What do you think of, how do practice, using bold text in answers? Or even UPPER CASE text?

Here are recent comments (the bold text formatting, added to them for emphasis, is mine):

All I can say is that Larian's answer addressed the question in my opinion far more directly and neutrally then you did. Your answer read to me like an aggressive political advert and the same points could probably have been made by someone else without me giving it a downvote

Hey, you can attack me for what kind of impressions your answer made on me, or you can consider rereading your answer and figuring out why it created those impressions. And if I can give any tips, your way of using bold texts definitely was a first red flag.

What can we learn about writing answers so that the format attracts upvotes rather than downvotes?

Extra questions:

  • What does it take for "aggressive" in an answer to be seen as a good thing, and that in spite of this site's "It is never appropriate to be mocking or hostile" policy?

    For example, in this answer I called the claim "low-grade rubbish" and was congratulated for being "brutal".

  • David also said,

    Since the edit (just saw it) it has become a lot better so that's definitely something

    DVK thought so too. What was it about the edit that made the answer better?

  • 1
    You misunderstood my comment: I was certainly not congratulating you for being brutal, I was thanking you for the brutal effort!
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 24, 2014 at 12:32
  • Wow, that was not something I saw coming :P @my comments, but agree with all the sentiments here :) . Nov 27, 2014 at 10:26

3 Answers 3


If you think that an answer is overly emphasized and think it would be better otherwise: edit it. A neutral tone is often better.

For example, I personally find DVK's answer to be diminished by the over use of bold. It makes it much harder to scan and comprehend and makes it look a bit like an "angry" post which I suspect is not what the author inteded.


How I use Bold text

I find that bold text catches the eye: bold text, and list items (with indent and bullet) are the first thing the eye sees when it looks at the page:

  • In section titles to structure an answer (like this using "**bold**", or like this using "## heading")
  • To highlight the important sentences in a long block quote (like this)

Never use it for an individual word within a sentence. The eye will read that word first, as soon as it sees the page, before reading the rest of the sentence. That individual word won't make sense without having read the rest of the sentence. The eye will dislike that.

The eye might also not immediately like seeing bold text used to pick out entire sentences in a long block quote, but that is the best way to present lengthy block quotes.

If you really feel you must use formatting to add emphasis to specific, individual words within a sentence (as if you were trying to talk instead of write), I recommend you use italic for that instead of bold.

The only exception to not using bold in a sentence is when you use it at the start of a paragraph or list item, like a mini section title, for example:

  • Jam: or should I call it 'jelly'.
  • Peanut butter: is good with jam, or without.

Don't allow any random Capitals in your sentences either: they Make You look crazy and Slow Down i.e. annoy the reader.

It might take you a long time to write. So you emphasize Words to try to Keep Them in Memory. But actually the best way to help the reader remember what they're reading is to help them read it quickly. The faster I can read something, the fresher (i.e. the more recent) it all is in memory and therefore the better I can understand it. So normal punctuation and reasonably plain formatting is probably best.

If this were longer I would edit it again: group paragraphs into thematic sections each with a section title.

In summary, bold text is only for:

  • Section headings, when you structure an answer into several section
  • Highlighting especially-relevant phrases, but only in a long block quote, almost never in your text.

Bold text and neutrality

Bold text in a sentence can make an answer seem like an aggressive political advert. Whether bold words seems "aggressive" probably depends on which words you choose to highlight, and how often.

To avoid that problem, I do not use bold to highlight specific words.


Even using "scare quotes" may disrupt the reader's calm and therefore be perceived as unpleasant (see here for a description of scare quotes).

And adding bold to single words is a bit insulting to the reader. The bolded word doesn't make sense unless I read the whole sentence. Then when I read the whole sentence you bold one word: perhaps you think you're saying that this word is the most important but what I read from it is that you think I'm too stupid to notice the important word when I read the whole sentence.

Feeling insulted makes me look for any holes in your argument, which then justifies a downvote.

  • Nah, actually it's not the insulted part I think that causes downvotes. It's the part of the brain that correlates the attitude with low quality sources and cherry picked quotes. Nov 27, 2014 at 10:28

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