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How to write math in an email

By Murray Bourne, 16 Sep 2009

Perhaps you're a student and you need to ask your teacher a question about your math homework. You go to type it in an email but have trouble when you get up to the square root, fraction, integral and summation signs. Greek characters pose even more of a challenge.

When your teacher receives your mail, she has trouble reading what you are asking about and has to ask you to clarify it.

I've developed a "math in email" application that aims to make the process easier. It's built on ASCIIMathML, which displays good looking math using normal fonts (in Firefox) or images (in other browsers).

I've updated it so it now sends the mail directly so the recipient can read it in their email program (whereas before they had to click a link to see the contents of the mail).

Using this system, you can type simple commands to achieve math symbols in your email. The approach is similar to the way you enter math into a graphics calculator or a spreadsheet.

For example, a fraction can be typed using "/", as in: (a + b)/c, and it will display as a proper (vertical) fraction. There's just one trick - you need to enclose your math in opening single quotes (not apostrophes) like this:

`(a + b)/c`

A square root is simply: `sqrt(x+5)`

Superscripts (powers): `x^2`

Subscripts: `x_1`

Go try out the Math Mail system. You can send a mail to yourself to test it out (it will send a copy to you for your own records).

Feedback is welcome - did it work OK for you?

See the 10 Comments below.

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HTML: You can use simple tags like <b>, <a href="...">, etc.

To enter math, you can can either:

  1. Use simple calculator-like input in the following format (surround your math in backticks, or qq on tablet or phone):
    `a^2 = sqrt(b^2 + c^2)`
    (See more on ASCIIMath syntax); or
  2. Use simple LaTeX in the following format. Surround your math with \( and \).
    \( \int g dx = \sqrt{\frac{a}{b}} \)
    (This is standard simple LaTeX.)

NOTE: You can mix both types of math entry in your comment.


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