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I just asked a question which included a question within a pair of asterisks; the word was intended to be read with emphasis, and that is how I would interpret this when reading it. This was almost immediately edited out. Removing the asterisks changes the way you read the sentence (at least to me) but I don't want to roll back before checking if I violated some guidance on title formatting. Is there any guidance or community position on including asterisks, underscores or similar Usenet-style markup conventions in titles, where Markdown is not enabled, to clarify emphasis?

  • Exactly as in the answer. I edited it because people try to use markdown everywhere, and it doesn't work everywhere. I've seen it in titles, in tag wiki excerpts... – Mithrandir Sep 12 '16 at 12:05
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    Markdown doesn't 'work' in titles, but there's no actual rule against using it (example 1, example 2). Another possibility, though, would be to use capitals, which stress the word in a way that works even in titles. – Rand al'Thor Sep 12 '16 at 12:25
  • Anyone is of course free to downvote this, but some idea why would be helpful... – tardigrade Sep 12 '16 at 14:01
  • @Randal'Thor thanks for the examples - I thought I'd seen it in multiple places but I couldn't actually find any. – tardigrade Sep 12 '16 at 14:09
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    @Randal'Thor Use of capitals for emphasis is considered rude. The proper way to indicate emphasis in plain text (such as Usenet posts, SE headers, etc.) is wit asterisks or underscores. – user14111 Sep 13 '16 at 1:31
  • There is nothing wrong with using asterisks in titles. What I dislike about the title of that question is that it is meaningless to readers (such as myself) who don't happen to recall that particular line from The War of the Worlds. Can't you think up a title that conveys that the question is about how the Martian machines move in Wells' novel? – user14111 Sep 13 '16 at 1:35
  • @user14111 well, the idea was to get people to click it to find out why on earth a question that appeared to be about milking stools hadn't been closed yet. It's tagged in a way that makes it fairly clear what it relates to. – tardigrade Sep 13 '16 at 7:39
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    But that's morally wrong in my opinion. (Don't worry, nobody ever agrees with me.) Titles are not supposed to be clickbait, they are supposed to be informative, and they are supposed to stand on their own feet. – user14111 Sep 13 '16 at 8:07
  • See this. – Mithrandir Sep 13 '16 at 9:50
  • @Mithrandir Ah, fair enough - I'll edit accordingly. I'm slowly learning how SE works... – tardigrade Sep 13 '16 at 10:39
  • Is that any better? scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/140315/… – tardigrade Sep 13 '16 at 10:43
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    Yes. Definitely. – Mithrandir Sep 13 '16 at 10:55
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tl;dr: No, there's no rule against it. But, it will probably annoy a lot of users, and that's probably not the effect you were going for.


Markdown syntax does not work in question titles, but people try to use it all the time. Whoever edited your post likely assumed you were trying to use markdown without realizing that it did not work, and was trying to "fix" it for you.

In general, we try to avoid using such markup-looking stuff in titles, mostly for that reason. It looks like a mistake and people will want to fix it.

If you really want to roll back the edit then feel free. We don't have any kind of policy on how to "format" your titles, as long as you don't do anything to actively break the site. But, I would suggest you leave it as-is, as it will distract and possibly annoy the users you're hoping will answer your question. A better option would be to repeat your title, with formatting for emphasis, in the body of your post as well.

  • Thanks - this is what I was looking for rather than a strictly rules-as-written answer. I don't feel strongly either way; if the original might annoy or confuse people I'm very happy leaving the edit in place. Also liked the suggestion of repeating the title with intended formatting in the body of the question; I've now done this too. – tardigrade Sep 12 '16 at 14:06
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    It has nothing to do with Markdown. Asterisks or underscores for emphasis, in preference to capitals, have been used on Usenet since time immemorial, and certainly long before anyone ever heard of Markdown. – user14111 Sep 12 '16 at 23:23
  • "SE uses markdown for formatting" . . . except in headers. Headers are written in plain text, so Markdown is irrelevant, and the conventions and practices of plain text communication apply, including the use of asterisks for emphasis. Some very young users may not know that, but they can learn. – user14111 Sep 13 '16 at 0:23
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    now I feel you're just intentionally missing the point so there's no point in continuing. – KutuluMike Sep 13 '16 at 4:10
  • I think this is actually a key point - I suspect there may be an age gap in whether you assume something bracketed by asterisks is broken or not. I had been using this convention for at least a decade before Markdown was created. On the other hand it's still common in other plaintext media such as Twitter and (until last March, when they introduced markup) on WhatsApp. Still, I suppose us old folks have to keep up with the times. ;-) – tardigrade Sep 13 '16 at 7:54

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