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This is a formatting question. Example, $\sqrt{4}x^2 \text{ or } x^2\sqrt{4}$. Which is less ambiguous? Is there a style guideline for things like this?

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Clearly one should write $2x^2$. – Pedro Tamaroff Sep 30 '13 at 23:38
They go to heaven! – Bruno Joyal Sep 30 '13 at 23:47
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Particularly when writing by hand, I prefer $x^2\sqrt 4$. It avoids the worry that the top bar of the square root sign might extend over the $x^2$ and make you think it is inside. Even when typeset, it keeps people from worrying that you forgot some braces and the $x^2$ belongs inside.

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I always write something like $\large\tt\mbox{\,\sqrt{4\,}\,}$ when I use $\large\tt LaTeX$. Indeed, I define another one which is based in the above scheme. – Felix Marin Sep 30 '13 at 23:39
$\large\tt\mbox{\newcommand{\root}[2][]{\,\sqrt[#1]{#2\,}\,}}$ – Felix Marin Sep 30 '13 at 23:43

Also, this is a good occasion to use a TeX "\cdot", as in $\sqrt{4}\cdot x$. It is true that writing "$x^2\,\sqrt{4}$" disambiguates, but to me it looks very strange, definitely stranger than having the "\cdot" inserted. I've gotten into the habit of using more "cdots" in handwritten things since "discovering" the TeX use. Tastes vary...

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I also prefer the numerical part on the left. Another option is to "close" the root. (+1) – user26872 Oct 1 '13 at 2:29

The numerical coefficient is usually put before the variable. I would go for $(\sqrt{4})x^2$.

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