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I am in the habit of using backticks in comments for quoting or highlighting parts of them(mainly quoting parts of others' comments). Personally, I feel that a change of font serves better for grabbing a reader's attention than quotes or italics.

However, I was recently told to not use code blocks for this purpose.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining against anyone and I respect keeping consistencies across the SE sites, but I kind of feel there isn't any use for the code formatting on a site such as Workplace.SE, especially in comments, where you can't use the Return key.

Is there really a better(or should I say, intended) use for the backticks on this site?

  • Always wondered briefly how people use formatting in comments, too lazy to try it myself though. They're only comments. – Kilisi Oct 6 '16 at 7:49
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    @Kilisi Formatting used in posts mostly also works in comments, e.g. ** or *. Some things have shortened versions, e.g. using [name](link) format for links rather than [name][1]...[1]: link. When writing a comment, you can check out the help button on the side for details. – cst1992 Oct 6 '16 at 10:39
  • Related question on English Language and Usage Meta: Should we fix backticks? – Michał Perłakowski Oct 6 '16 at 15:06
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    hmmm vaguely interesting – Kilisi Oct 7 '16 at 6:43
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However, I was recently told to not use code blocks for this purpose.

I'm guessing that was me. Here's the full-text I normally use when I comment on this use of the code markup:

Please do not use backquotes to highlight quoted text in comments. This syntax should be reserved for code or data, not normal text. Abusing code markdown causes problems for parsing tools such as screen readers for the visually impaired and is easily avoided by using italics and quotation marks instead.

(Short form) Please avoid using code markup to format quotes. You can use italics and quotation marks instead.

There are several reasons not to abuse this syntax:

  • it's unnecessary: you have a choice of quotation marks and/or italic syntax (*text*) at your disposal to identify quotes
  • it's ugly: code markup uses a distinct monospaced font that breaks the flow of what is supposed to be regular text
  • it's not what they're for: code markup has a distinct meaning and this is contrary to the site's visual identity
  • it screws people using screen readers and other alternative methods to consume the page (see the Arqade link for details)
  • it adds unexpected emphasis: this is a problem both if it's done deliberately or if it's unintended as it seems to put focus on a quoted section that's, by definition, only a reference and not the author's main statement

Note that this applies across the entire network. Sites that don't have a need for code markup simply shouldn't use it!


For more details why abuse of code markup is problematic:

Note that actual quote markup for comments has been a feature request for nearly 5 years now.

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    I hadn't considered screen readers at all. That's a pretty good point. – cst1992 Oct 4 '16 at 12:15
  • Maybe backticks simply should not work on sites like this one? – svick Oct 5 '16 at 15:05
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    @svick They aren't needed often but they do have their uses, even on non-technical sites. OP's comment above is just one example. – Lilienthal Oct 6 '16 at 12:20
  • @Lilienthal I do agree that the code markup is a 'formatting killer', in the sense useful if you wanted to explain some part of formatting itself that would otherwise be parsed. – cst1992 Oct 6 '16 at 19:41
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Honestly I like code backticks when I quote something in comments, too. It makes it more obvious to me what is being quoted. Normal quote marks aren't as obvious there at all and there's not really a better tool right now.

Using italics is the only other real option...

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    Using italics is the only other real option... this really doesn't work that nicely. – enderland Oct 4 '16 at 12:35
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    Using italics is the only other real option... this really is more obvious. – enderland Oct 4 '16 at 12:35
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    Using italics is the only other real option... AHHHHH why the yelling! – enderland Oct 4 '16 at 12:35
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    "Using italics is the only other real option..." this is hard to see, particularly in longer comments that run on and on and on and on. – enderland Oct 4 '16 at 12:35
  • The code formatting is quite similar to blockquotes used in questions/answers, that's why this happens. And unfortunately there is no real way to quote something in the comments(like we do in blockquotes). – cst1992 Oct 4 '16 at 13:07
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    But I'd say that something like this: "Using italics [and quotation marks] is the only other real option..." works fine, even in a full text. Why would quoted text need to be obvious anyway? Almost always the original text will be right there in the post that you're commenting on... – Lilienthal Oct 4 '16 at 16:06
  • *"Hmm, let me see if this works."*<br>Wait and see... – Masked Man Oct 4 '16 at 18:21
  • Meh, why not? This <s>sucks </s> is disappointing. – Masked Man Oct 4 '16 at 18:22
  • Oh I get it. Let me post an answer. – Masked Man Oct 4 '16 at 18:24
  • I agree with this. Quotes or italics work fine when integrating a quote into a sentence, but not when providing context for a response to a small excerpt of an answer. Italics are a bad way of doing this. Right you are, Bob. <-- much more clear, IMO. If it could have the highlighting without being fixed-width text, though, that would be great. It's similar to the in-post quoting feature with the > prefix. – Matthew Read Oct 8 '16 at 2:38
  • +1: This should be the accepted answer. – Jim G. Oct 10 '16 at 18:17
  • I agree with enderland. There is a reason email programs and forums have special markup for quoting a previous post, and that it is obvious you are referring to (possibly a part of) something said previously. Using quote symbols isn't nearly as clear, and italics and bold just look like emphasis. A better approach would be new markup (perhaps two backticks?) which renders the text with normal font (rather than monospaced) but with a reasonably obvious background (light orange, maybe). Another problem with quotes is: what if the text being quoted has quote symbols in it? – Nick Gammon Oct 12 '16 at 1:16
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    If backticks only changed the visual presentation of the text, it’d be fine to use them. But they also wrap it in the <code> HTML tag. – Paul D. Waite Oct 15 '16 at 12:11
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You have come across what is known as the XY Problem. The real problem is not whether you should be "allowed" to use backquotes in comments. It has been repeatedly emphasised on the SE network that "comments are not for extended discussion this conversation has been moved to chat " but to improve the post on which you are commenting.

If you are about to comment something which requires quoting another user, you are, in most cases, not using comments for the intended purpose. Comments should only be addressed to the user whose post you are commenting on. In those cases, quoting the user using quotation marks is sufficient.

Getting into a discussion with a third person is not at all the intended purpose of the comments. If you and a third person disagree on how the poster should "improve" his post, that should be taken to chat.

My misadventure experiments under enderland's answer made me realize that (some) HTML tags are not allowed in the comments because they just didn't care comments are not meant for meta-humour either.

Disclaimer: I am not preaching from a moral high ground here, as I "amuse" myself (and others) a fair amount here in the comments.

By the way, it is fair enough if some formatting tags are not useful on some SE sites. For instance,

spoiler tag is useful to Anime.SE, Puzzling.SE, Movies.SE, etc. but not here.

and

$ whatever they call this thing is useful to Mathematics.SE, MathOverflow.SE, etc. but not here. $

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    they call this $thing$ MathJax. Very useful to manage hot questions – gnat Oct 4 '16 at 20:33
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    "in most cases, not using comments for the intended purpose." See this comment for why that's not really the case. – Lilienthal Oct 7 '16 at 16:37
  • @Lilienthal "See this comment for why that's not really the case." In those cases, quoting the user using quotation marks is sufficient. (as your own comment shows.) – Masked Man Oct 8 '16 at 15:07
  • Eh, well yes. But the point is that there are plenty of times when quoting someone is perfectly appropriate. – Lilienthal Oct 8 '16 at 16:42
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There is no intended use. However, back-ticks are markdown feature, so they cannot be easily disabled on sites which don't need them without disabling markdown formatting altogether.

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