I have just edited this question, because apart from some spelling mistakes the asker had colored a good portion of the text (not the equations!), almost as if they wanted to convey what they felt were the important bits, or even the intonation of the text (why in the world would one highlight a "but"?).

As some had pointed out in the comments there, this practice made the question (a valid question, otherwise) very difficult to read and understand. Now the asker is requesting that I revert the question to its older likes, but I couldn't find relevant meta post to link to them.

Should this use of color be discouraged?

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    $\begingroup$ When I first read this question, my reaction was skeptical - I can see how overuse of colors can be annoying, and why an eager newbie to MathJax might be trigger-happy with his/her newly-learned trick, but colors can often provide clarity for people that have a hard time following the steps and logical implications of an algebraic proof. And then I looked at the post you linked to. Now I realize how absolutely nauseating such an abuse of colors can be. You will be happy to know that I agree with you entirely. :P $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2017 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ A related thread. And another one. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 11:30
  • $\begingroup$ With enough text in the MathJax, you can make my page render slower, or not at all :( Its like those posts where the answers are filled with lots of MathJax or there are a lot of answers (popular question) and it takes forever for the page to fully render, except here, the problem is avoidable. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ By definition of the word "overuse", the question in the title can only be answered in the affirmative. The real question is, how much use is overuse? $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2017 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Gerry, in Tommy, "I had no reason to be overoptimistic" youtube.com/watch?v=WoW_0NuaPj4 $\endgroup$
    – Will Jagy
    Aug 28, 2017 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ As explained here, MathJax might be useful for people using screen readers. Does anybody know some details to which extent are MathJax colors "screen readers friendly"? $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak from a comment to the answer you linked to (my emphasis): "MathJax should be used only for mathematical content, not for adding white space, or italics, or colored text, or background colors, or line breaks in comments, or other display hacks, to textual (non-math) content" I am not sure what your intent was, but if anything I'd say the linked to answer shows why this should not be done. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 29, 2017 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Simply It is highly unlikely that coloring text will yield any significant performance impact on MathJax rendering since processing such is not at all computationally intensive. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ @quid And Cantor wrote that infinitesimals should never be used. I value both opinions similarly. One should use whatever tools are available to improve mathematical presentations. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDubuque I would agree, lest someone decides to slaughter my page with it. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ BTW perhaps you could add to your post also a link to the original revision of that post. (For comparison.) $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2017 at 8:03
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Yes, it is mentioned there - but only briefly in a comment. I would still prefer to see either here on in some other related discussion on meta something a bit more detailed. (Somebody who actually uses screenreaders would probably be able to say whether things similar to above example are only minor inconvenience or whether this would really make the page virtually unreadable for them.) $\endgroup$ Sep 2, 2017 at 8:35
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak yes, this would be interesting. I think I misunderstood your initial comment a bit. On other sites there are sometimes discussions on using code-markup for emphasis like this. In such a discussion I read somebody saying that (certain) screen-readers will start to spell-out the marked up portion letter-by-letter. Of course this is not the same situation, but it to me it suggests that it possibly might be extremely annoying for some. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Sep 2, 2017 at 19:52
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    $\begingroup$ ^ This. That's something that happens to me too. Only a few years ago I realized, to my great surprise, that not everybody does it (nobody in my family didn't do it, so conversations about "what color is this letter or number to you" were perfectly normal). And that's part of the reason why the question I linked bothered me so much: it got the colors in my head all mixed up $\endgroup$
    – giobrach
    Sep 3, 2017 at 8:03

3 Answers 3


Colored text can be useful. I can only think of one example at the moment, which is for highlighting correspondences between different parts of a piece of text, like so: $\frac{d}{dx} (\color{red}{x^3} + \color{blue}{x^2}) = \color{red}{3x^2} + \color{blue}{2x}$

Colored text is not useful for merely emphasizing or highlighting a bit of text; italics or bold should be used for this instead.

When colors are used merely for emphasis, or in a way which does not convey any meaningful information, then they are merely a distraction and should not be used.

So let's look at a brief quote from the original post:

The above $\color{Red}{\text{fake}}$-$\color{Teal}{\text{definition}}$ look likes much more simpler to understanding; at least for me.

  • If my proof is $\color{Green}{\text{true}}$; then why $\color{Blue}{\text{John M. Lee}}$ did not use this $\color{Teal}{\text{definition}}$?

The colors here don't convey any information, so removing them was the right call, and they should not be re-added.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 the fact that colors within equations can be useful. Though I tend to not use it, I have found reading answers with large algebraic components that color is a very easy to understand way to group symbols in an algebraic manipulation in transitions from line to line, as you've demonstrated. $\endgroup$ Aug 30, 2017 at 17:27

Please note the sarcasm.

I don't see any $\color{purple}{\text{problem}}$ with this, adding $\color{red}{\text{c}}\color{orange}{\text{o}}\color{green}{\text{l}}\color{blue}{\text{o}}\color{purple}{\text{r}}$ to text shouldn't reduce $\color{#12dd13}{\text{readibility}}$, nor should any other $\LaTeX$, such as $\boxed{\text{boxes}}$ $\require{cancel}\cancel{\text{or cancels}}$, even though markdown already provides most of anything you need such as strikeouts. Especially if I insist on using $\color{#5555dd}{\text{different colors for each set of words}}$ and some of the colors are simply so $\color{yellow}{bright}$ that I cannot read them. I would also assume that the it doesn't bother anyone if I omit the \text so that my words display $like~so$, or $\mathbb{LIKE~SO}$ when we can use asterisks to write like so and LIKE SO.

By the way, please DO NOT use yellow. It's literally impossible to read on a white background.

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    $\begingroup$ Is the misuse of a blockquote for emphasis part of the sarcasm? ;-) Anyhow I like the answer. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 23, 2017 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ @quid No, not really, I sort of wanted to make that part stand out, and I wasn't feeling the whole "Large and bold" format. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ The point was so that you didn't like it! $\ddot\frown$ mission failure I suppose. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ Well, I do not like it in a literal sense, but as a good bad example. $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 23, 2017 at 23:52
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    $\begingroup$ This is Simply Beautiful Art :D $\endgroup$
    – Ant
    Aug 24, 2017 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ This feels like a high school text book. $\endgroup$
    – tox123
    Aug 26, 2017 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ @A---B Why omit the OP's intent? $\endgroup$
    – Did
    Aug 28, 2017 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Did I thought that sarcasm was obvious without mentioning it. $\endgroup$
    – user312097
    Aug 28, 2017 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ @A---B But it ain't your post, ain't it? Except to correct obvious defects, one is not supposed to modify a post on a whim, especially if the edit twists the OP's intentions. $\endgroup$
    – Did
    Aug 28, 2017 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @A---B keeping it does no harm, removing it might confuse someone. $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2017 at 12:52
  • $\begingroup$ @SimplyBeautifulArt I believe you meant " It's literally impossible to read on a white background." $\endgroup$
    – Krupip
    Aug 28, 2017 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, my bad @snb $\endgroup$ Aug 28, 2017 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @SimplyBeautifulArt Thank you for using $\ddot\frown$, happy to have learned that $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 6:37
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    $\begingroup$ I like how one of the colours is called 'greed'. $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnGowers xD How'd you notice? $\endgroup$ Aug 29, 2017 at 12:57

Yes. Yes.

A thousand times yes.

Markdown provides enough methods to draw attention to different parts of text, though bold and italic and even bold italic, not to forget

block quotes

when one wishes to quote a large section of text, to make using colors via MathJax completely unnecessary. Not only that, but a post written in a rainbow of colours is overly distracting and more often than not more difficult to read.

There is no reason to abuse MathJax to format text on this site. Lots of Stack Exchange sites get by without it (by virtue of not having MathJax enabled). So can we.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there a place here in meta where all these formatting suggestions are collected, that I could reference if this happens again? If so, has this issue already been included there? $\endgroup$
    – giobrach
    Aug 22, 2017 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ @giobrach I cannot think of an reference of that sort. The various ways that a user could "enhance" their posts through idiosyncratic formatting choices is pretty extensive. I think the guiding principle is that posts are not meant for any one person (even the asker of a question), and so posts should be in a form that benefits the largest number of users/potential passers-by. $\endgroup$
    – user642796
    Aug 22, 2017 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @giobrach you could link to math.stackexchange.com/help/formatting that explains a bit about Markdown formatting. I believe some users are just unaware of this options, which can result in them using $\textbf{Theorem}$ instead on **Theorem** and alike. (Not really the current case, but it does happen.) $\endgroup$
    – quid Mod
    Aug 22, 2017 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ Makes sense. Thank you all. $\endgroup$
    – giobrach
    Aug 22, 2017 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ -1 What a painfully constrained viewpoint. I encourage everyone to use every tool available to improve your mathematical expositions here. I often use color in MathJax, e.g. to help readers follow logical flow, e.g. when identities or laws are applied, when substitutions are made, etc. Many readers have left positive remarks about how such annotations help them to better comprehend intricate arguments. $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2017 at 12:53
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    $\begingroup$ This issue goes far beyond and has nothing to do with sparse and intelligent use of color in equations. Take a look at the question I linked above – or at the sarcastic answer below $\endgroup$
    – giobrach
    Aug 27, 2017 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ @giobrach Of course I have seen the extreme use of color in the question. My comment refers to the remarks in this answer, which are not constrained to the extreme cases in said question, but appear to be far more global claims (this was explained in a prior discussion here that was purged by moderators). $\endgroup$ Aug 27, 2017 at 21:42

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