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When reviewing Suggested Edits on Stack Overflow, I often come across "fixed formatting" suggestions that use inline code spans to place emphasis on certain keywords, but isn't actual code.

For example:

I am having a difficult time with a background task in iOS. The problem I seem to be facing is that iOS is silently terminating the App if my background task runs for too long. What can I do to increase time iOS will wait for my background task to complete?

Gets edited to:

I am having a difficult time with a background task in iOS. The problem I seem to be facing is that iOS is silently terminating the App if my background task runs for too long. What can I do to increase time iOS will wait for my background task to complete?

This seems like an invalid use of an inline code span because, well, it isn't code, and it is distracting. There are a lot of examples of these edits being made. Often enough they get approved, which reinforces the behavior.

Is this a valid use of inline code spans? If not, should it be edited and corrected? Should edits suggesting these changes be rejected?

share|improve this question
I edit these out if I'm fixing something else with a post. With italics and bold and headings for emphasis and line-breaks etc there isn't really any need to have anything else and it just makes the post more difficult to read. – ben is uǝq backwards Jun 8 '12 at 14:00
background task doesn't look like valid code at all. But I think the added clarity of the code spans shou ld not be over looked. – user7116 Jun 8 '12 at 14:03
Interesting; usually I encounter it the other way around — the poster uses emphasis to indicate code. – user164291 Jun 8 '12 at 17:12
Who are the people approving these edits? Do the approvers have the same writing style as the editors? Then I wouldn't be surprised. Either way, these edits are invalid and should be rejected outright (and reverted if approved). – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 10 '12 at 7:56
I'm also looking at the people who use inline code spans as inline quotes in comments. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 10 '12 at 7:56
@BoltClock I don't know where the idea came from in the first place; it seems crappy to me, and many people seem to think it is a good idea. (They do seem concentrated in South Asia, but that might just be due to the time of day I tend to do edit reviews.) – Donal Fellows Jun 10 '12 at 19:11
I've been so bothered by this nonsense (people suggesting edits and people approving such suggestions) that I've opened a question:… You should follow the links there, though, because my proposal isn't all that great. I guess I was just trying to make a point :) – BoltClock's a Unicorn Jun 28 '12 at 5:05
Related: Please ‘never’ use 𝚖𝚘𝚗𝚘𝚜𝚙𝚊𝚌𝚎𝚍 𝚝𝚎𝚡𝚝 or ˋbackticksˋ for emphasis. That’s what italics are for, amongst other things. And go easy on the bold, too, while you’re at it. – tchrist Jun 2 '14 at 16:21
Related: – Shokhet Jan 11 '15 at 0:56
up vote 75 down vote accepted

Correct, they should be used for code (and code-like artifacts).

If that's the only change, and it's wrongly applied, reject as "no improvement whatsoever" or "causes harm".

I don't have a problem with filenames, paths, API methods, commands, etc.–those are computery "artifacts" that should be differentiated from expository text. Products, trademarks, etc. aren't.

When emphasis or clarification is needed for non-artifacts we have italics and bold.

share|improve this answer
I agree, but "computery thing" tends to be what causes problems. Is iOS a "computery" thing? Yes. Should it be a code span? No. – vcsjones Jun 8 '12 at 15:57
@vcsjones No, it isn't, because it's not something you'd type into a computer as a command, or get back from same. – Dave Newton Jun 8 '12 at 16:26
I agree with this totally, and have been using it as a basis for rejecting edits (or a reason for doing edits myself to undo/change) for a few months. – Donal Fellows Jun 10 '12 at 19:06
(Curious about the downvote; what's the disagreement?) – Dave Newton Feb 1 '13 at 0:23
I agree AFA "used for code (and code-like artifacts)"; but I disagree AFA "[i]f that's the only change", the change still being useful by improving readability IMO; and it still has to meet the 6-character minimum for edits (i.e. at least 3 code or code-like artifacts that weren't backticked). If "it's wrongly-applied", I agree again; that's different - wrong being just that and, hence, not useful. – J0e3gan Apr 21 '13 at 14:52
@J0e3gan Except that formatting even a few keywords beats the minimum: such edits clog the review queues and are not significant enough to warrant making somebody approve it. IMO that kind of improvement should stay in the purview of those that no longer require their edits to be approved. Note that I used the logical operator "and" in that sentence, and I meant to do so. – Dave Newton Apr 21 '13 at 14:53
@vcsjones raises a good point; and Dave Newton's follow-on comment is good; but the ambiguity comes from computery "artifiacts" in the answer. The term code-like artifacts used at the outset of the answer is clearer I think. – J0e3gan Apr 21 '13 at 14:59
@J0e3gan I see no ambiguity: iOS is a product, and clearly differentiated from the other computery artifacts I list. Quibbling over this is not helpful; but have at it. – Dave Newton Apr 21 '13 at 15:04
Why reject as trivial? Wouldn't rejecting with a custom message linking to this question and answer be far more useful? E.g. Inline code spans should not be used for emphasis. See‌​sed-for-emphasis-right – Mark Amery Jul 28 '13 at 16:56
@MarkAmery Because (a) only so many hours in a day, and (b) this answer didn't exist as a de facto response until after I wrote it and people voted it up. – Dave Newton Jul 28 '13 at 19:44
I see so many edits doing this it nearly should be a preset answer, bad use of backticks – mcfedr Feb 29 at 9:42

I believe that code tags should be used for actual code or code keywords. I would reject or revert such edits.

One exception I make is for file names and paths, as I feel these should be offset, and I suppose the argument could be made that file system commands are code.

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Apart from using inline code spans for highlighting actual code, you could use them to avoid text is parsed differently, e.g. to avoid that <body> is parsed as HTML, and rendered as . (It is not actually rendered because it is stripped out.) That is also true for text that in Markdown would be rendered in a particular way, such as *example* that without inline code spans would be rendered as example.
In the other cases, inline code spans should not be used to highlight plain words; for that there is already bold, and italic styles, which can be easily obtained using Markdown.

If the suggested edit is limited to that, it should be rejected; if the suggested edit is not just that, it should be improved to remove the inline code spans where it has been inappropriately used.

Even in the case inline code spans would be acceptable for highlighting words, not highlighting those words is also acceptable. The change would be a change of style, equivalent of changing the style using to quote phrases from the American style to the British style, such as in the following sentences.

She said "I am late," and closed the door.

She said "I am late", and closed the door.

As such, the suggested edit should be rejected because would be changing the style from an acceptable one to an acceptable one, without making the text clearer.

share|improve this answer
(Although I'd add that <body> would be a code-like artifact already, thus it's appropriate, and *italics* can be escaped with a backslash.) – Dave Newton Feb 1 '13 at 0:24

Using backticks is just a form of emphasis, and shouldn't be restricted to just code. The problem is where too much emphasis is used as per your example, not that it wasn't code.

For example, on Meta I use them to highlight badge names because we don't have any Markdown yet for Badges.

I've also used them instead of quotes to emphasize a quoted term (not a whole sentence).

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bold and italics are just enough, no need for third form of emphasis. – Shadow Wizard Jan 31 '13 at 15:06
using for badge names doesn't seem 'wrong' to me but it's worth spelling out that backticks aren't just a form of emphasis—they have the unique feature of making the text monospaced (which of course is what makes them ideal for code). This change of spacing is just distracting (to my eyes at least) when it occurs in the middle of a sentence like the examples given. – Jack Douglas Jan 31 '13 at 15:39
@JackDouglas, yes, I agree it's a little distracting, but isn't that what emphasis does, distract. I definitely don't like seeing it abused. – Lance Roberts Jan 31 '13 at 15:41
To me, "too much" equals "greater than zero" here. Even if only "iOS" was put into backticks in the example above, then that would have bothered me. (Especially so for suggested edits.) – Arjan Jan 31 '13 at 17:43
@Arjan, yeh, I don't see the need for any highlighting in that excerpt. – Lance Roberts Jan 31 '13 at 17:45
I think I'd use <kbd> for badges, although I've never actually tried it. – Dave Newton Feb 1 '13 at 0:26
@LanceRoberts It's not just distracting, it's semantically wrong. Code formatting is semantic HTML to indicate to a parser that text is code. If we start lying to our parsers, we break tools built on HTML. Consider screen readers: if a visually impaired user configures their software to spell out code tags, or to have an easy keyboard shortcut with a macro called "jump to next code span/block and highlight" for easy copy-pasting, we are significantly disabling their ability to interact with the page. Further disabling, I should say. – SevenSidedDie Aug 1 '13 at 5:23
@SevenSidedDie: Once upon a time, HTML zealots declared that tables were, in many cases, semantically wrong and that developers should prefer divs with table-like CSS. How did that work out? – Jim G. Jul 8 '14 at 11:20
@JimG. Everyone ended up agreeing with them? – David Mulder Jul 8 '14 at 12:00
@DavidMulder: Well, if Bootstrap, Blueprint, 960, and other grid frameworks imply that the table-like divs won, then I suppose you are correct. But when I need a quick table on a page, I simply reach for the table tag. – Jim G. Jul 8 '14 at 13:49
@JimG. Tables and code markup are different beasts (one is layout and/or data structure, one styling), so the considerations for their proper use are orthogonal. Trying to argue from one to the other is a non-starter. – SevenSidedDie Jul 8 '14 at 16:23

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