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I am looking for a good or common way to include search terms and phrases in complete sentences with clarity when the term/phrase begins and ends. I do not want to include punctuation near the terms unless the punctuation is part of the term. I am currently double spacing before the search term then continuing the sentence. I would like to make the search term stand out more but using brackets or parentheses may cause the reader to mistake them for part of the search term. Italics may give the impression that the search term should be written in italics. Do you have suggestions, or is there a common way to express search terms that I have failed to find while searching the net?

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    what is it that people are reading? Can you provide a sample sentence for context? (Eg are you telling people what to search for, reporting what you searched for, or something else?) Mar 27, 2023 at 19:47
  • For example: To find lessons search how to play open chords and guitar chord charts. How do I separate the search terms from the rest of the sentence and not give the impression that punctuation is to be used as part of the search phrase? The people reading are often young beginners of self taught guitar seeking resources. I am not looking for how to quote a specific website. I am looking for a good way to include a word or a few words in a sentence that are to be entered to the search bar of Google or another search engine, or a browser.
    – ejbpesca
    Mar 27, 2023 at 20:07
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    Mechanical style issues such as this will depend where you want to publish. So talk to the editor or teacher or prof etc. and get guidance as approp. If it's for something you have absolute final say over (your web page for example) just pick something easy to read and stay consistent.
    – Boba Fit
    Mar 27, 2023 at 23:16
  • Boba Fit. Have you any examples of a mechanical style for search words/phrases?
    – ejbpesca
    Mar 28, 2023 at 11:57
  • Evidently there is no common way to emphasize search terms from the rest of a sentence. I have experimented with commas, brackets, quotation marks, and double spacing. The problem with punctuation is that the marks give the notion that they are part of the search term. Maybe italics, if available, will work.
    – ejbpesca
    Apr 16, 2023 at 2:39

2 Answers 2

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I have never seen a "mainstream" style guide have an opinion on this, but some of the specialized ones do. For example, Microsoft:

User input: Usually lowercase, unless case sensitive. Bold or italic, depending on the element. If the user input string contains placeholder text, use italic for that text.

Enter hello world

Enter -p password

(The lack of ending punctuation in the examples suggests that they wouldn't be inline but rather in a vertical list.)

Except for WYSWYG editors (which aren't used for searching), I have never seen an input accept emphasis or similar formatting. I would expect that all but the most inexperienced computer users would know that.

If you think that there may be some confusion for a particular search term or sentence, you can always clarify:

Search for "clothe" (including the quotes).

On the web, you also have another option available: format it like <code>this</code>. As the name says, this tag is intended for computer code, but I think it can be useful here. For visual readers, the background makes it clear what's part of the search term, even down to the punctuation. Screen reader users will also likely get a clear idea of what's in the search term (the exact behavior depends on the screen reader); with verbose settings, the code span will be read out loud, character by character, including punctuation which would usually be silent in regular text. Just don't overuse it.

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I think you have some wrong assumptions. Here are a few.

Search engines don‘t care about punctuation, capitalization, spelling errors and such. However, they can have some input syntax. So these example will give different results:

  1. Hello world
  2. hello -world
  3. „hello world“
  4. hello +world

Ad 1: anything containing hello OR world. Ad 2: anything containing hello, AND NOT world. Ad 3: anything with this exact phrase. Ad 4: anything with hello AND world.

Moreover, results depend on the search engine, on the user (yes, we all are tracked and categorized), time etc. Parenthesen may or may not be interpreted by the search engine.

Read-ability will be very low if you work with double spaces. It‘s hard to detect, unless you work with proportional fonts, like Courier. Spaces in typesetting are both operational asset (making it narrower or wider to fit lines, paragraphs or pages) and creative element (visual grouping by white space: your question would improve in readability by inserting a few new lines, e.g. for grouping topics).

Alternatives: If you read books on programming, which includes all web related topics, they introduce their font syntax in the beginning. See e.g. publisher O‘Reiley. It may read like:

  • We use bold font to indicate whatever
  • while italics shall be understood as whatever2
  • and text like this indicates whatever3
  • after that they can use this convention in running text as well as in dedicated stand-alone paragraphs with special layout

If you write e.g. a novel you still can introduce your convention as relevant part of the story. E.g. the hero finds some key document, introducing this syntax, and repeating it, whenever he reads find a miracle at the end of the tunnel … and your reader will understand the info as needed (e.g. as resolution, task, puzzle, joke etc.) depending on your stories context and development.

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  • I had no wrong concept for case sensitivity nor punctuation. I am simply trying not to give the impression to very young readers and those who use English as a second language that punctuation is part of the search term and be able to set the search term (words) apart from the rest of the sentence. I guess bold or italics will do.
    – ejbpesca
    Apr 17, 2023 at 0:43
  • I have yet to find a standard for including internet search terms within a sentence. I and currently italicizing them.
    – ejbpesca
    Aug 5, 2023 at 12:30
  • Did you skim through some computer books, e.g. from O'Reiley or some Dummy-series? They spent some time on making good layout and design choices with the reader in mind. (At O`Reiley you can read many books online. Or try books.google.com etc. for a skim)
    – MS-SPO
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:10
  • Did you skim through some computer books, e.g. from O'Reiley or some Dummy-series? They spent some time on making good layout and design choices with the reader in mind. (At O`Reiley you can read many books online. Or try books.google.com etc. for a skim)
    – MS-SPO
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:10

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