How to quote text April 5, 2002 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I suppose this is just a personal preference thing, but using italics to quote linked material in front page posts makes them hard to read (not to mention looong bold and linked text, too). I just want to encourage the use of quotation marks instead. They are faster to type and easier on my eyes.
posted by daveadams to Etiquette/Policy at 9:21 AM (40 comments total)

Not that I'm getting old! But italicized text on 72dpi displays is a lot harder to read.

I do think italics are perfectly appropriate when quoting relevant portions of previous comments for easy reference within discussion threads. But when quoting outside sources, I think quotation marks (or blockquotes for long passages (NOT acceptable on the front page, of course)) are the better way to go, both for legibility's sake (this is probably the first time the audience is reading this material, versus quoted material from a previous comment, which is mostly just for reference's sake), and good style (i.e., quoted previous comments are then easily distinguishable from outside quotes).

Just my opinion though.
posted by daveadams at 9:25 AM on April 5, 2002

you raise a good point, senator adams. i don't know how we developed or where we picked up this habit of italicizing quoted material. and it's true that "lorem ipsum" is much easier to type than <i>lorem ipsum<i>.

all that being said, however, i find myself rather attached to using italics for quoted material. i think it's an interesting style of presentation...and i think it's even more interesting that people (even those without an extensive history here) seem to recognize the change in fontstyle as signifying what it does.

also, it's become something of an ingrained habit around here. for example, i recently posted to sportsfilter (which is, of course, not formally affiliated with mefi in any way) and i found myself carrying the convention there.
posted by mlang at 9:38 AM on April 5, 2002

Don't mean to hijack, but this brings to mind something I've been wondering about: when I want to emphasise a word in my comments, I tend to put it in italics. I've seen other people use bold for emphasis (like MiguelCardoso, self-professed boldaholic).

From a readibility standpoint, which do people prefer when a user wants to emphasize (not quote) a word or phrase, bold or italic?

Me, I'm an italaholic. Emphasis in bold makes me feel like I'm inking/reading dialouge in a comic book.

Not that I have anything against comic books :)
posted by andnbsp at 9:40 AM on April 5, 2002

sorry, dave. i'll try to remember to use quotation marks the next time i do make a posting like that (i've done the italics quoting thing on front page postings before).
posted by moz at 9:43 AM on April 5, 2002

i think that it's a matter of comment style. if a comment is conversational or conveys emotion, than italics is/are (is there such a thing as a single italic?) the way to go (there's a great line in franny & zooey, describing mrs. glass: 'the only woman who can speak in invisible italics').

if the comment is more formal, however, then there should not really be any need to provide emotional emphasis; the writing will be so clear-headed and the arguments so meticulously explained that there will be no cause for hysterics.

but if you simply must emphasize a word or phrase in your formally constructed argument, one would be advised to rely solely upon extremely judicious use of the bold tag.
posted by mlang at 9:50 AM on April 5, 2002

I'll use italics (more often) and bold (less) for emphasis, but I always use italics for large swathes of quoted material. Especially given the lack of blockquotes, it ensures that nobody reading it mistakes the quote for your material.

And sorry, I don't find it hard to read, so I expect I'll keep doing it. Choose a better screen font, perhaps?
posted by dhartung at 9:58 AM on April 5, 2002

Just my two bits, but I much prefer italics for emphasis. Bold just reminds me of my elementary school days when reading a textbook and bold denoted a glossary word

As far as quotes go, I don't find the italics hard to read, but using quotation marks seems like the more correct thing to do
posted by jaden at 10:00 AM on April 5, 2002

Dave sucks hard.
posted by Skot at 10:09 AM on April 5, 2002

*looks up Dave in the glossary*
posted by iceberg273 at 10:10 AM on April 5, 2002

After years of using trn and Pine on the Unix shell, I'm still *much* more likely to use asterisks to surround an emphasized word or phrase. I'm slowly weaning myself to moderate use of bold for emphasis on web based discussion areas.

(Hey, Matt: can you build in an asterisks button to go with the bold and italics buttons? :-)
posted by maudlin at 10:11 AM on April 5, 2002

I've wondered if there is or should be a MetaFilter FAQ, for all these types of questions. I know, for instance, that Matt disabled font sizes recently because I saw the discussion here. I also know that imbedded images are frowned upon, but I don't know what other do's and don'ts may have been discussed in the past, because they've scrolled off the front page. Likewise, this thread will scroll off eventually, and poor daveadams will have to squint and complain again in the future, regardless of the outcome of the current discussion.
posted by yhbc at 10:13 AM on April 5, 2002

not all the font size tags have been disabled
posted by eyeballkid at 10:19 AM on April 5, 2002

I usually use <em>s. How do those show up on Macs? Are they merely italicized, like in Windows?
posted by nikzhowz at 10:24 AM on April 5, 2002

eyeball kid now you'll have me running to the source log to determine what font size works. . .any I've tried so far don't work. .
posted by Danf at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2002

nikzhowz: they show up as italics, at least on IE5/Mac.
posted by andnbsp at 10:31 AM on April 5, 2002

<span class="smallcopy">

posted by riffola at 10:37 AM on April 5, 2002

I'll use italics (more often) and bold (less) for emphasis, but I always use italics for large swathes of quoted material. Especially given the lack of blockquotes, it ensures that nobody reading it mistakes the quote for your material
Dhartung, blockquotes work.
posted by riffola at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2002



And I try to use blockquotes when I use long quotes as well. They're eminently more readable and don't induce seasickness like an ocean of <i>'s does.

posted by eyeballkid at 10:48 AM on April 5, 2002

Thanks, andnbsp. How about this? [using <cite> tags]
posted by nikzhowz at 10:51 AM on April 5, 2002

The <cite> tag produces italic text as well. Is that what it's supposed to do?
posted by andnbsp at 11:13 AM on April 5, 2002

Dave sucks hard.


For emphasis, I don't really have an opinion on either bold or italics. I use italics myself.

I think, on the front page, quotes should be short enough anyway that quotation marks won't get lost. <whine>Whole sentences in italics amidst a paragraph is what really bothers me.</whine>

Yeah, changing my font certainly might help. This annoyance just came to mind as I was browsing the front page today at work. I will check at home to see if my LCD monitor with ClearType enabled displays italic verdana any better.

sorry, dave

No need to apologize. I love you all!
posted by daveadams at 11:20 AM on April 5, 2002

And you can adjust the text size on your end, can't you, Dave? I reject the concept of *both hands up with fore and middle fingers wiggling* "quotation marks*--italic quotes is just one cool thing I picked up here. Let me think, there must be others...
posted by y2karl at 11:21 AM on April 5, 2002

I would recommend the <q> tag, if Matt was willing to enable us to assign styles to it in our preferences (some of us could italicize, others not), and it would be the proper HTML 4 tag to use, except that some browsers add quotation marks around it (IE 5.1 for Mac OS X, for example), while others don't. I used it for a while until I discovered, when I switched to the Mac, that when I put quotes around something I enclosed in <q> tags, I ended up with quadruple quotes (""). But not adding your own quotation marks might be confusing on other browsers. So I guess not. (Discuss?)

<em> is for emphasis (I use it in this post because I'm being emphatic); if you're just changing the style for the sake of appearance, use <i> instead.
posted by mcwetboy at 11:24 AM on April 5, 2002

Is that what it's supposed to do?

That's an interesting question. According to the HTML 4.01 spec, <cite> is supposed to contain "a citation or reference to other sources".

I think some people have taken that to mean citing a passage of someone else's text, but actually the <Q> tag is for that purpose. All the W3C examples indicate using <cite> merely to surround the text indicating the source of the quote.

The W3C example goes like this:
As <CITE>Harry S. Truman</CITE> said,
<Q lang="en-us">The buck stops here.</Q>
But I'm not sure the <Q> tag does anything in most browsers. Here's a test.

The W3C specs leave how to display semantic tags like <cite>, <blockquote> and others up to the browser vendor. Most browsers implement <cite> as italicized text, for whatever reason. But now that it's been that way for so long, I doubt it will ever change.
posted by daveadams at 11:29 AM on April 5, 2002

And you can adjust the text size on your end, can't you, Dave?

Yes, I know. Big fonts make me sneeze worse than random italics. Besides, I think using italics for quoting outside the context of threads themselves is bad style, not just hard on the eyes.

In any case, I'm not asking you to switch. Do what you please, please.
posted by daveadams at 11:31 AM on April 5, 2002

Oh yeah: italics aren't hard to read because the font is too small, they're hard to read because they render poorly for long strings of text.
posted by daveadams at 11:33 AM on April 5, 2002

No? Rats. I'm just fishing for something that will look OK on Macs (blockquotes look kind of heavy-handed for short snippets to me).

Is that what it's supposed to do?

No, the appearance of non-behavioral tags isn't specified and is left up to the browser manufacturer. Which is why I don't know what Macs will do with them. Thanks again, andnbsp.
posted by nikzhowz at 11:34 AM on April 5, 2002

That <q> test doesn't have any formatting for me, it's like the tags aren't there (IE5.5, WinME).
posted by nikzhowz at 11:38 AM on April 5, 2002

mcwetboy: the <q> tag is supposed to add the quotation marks. It's good to know that IE5.1 finally gets it right. Either use <q> or ", but not both.

<q> has the advantage of rendering the correct quotation marks for nested quotes and international text. (eg. French quotes use « and ») but, as you've noticed, only in IE5.1.

Anybody know if Mozilla gets it right?
posted by Monk at 11:49 AM on April 5, 2002

mozilla does get it right, monk. i see double-quotes (though not the preferable angled double-quotes).
posted by moz at 12:16 PM on April 5, 2002

You guys!
posted by y2karl at 12:29 PM on April 5, 2002

y2karl: thank you.
I'll ask again: would it help to put all of this collective information into some kind of FAQ file, so the wisdom of this and other threads isn't lost later?
posted by yhbc at 1:03 PM on April 5, 2002

An FAQ may be apt if something resembling a consensus could be reached. Or, Matt decrees a particular style sheet.
posted by mischief at 2:02 PM on April 5, 2002

Ok since we are talking about styles...
Are smart quotes displayed properly on all browsers, when using the correct character codes?
“smart double quotes”
‘smart single quotes’
posted by riffola at 4:33 PM on April 5, 2002

Since I have a feeling I'm in the minority (Opera 6.01 on Linux) it may not matter, but the <q> worked for me (added double quotes around the text) and riffola's smart double quotes worked fine, but smart single quotes look like a box with no bottom. Which explains why I see those on others sites (like zeldman).
posted by jaden at 4:50 PM on April 5, 2002

I love you all!

And we love you too, Dave.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 PM on April 5, 2002

Are smart quotes displayed properly on all browsers, when using the correct character codes?

The "proper" character codes are Unicode, and no, not all browsers support them, unfortunately. Especially those made before there were character entities defined over 255...
posted by kindall at 6:06 PM on April 5, 2002

What makes them "proper", kindall? I'm not disagreeing, just trying to get this all (encodings, charsets, etc.) sorted out. Why are Unicode entities preferable to HTML entities (in the subset where they're the same)? Numeric or symbolic?

¿ς!Η⊥ ºP ∩ºλ ∪∀⊃
posted by rodii at 8:04 PM on April 5, 2002

i don't know how we developed or where we picked up this habit of italicizing quoted material. and it's true that "lorem ipsum" is much easier to type than <i>lorem ipsum<i>.

If it's a Latin phrase, it should be in italics anyway.
posted by anapestic at 7:26 AM on April 6, 2002

Unicode and the web, from what I see there is nothing wrong in using HTML entity character codes and abbreviations, it complies with Unicode.
posted by riffola at 12:48 AM on April 7, 2002

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