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While posting a question I saw help text which appears at right hand side of the screen titled "How to Format".

It instructed to write in italic use _ (It works!), but when using italic option provided at top (named Emphasis) it surrounds my text with *.

Both seemed pretty the same to me.

My question is why there are two options ( _ and *) for the same task?

EDIT1: Now I know how it works. But why it doesn't appear in the help that appears when while writing a post? It would have been more clearer.

3 Answers 3

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The simple answer is: because it's specified in the Markdown standards, just like you can both ** and __ (two underscores) for bold text.

As for why Markdown adopted this convention: in the past (pre-HTML era) people used both * and _ to emphasize texts. And within HTML, the element signifying emphasis, <em>, is usually rendered in italics, just like pre-computer typography.

But why it doesn't appear in the help that appears when while writing a post? It would have been more clearer.

There are even more options to write italic text, like <em>text</em> and <i>text</i>. More options usually make it less clear. Full documentation can be found elsewhere, e.g. in the 'inline help' and the Advanced help.

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  • I just noticed that a user can also use ** and __ for bold text. Then why it is not mentioned in help text (which appears at right)?
    – noobs
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:32
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    It is mentioned here: meta.stackexchange.com/editing-help
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:32
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    @Glorfindel I think OP means it doesn't appear in the help that appears when pressing "help" while commenting\writing a post
    – ItamarG3
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:36
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    Ah, I finally see which help text you mean. It's not this one, it's the one on the Ask Question page. (I don't visit that very often :)). I don't know why, but I guess the line would be too long.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:47
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There is nothing to confuse It is implemented in markdown.

You're talking about this line in the right side of ask page

_italic_ or **bold**

I believe it is written in such a way to avoid confuse because if they added *italic* it may look confusing.

also _ and __ are confusing.

But both of them will work fine.

enclosing a string with either _ or * will produce the same result.

Eg.

  • _italic text_ => italic text
  • *italic text* => italic text

Also this is same to bold

  • __bold text__ => bold text
  • **bold text** => bold text

Alternatively you can use the corresponding HTML tags (Stack Exchange support some basic Markups too)

  • <i>italic text</i> => italic text
  • <b>bold text</b> => bold text

When you click on the button in the toolbox or press Ctrl + b, it will insert * for italic and ** for bold.

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  • Now I know how it works. But why it doesn't appear in the help that appears when while writing a post? It would have been more clearer.
    – noobs
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:55
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    @NiladriSekharBasu because no one put it there. maybe a feature-request for it has merit. I dunno...
    – ItamarG3
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:56
  • already in the answer. _ and __ may confuse some people also * and ** will do so for some people Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 7:57
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the Stack Exchange network uses Markdown to format stuff (answers,questions,tag wikis etc.) and italics in markdown are created with * on both sides of what you're styling. (no spaces between the letters and the *. i.e. * this won't style* because of the space).

However markdown also allows you to use _ instead of *, anywhere. e.g: this is bold , but with _ and not *. So it's the language used to style fonts.

You can find a markdown cheat sheet here

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