I am looking for literature related to fear of notation in mathematics.

It is even heard that the font size and font type make a reader reluctant to study mathematical literature, often lecture notes, book has hazily-appeared (poor formatting,also not well spaced, unpleasant font) writing, and difficult to understand description that takes a lot time, specially if the reader's native tongue is not English.

Is there any literature that discuss the issue or talk about any solution? Thanks.

  • $\begingroup$ @JW By hazily-appeared I mean the text is not well spaced and appears to be messy just looking at it. $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2020 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ @JW my apology, misread, yes, including poor formatting,also not well spaced, unpleasant font... $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2020 at 10:14
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ So much of what is written now is done with LaTeX, it is a shock to look at old typewritten books with handwritten sloppy equations. We've been spoiled for some decades now, it's hard to go back to the old ways when Math Departments employed typists. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2020 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ This past week I was tutoring 2 students, and we hit the topics of dot product and cross product. • and X, but I kept writing the words 'dot' and 'cross' under my writing of these symbol, so when they reviewed the notes and confusion was minimized. Perfect timing on this question. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2020 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ (Comment) Many mathematicians use more abstract symbology than needed, or especially than optimal for beginners. Like Fraktur or like the Greek letters "squiggle" and "other squiggle". $\endgroup$
    – guest
    Aug 9, 2020 at 16:42

2 Answers 2


This is not a direct answer to your question, but it is literature that addresses at least one aspect of the issue you raise.

Keith Devlin wrote an article entitled, "The Symbol Barrier": Link. The point of his article is to argue that video games can help overcome "the greatest obstacle to good mathematical learning." But setting video games aside, he does discuss "the symbol barrier." Some quotes:

the biggest obstacle to practical mastery of middle school math: the symbol barrier.

We teach mathematics symbolically because, for many centuries, symbolic representation has been the most effective way to record mathematics and pass on mathematical knowledge to others.

The one exception, where the brain does not require the aid of symbolic representations (...) is what for several years now I have been calling "everyday mathematics."

It is with everyday mathematics that the symbol barrier emerges.

When ordinary people are faced with doing everyday math regularly as part of their everyday lives, they rapidly achieve a high level of proficiency (typically hitting that 98% mark). Yet their performance drops to the 35 to 40% range when presented with the same problems in symbolic form.

It is simply not the case that ordinary people cannot do everyday math. Rather, they cannot do symbolic everyday math.

That, my friend, is the symbol barrier.

Here is a link to a Powerpoint presentation with more detail: PDF download.


Just a link to an xkcd symbols joke, posted just today [7Aug2020]:



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