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I want to ask whether using blockquote for the purpose of highlighting some part of a post is discouraged and whether it can cause some problems for users viewing the question?

Example:

Is using blockquote problematic/discouraged/wrong?

I have commonly used blockquote to stress the most relevant part of a post. And probably many other users seem to do so, as far as I can say from reading some posts on the main, meta (and also on other sites in SE network). Also if you read answers to these posts, you can see that such usage of blockquote is mentioned (or even encouraged):

Therefore I was surprised to read in a comment to (now deleted) a question on meta the following:

And you should not use a blockquote for emphasis. Checking the mobile site you will see why this is a bad idea.

So I want to ask: Is using blockquote for this purpose really a bad practice? What problems can it cause? Does it only cause problems for mobile web?


Checking mobile site in my browser, I'd say that blockquote does not look that terrible. (However, I can only test this on my computer, I do not have a mobile device where I could browse websites.)

screenshot

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  • $\begingroup$ "Checking mobile site in my browser, I'd say that blockquote does not look that terrible." Yes, sure (why would that environment look terrible?) But does it look like something that is to be emphasized? // The specific example you give is again a not problematic use as the "Proposal 4" is a bit of a detached part of the post. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 13 '16 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ About the same question on the meta of Academia : meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/2200/… $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 13 '16 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ I can't rustle up a question with a big blockquote, but I was going to check if that caused the display problem where text didn't wrap in mobile, forcing you to swipe right to read very long lines. I know I've run into that a few times, but think it happens in the code environment rather than the blockquote. $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Apr 13 '16 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb yes, wrapping is not an issue with the blockquote, but as you say with code (or MathJax), which also has the background color. The former is sometimes used inadvertently as it is triggered by a simple indentation. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 13 '16 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ The practice seems to vary over the different SE sites. I've had a block quote edited out on another site with the reason "abuse of block quote". $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Apr 14 '16 at 8:25
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect that this is at least partly because, in writing mathematics, one often wishes to set aside a block of text - say, a theorem, a lemma, or a conjecture, or something of that nature - but there's no feature of the site semantically equivalent to this. (One should note that these are in a different voice - one wouldn't write "Theorem: We have that all X's are Y's" in place of "Theorem: All X's are Y's") $\endgroup$ – Milo Brandt Apr 14 '16 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Related feature request on meta.SE: meta.stackexchange.com/q/277917/222340. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Farin Apr 19 '16 at 17:36
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A problem is that it is not a semantically correct use.

At the moment the formatting used by SE on this site for block-quotes is such that optically its usage for emphasis makes sense. Yet, this could change at any point in time. Moreover, already now I feel it is not really the case on the mobile site.

In addition, imagine some machine reads the site to you rather than that you see it. It then would tell you that a quote is to follow. Yet, this seems just not true. I think I'd find this a bit confusing or annoying.

My opinion is that this markup should be limited to be used for things that would make some sense under quotation marks (under a generous interpretation). Your specific example would even fall under this in a way, as I could imagine something like. This lead me to wonder: "Is using blockquote problematic/discouraged/wrong?"

Yet some use block quotes like this:

$$X^2 = 9$$

$$X^2 -9= 0$$

$$(X -3)(X+3)= 0$$

That is purely as a means for optical emphasis.

In brief, the use of block quotes is fine if the thing in the quote is intended to be a somewhat independent and self-contained part of the post, such as the statement of the problem to be discussed. (It does not have to be a quote proper.) It is not reasonable to use it just for getting the background color; for one thing, as "tomorrow" this could change.

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    $\begingroup$ ok... your point makes sense to me. But then it would be good to have a tool to emphasize some parts of a question. Indeed, if the question is long (e.g. because OP has a lot of thoughts on the problem or the question have a very precise context), then I think that emphasizing the important parts is useful. $\endgroup$ – Surb Apr 15 '16 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ There are various ways to highlight things, including: horzontal rules, two types of headings, italic bold both. $\endgroup$ – quid Apr 15 '16 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ Your conclusion (“In brief, the use of block quotes is fine if the thing in the quote is intended to be set off from the rest of the text.”) does not seem to agree with the rest of your answer (“this markup should be limited to be used for things that would make some sense under quotation marks”) and suggests that using them for pure emphasis is fine. $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft May 26 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Wrzlprmft I rephrased it. I am not sure if this addresses you point. $\endgroup$ – quid May 26 at 18:08

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