While helping a user who mistakenly thought that log rather than Log was the correct built-in function name, I included a gently-worded suggestion of a "RTFM" approach to learning basics such as that built-in function names begin with upper-case letters (or possibly $).

Then I tried to determine where in the Documentation Center one in fact finds such basics.

Where, indeed? And how would a rank beginner come across it?

I tried some obvious places:

  • the Get Started button, but that takes you to an on-line video touting all the things that Mathematica can do;
  • The Core Language > Language Overview, but that didn't help;
  • The Core Language > Mathematica Syntax, but that didn't mention it.

Etc. Is something very basic missing from the docs?

(I note that there are a couple of videos at the Video and Screencasts pages of the Learning Resources section on the Wolfram web site that do mention the upper-case requirement, along with using square-brackets to enclose arguments, etc. But these are not something a new user might encounter right at the start. Indeed, even once one gets to the Video and Screencasts pages it's not obvious where to start to obtain such basics.)

  • $\begingroup$ Click on the icon that looks like an open book (to the left of the search bar) in the documentation center. That takes you to the Virtual Book, which is an excellent learning resource. In fact, I think that walking through the virtual book is sufficient for anyone to get a fairly decent grasp of the fundamentals. $\endgroup$
    – rm -rf
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @rm: Clicking the Virtual Book icon is not where a beginner would likely start, as the default when one opens the Documentation Center is the Home page. In any case, where in the Introduction of the Virtual Book does one (first) encounter the rule/convention about names of built-in objects? So far as I can tell, not until Introduction > Getting Started > Some Mathematical Functions. That's hardly near the begining! $\endgroup$
    – murray
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ You'll find this information under Introduction > Getting Started > Your First Mathematica Calculation... It's a stretch to not consider that "near the beginning". $\endgroup$
    – rm -rf
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ I will admit though, that sometimes the documentation reads as if it's written by the WRI marketing team, which is why the big, huge "GETTING STARTED" link on the homepage takes you to some advertisement bullshit video on how Mathematica is the "ultimate application for computation", its usage in the industry blah blah — everything other than stuff you need to get started. $\endgroup$
    – rm -rf
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @rm: Yep, that's why I was dismayed at how relatively hard it might be to find this information if you don't already know your way around the documentation (as I do). $\endgroup$
    – murray
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


The things can be found in the virtual book which comes with the Mathematica documentation. In fact, you find "Some Mathematica Conventions"

Built-in functions are capitalized. Arguments to functions are wrapped with square brackets.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I know that's in the Introduction "chapter"'s second section, Getting Started, then the first subsection "Your First Mathematica Calculations" of that. I was hoping this convention would be more easily discoverable by a beginner, especially given that the Documentation Center opens at the Home page, not with the Virtual Book. (I'm hardly a beginner, so I know how to find such things, but I'm trying to imagine myself in the position of a beginner here.) $\endgroup$
    – murray
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ My point in the preceding comment is that this answer, although it does tell where to find the convention stated, does not provide a ready way for a rank beginner to find the information. $\endgroup$
    – murray
    Sep 29, 2013 at 16:41

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