "no": I have personally seen TeX markup in titles in the Hot Network Questions; at least twice. It is not rendered (i.e. displayed as $blabla$) and looks pretty awful especially if the formula is complicated. I remember it very well because I was wondering if I should write a Meta.SE question suggesting to turn TeX rendering on there. In the end I did not report it, but I am positive that I have seen it more than once. The questions were, I believe, from Math.SE. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Nov 10, 2016 at 20:06

1 Answer 1


Briefly summarizing the discussion in the comments above.

Using LaTeX markup to write in italic in titles is a dirty hack that should really be avoided:

  1. It does not look good because of the wrong font and wrong kerning: e.g. $effect$ renders as $effect$ instead of effect. Kerning can be fixed by writing $\textit{effect}$: $\textit{effect}$, but the font remains serif.

  2. It will only be rendered on our own site. In Google searches this will appear as plain text leaving many people wondering what the heck these dollar signs are supposed to mean.

  3. It ruins the logic of the markup which is (i) bad in itself, and (ii) can produce all sorts of weird effects on non-standard devices such as e.g. for blind people.

Standard markdown markup (asterisks or underscores) will not work in titles. Avoid it too.

  1. Writing *effect* or _effect_ in the title will leave it unrendered and this is not going to change, see Can we get markdown support in Question's `title` field?. So it is a bit pointless.

  2. One could argue, as @Scortchi notes, that unrendered *effect* or _effect_ is nevertheless following a common convention for showing emphasis in plain text. So if appearing in Google search, it will not be very confusing. Therefore I'd say one can use it but only in exceptional circumstances when emphasis is really crucially important.

  3. Indeed, as @Scortchi also notes, even in print there seems to be a widespread aversion to using italics in titles.

so should asterisks/dollars for italics be removed in titles? Should we edit qs and delete the asterisks/dollars that were intended for emphasis/italics?

I think dollars should be removed, yes. Asterisks are to be avoided but can stay if they make sense.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (+1) I'd go so far as to say we should try to avoid LaTeX in titles altogether. Unlike on Mathematics, there are few questions here that really call for it. [I've just looked through some that do use it: the majority introduce variables that aren't defined till the body of the question (if they're ever defined); & most of the others are really maths questions.] $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 9:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree that we should "try to avoid" LaTeX in titles, but I think sometimes it's really the most clear and concise way to formulate the title, and so can be tolerated. I have posted some questions with some TeX in the titles and would not want to edit it out (I checked now). These are indeed often "maths questions", but we have a lot of maths questions that are on topic here. $\endgroup$
    – amoeba
    Nov 15, 2016 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Yes - in fact I changed "avoid" to "try to avoid" for just that reason. (And I didn't mean to imply that maths questions were off-topic; rather that they're the only ones for which the variables don't need to be defined.) Taking a couple of your questions as examples: (1) "What exactly does $\dot\sim$ notation mean?" is a case where LaTeX is more than warranted. (2) "What measure of effect size in ANOVA has mode at zero under the null (unlike $\eta^2$ that does not)?" makes me wonder if "eta-squared" mightn't be easier for search engines to find as well as to preview. $\endgroup$ Nov 15, 2016 at 12:41
  • $\begingroup$ I'd add that $\TeX$ does not display properly in titles and comments on the mobile app, yet another reason to avoid it. $\endgroup$
    – Tim Mod
    Nov 16, 2016 at 13:04

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