Following on from this question I propose that formatting which can be used to make an answer look grossly different to the general look of answers on SF. e.g.

This kind of thing should not be allowed in answers.

I must stress that I'm talking only about answers in this instance. I've seen some cases, such as our recent FAQ discussion, where it is useful for questions, provided of course that it's used with a little discretion.

I do realise this would require a change in the parser which reads the post which may be common to all of SE but that can be solved quite easily using one or more flags for those sites which wish to limit the formatting options.


It's pretty clear to me that this is a distinctly less than popular idea. I would point out however that those posts being put up as examples of why others don't want this change are the very same ones I would put as examples of why I do want it. With that said I'll drop the subject.

  • I'm not sure I understand the update that you just posted. Why do you think that the answers used as examples by Shane are poorly formatted?
    – MDMarra
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 23:37
  • @MDMarra, not poorly formatted, simply visually very unappealing. There is a difference. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 0:32

5 Answers 5


John, although you apparently already gave up on the idea, I believe the visually very unappealing kind of problem is not solved by removing the ability to create headings, but simply by changing the CSS template or the HTML generator settings of this site to produce a less obtrusive heading look.

Currently the site defaults for using <h2> for


created by a "markdown underline" ----- under the text, although formatting using HTML tags or ### also allows for less obtrusive <h3>


already. Maybe <h3> should simply be made the default for markdown-created headlines since the overly large font along with the huge spacings (font-size:140%;margin-bottom:7px;line-height:1.3) indeed break the flow of text a whole bit too much.

As a side note, I do not see at all how the <h2> and <h1> formatting fits into the visual design of the site and I would like to see it changing into something entirely different altogether (smaller font sizes, less margins, and setting apart of <h3> using different means instead - e.g. a different font family, underlining or italization)

  • I've just noticed that the question John has cited in fact deliberately used <h2>. I still think that we should be changing the template, not the answer contents, to change the looks.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 9:10
  • I agree that it's the template that needs changing but when someone uses the template to produce posts which are grossly out of character with the rest of the site I feel perfectly justified in changing it. Not the content, just the appearance. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 20:28
  • Incidentally, the posts that triggered this topic used the ## markdown for the first sentence/paragraph of the answer, not a section heading. Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 20:30

This kind of formatting is useful to denote sections and break up the wall-o-text effect in long answers.

For example:

I think it's absolutely commendable to try to improve answer quality, but this doesn't feel like the right approach.

  • 100% agreed. I regularly use bullets, headings, and horizontal rules in answers to more complex questions.
    – MDMarra
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 1:14

I think editing badly formatted answers to make them suck less is generally a better approach -- Most users can take the hint.

We could ask to restrict the headlines by reputation, but that doesn't seem like a good idea (what if a 1-rep user wants to post a treatise on a topic they're an expert in? We shouldn't penalize them by not allowing them to format it nicely until they have X rep...)

  • I believe we already do penalize them - they are not allowed to use links which makes referencing difficult. I see why this is being made, but taking the headlines away as well would be patronizing IMHO.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 8:42

I agree with the premise, but I think it would be very difficult. There are instances where formatting like that would be warranted. I don't think it'd be easy to programmatically tell when formatting is being abused, or when its "permissible". I can think of answers given by a few users off the top of my head where formatting and bolding added to the overall value of the answer.

In short, I think this would be a bad idea.


I disagree. I regularly use headings and horizontal rules to address multi-part questions more clearly or to address a main question and then other topics brought up in comments. I don't see why complex answers that need these types of formatting should be disallowed or discouraged. Usually this is done to prevent the WALL OF TEXT effect.

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