26

Edit: I have changed the answer in question to use ### instead of ## now.


See this answer of mine: https://stackoverflow.com/a/20820086/538216

The asker of the question keeps editing my post to remove the headers. His original reason for the edit:

At Stackexchange, no one can hear you shout. So I fixed the formatting (and the broken code-block while I was at it).

I have three problems with this:

  1. He changed my brace formatting so the curly brace goes on the newline. Unacceptable!
  2. My formatting wasn't broken... until he broke it.
  3. I don't think my use of header markdown is inappropriate.

This question is really about headers, because points 1 and 2 are funny more than anything.

Is my use of header markdown an acceptable one? If not, please enlighten me as to why it is not.

  • 6
    In my opinion, those headers are too much. The add more noise than content. Bolding would be enough. – Oded Dec 31 '13 at 16:50
  • 2
    It is rather attention-grabbing. I wouldn't edit your answer over it, but consider at least using ### instead of ## headers. – Ilmari Karonen Dec 31 '13 at 16:55
  • 2
    @Oded not all of us answer questions, which require 2-3 short paragraphs. – teresko Dec 31 '13 at 17:01
  • 3
    I don't care much about headings, but putting the curly brace on the next line definitely borders on offensive ^^ – NikiC Dec 31 '13 at 17:12
  • 2
    I find it quite rude to the other answers TBH. It certainly makes yours stand out more and I agree with the sentiments that it is "shouting" and "attention grabbing" – Martin Smith Dec 31 '13 at 17:56
  • @MartinSmith Keep in mind they all had 2 day head start or more; even still I think it is neither rude nor shouting but perhaps attention-grabbing, but that rather is the point of headers, is it not? – Levi Morrison Dec 31 '13 at 18:04
  • 2
    @LeviMorrison - But if everyone does it then you end up in an arms race of inappropriate formatting. It is much better for people to exercise restraint IMO. Your answer would be fine (IMO again) with ### rather than ##. – Martin Smith Dec 31 '13 at 18:05
  • 1
    @MartinSmith I don't think it's inappropriate, but I did do the right thing and asked about my behavior here in meta even though I think I'm not in the wrong. The only reason I haven't changed it down to ### now is because I want to preserve formatting for this meta question. – Levi Morrison Dec 31 '13 at 18:07
  • 2
    @LeviMorrison - Yes, good. But you asked for opinions I gave you mine! – Martin Smith Dec 31 '13 at 18:08
  • As you don't have the rep to see deleted answers here: the editor didn't know they were removing a syntax highlighting hint when they removed the <!-- language: lang-php -->... – Arjan Jan 1 '14 at 12:32
  • If somebody thinks that headers shouldn't be used, he must read some of BalusC posts. They are useful for sure, but we have to use them with moderation. I also think that h1 is too big and in most of the cases it should be avoided. – ROMANIA_engineer Jan 7 '16 at 8:11
27

I use headings in answers all the time. These are the rules I (try) to follow:

  • Avoid h1 headers (single hash prefix) unless you REALLY need three levels of headings within your answer. You almost never do need this. Remember, there's already one h1 at the top of the page - it's the title of the question!

  • Don't use headers at all unless there are at least a few paragraphs between them. In many cases, what you really want is... A list!

  • Do use headers when there are multiple, discrete topics being explored in a single answer. I've seen people write hard-to-read walls of text in cases where just a few clear, descriptive headers would make it much easier to recognize the presence of individual sections within the text. Use headers to give an at-a-glance view of the structure of your answer, so that folks can skip to (or skip back to) the relevant section quickly.

  • 1
    +1/-1/+1 for your three points. Bullet points are reminiscent of PowerPoint slides thrown together at the last minute. Great for lists/phrases, awful for paragraphs/sentences. – jmac Jan 14 '14 at 23:48
22

If the SE devs didn't want us to use Markdown headers at all, they'd just disable the feature.

Then again, just because something is technically allowed doesn't meant it's always a good idea.

Certainly, if you feel your post actually benefits from the structure provided by multiple levels of headings, you should use them. However, using large headings just to grab attention can be seen as distracting and obnoxious behavior.

In particular, if your post needs only one type of headings, please consider using the smallest kind that still stand out from body text (typically ###), or even just bold or italic text.

I wouldn't personally edit you post merely over such a minor issue as the difference between second and third level headings, but neither do the oversized (and seemingly gratuitous) headings make me super-inclined to vote it up, either.

  • I agree with the practice you've described and would expand it: start small, work up. If the answer (or question) is detailed, and subject to continuous rolling edits (which some of the greatest answers on SE are) gradually sectioning larger fragments of a post from h3 through h1 makes a lot of sense. – Dan Lugg Dec 31 '13 at 17:20
15

Heading 1

Heading 2

Heading 3

Heading Bold

Text


I think SO just has a styling issue here:

Heading 3 (###) is just bold text with a different font (which actually makes it appear smaller than plain bold text). Heading 2 (##) on the other hand is already much larger and has a weird over-large margin below it. Heading 1 (#) again is only a bit larger.

Suggestion: Fix margin of h2, make h3 larger. Or h2 and h1 smaller.

  • 3
    just wanted to write the same ^^ – hakre Dec 31 '13 at 17:31
  • What are you viewing this with? I see H3 clearly larger than bold, maybe 20% or so. Same with H1 v H2. Agree with the weird margins, though. Chrome latest, Ubuntu 13.10. – Geobits Jan 2 '14 at 1:35
  • @GenericHolidayName I'm using FF/Chrome on Win7. – NikiC Jan 2 '14 at 11:42
  • I can confirm that on Chrome latest on Mac OS X 10.9 that h3 looks smaller than the bold. – Levi Morrison Jan 15 '14 at 6:09
  • They work fine for me: H1 > H2 > H3 > B. I tested it in Chrome 47, Firefox 39, IE 11. – ROMANIA_engineer Jan 7 '16 at 8:19
  • @engineer This answer is two years old. – NikiC Jan 7 '16 at 10:19
5

ES IST NOCH KÄSEBROT DA!

Headlines are an essential part of an answer if you need to get the message out or divide content.

Therefore I'd say it's accepted practice to use them sparely and distinctively if they serve a purpose, like my beautiful headline above.

Which actually is shouting as all uppercase, so the comment by that guy was a bit wrong, not bold, but uppercase text is normally considered as shouting, or in case of my headline, just a cheering expression of joy.

This is perhaps an example what should be considered not so good:

╔═══════════════════════════════╗

║ ♥ thank you for reading ... ♥ ║

╚═══════════════════════════════╝

  • Indeed, very, very bad. – Arjan Dec 31 '13 at 17:50
  • 1
    @Arjan, well on my computer it looks different. This perhaps should be avoided altogether :) – hakre Dec 31 '13 at 17:51
  • ...even when editing, the lines do not have the same length...! Some fonts are behaving badly on your machine? – Arjan Dec 31 '13 at 17:52
  • i.stack.imgur.com/aKake.png – hakre Dec 31 '13 at 17:52
  • (Your edit fixed it for me. Too bad the headers have this extra spacing that cannot be avoided in this example, I guess.) – Arjan Dec 31 '13 at 17:54
  • Well, there is a lot in Unicode to exploit for some attention grabbing Q&A, the more common way is to use images I guess. – hakre Dec 31 '13 at 17:59
  • Nope, I didn't knew that one, nice :D I love this one – hakre Dec 31 '13 at 18:22
  • 2
    ICH WILL DIESEN TEPPICH NICHT KAUFEN! – ThiefMaster Dec 31 '13 at 20:40
5

Personally, I would rather see fewer headers in answers. It's becoming quite a trend on The Workplace with

Executive Summary

blah blah

Background Reasoning

more stuff

and so on for several screens. I generally feel if your answer is so long and complex that it needs to be broken into sections, the question is too broad or your answer is too long or both. I would not miss this markup if it was removed.

  • 3
    There's no such thing as "too long", just "too chatty". If all information in your answer is relevant, I wouldn't say the answer needs shortening anyways – John Dvorak Dec 31 '13 at 20:37
  • 1
    a question that cannot be answered with less than 4 or 5 pages is too broad... – Kate Gregory Dec 31 '13 at 20:39
  • This seems to be primarily directed at me (since virtually all my answers are formatted that way). I prefer this style because it makes sure that my thoughts are collected and that I cover the various bases. If I can't summarize my thoughts in a single short blurb, then my answer isn't focused. If I can't identify the main concepts to justify that answer, then I haven't thought it through. Breaking out the headers helps me organize my thoughts, and allows the reader to follow the same thought process that I went through to answer. And anyway, is 1,000 words really 'too long'? – jmac Jan 14 '14 at 23:45
  • @jmac I hadn't noticed whether it was one user or not. It seems to be the accepted style on w.se. I just don't like it. I'm not in charge of style, but if I were, I think omitting the Executive Summary, the TL;DR etc would help, and I would introduce the sections not with a # header but with a single short bolded sentence at the start of each paragraph. I find the headers too different from the rest. BUT clearly the rest of the site disagrees, if all those answers are by you, because they're pretty much always the top answer on every question, so keep doing what you're doing, it's working! – Kate Gregory Jan 15 '14 at 1:06
  • @Kate, taking a quick peek, it is primarily me. I have gotten suggestions to drop it down from # to ## which was done early summer or so, maybe I'll consider dropping down from ## to ### or even a bolded sentence, but I think that doesn't separate things as well. Personally when I'm reading an answer, I want someone to tell me the answer first, and then explain why, which is why I include the executive summary, but I understand not everyone is as enamored with that as me. It does seem to serve me well though. – jmac Jan 15 '14 at 1:12
  • @jmac I like leading with the short pithy answer. I just don't like labelling it as such. The actual summary is perfect as a first paragraph, rather than #TL;DR and then the summary. A picky point, to be sure. – Kate Gregory Jan 15 '14 at 1:17
  • @Kate, that actually makes sense. Not calling it out with a header could work too. I'll give it a test run see how I like it. – jmac Jan 15 '14 at 1:28

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