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Re: Notational Conventions

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  • Subject: [mg129983] Re: Notational Conventions
  • From: "djmpark" <djmpark at>
  • Date: Sat, 2 Mar 2013 03:44:31 -0500 (EST)
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I think your objective of using Mathematica to write literate technical
documents is a very proper and useful approach. I can be done but there is
probably a lot to be learned because an active, dynamic document has much
more potential capability for development and communication than a static
written document.

Here are some tips:

1) Learn to use the Sectional organization of notebooks.

2) Some of your objectives, such as italicized single character symbols, can
be used by using TraditionalForm for Output. (I myself prefer StandardForm
because it is not ambiguous but some sophisticated users swear by

3) Mathematica will not automatically use different font styles for
different types of variables and I doubt if it would be easy to make it
automatic. You can use the SpecialCharacters palette for different font
styles and adhere to conventions in your own usage. (Starting variable names
with capital letters is generally frowned upon because they may conflict
with Mathematica built-in symbols.) Generally I would recommend against
being too concerned about variable fonts and meanings. There is a lot to be
said for regular keyboard characters and longer descriptive names.

4) It's possible to generate special output formats using MakeBoxes. 

5) Mathematica has both a pi symbol and pi as a numeric constant.

5) Style sheets allow you do define different formats for different cell
types, including new cell types you might create, but they will not allow
different styles for different types of symbols within one cell type.

6) There are a number of techniques for hiding boilerplate specifications
and displaying text and output in a smooth manner. It is also fairly easy to
generate displays in separate windows so a reader can scroll the notebook
while observing the diagram. (One of the advantages of ancient scrolls was
that they could be spread out so text and diagrams were both visible. The
diagram was not on the opposite side of the page!) One of the nice features
of notebooks is that you can bring the material to the reader, where he
needs it, without jumping around in the document.

7) It is important to keep the science and mathematics front and center and
not impose extra programming system restrictions that become more of a
burden than a help.

I sell an Application called Presentations through my web site that has many
features that make it easier to write custom graphics, tables and dynamic
presentations. It also has many features that help to write notebooks as
readable and usable technical documents. There are also essays on Writing
Notebooks, Writing Presentations, Writing Packages and Writing Applications.
Also many examples and extended examples including longer notebooks in the
form of technical documents.
You can certainly write nice documents without it, but many people find it

David Park
djmpark at 

From: Marsh [mailto:marshfeldman at] 


I am very new to Mathematica but see its potential. I'm unsure of how to
combine text and Mathematica computations in a notebook so that the final
document reads properly, and I haven't found a tutorial or any other help
that covers this. A near as I can make out, one writes the document as if it
were an ordinary word processing document, interspersing Mathematica
calculations and commands, and then one collapses the cells that one does
not want to display in the final document. Is this correct?

What I'd like to do is to adopt certain notational conventions and have
mathematica deal with them correctly. For example, one set of conventions
italicizes names of all variables, uses uppercase letters to name random
variables and matrices, but distinguishes random variables from matrices by
displaying all matrix names in boldface. A different set of conventions will
use italicized uppercase letters to designate points in a diagram or
constant parameters in an equation, with matrices now designated as
uppercase letters with the dimensions of the matrix as a subscript (e.g., n
x m).

Ideally, one would have a mathematical style sheet that makes changing the
conventions used in a document. But even if one were to be willing to use a
fixed notation in a document (notebook), I'm not sure how it would work. How
does one use X to designate a random variable and bold X to designate a
matrix? How does one use the Greek letter pi as a variable and have it show
up in the document as the Greek letter rather than as the word "pi"?

So what's the best way to deal with these issues?

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