Some Tips about Writing for the Web
This is apropos of nothing at all and represents my personal
views about all sorts of random topics, mostly loosely related
to web publishing and HTML. Most of these tips are good
design principles for any sort of publishing.
- Don't use blink. You might think that it will give
some part of your document added emphasis, but some
browsers now will allow users to avoid seeing the
blinking stuff, so it'll not work. It's sufficiently
annoying that it'll usually have the opposite effect
- If you use a background, don't make it too strong.
Pick colors that are not full-white, not full-black,
and, if your audience is expected to read something,
some gray. The reason for the latter can be seen by
staring at a pink screen for five minutes, then looking
at something else. Your color perception will be
screwed up. A complicated background makes text
quite hard to read. You are probably not a good
judge of this; you already know what the page says.
If you are not sure, make it dimmer. All in all,
the default Netscape background (75% gray) is one of the
easiest over which to read text.
- Don't tinker with colors just for the heck of it.
The standard choices make detecting links and such
easy for users. You ought to have a reason to break
- Some users are colorblind.
A red background and green letters looks like an
empty page to them. A trick to ensure that colorblind
people can read your page is to turn the monitor to
black and white. If you can still read it, then so
can colorblind people.
- Don't use totally saturated colors. That means that
bright colors, such as full red, look awful, especially
in combination with other ones, unless put together
very carefully under just the right circumstances.
Browns and pastels and tints, tones, and shades look
better than highly-saturated colors and don't smack
the viewer in the face. Note that this is somewhat
culture-dependent; some cultures prefer gaudy
- Don't change fonts too often. This includes changing
varieties and sizes within fonts.
- Simple text fonts
have been developed for the purpose of making text
easy to read. It's painful to read more than a few
lines in boldface, so don't use bold unless you have
a good reason. This applies to header fonts as well.
Changing the color of your text ought to serve some
valuable purpose. Text of all different colors looks
- Don't verb nouns. That sounds silly, but we see
``authoring'' and other such horrors all the time.
Use words that already exist unless absolutely necessary.
- Be sure to leave a way to contact you on most of your
pages. After all, if someone really likes your stuff,
don't you want them to be able to tell you? You might
well include a link to your home page, too. If someone
llkes something they found via a link, they might want
to see more.
- Generally include titles.
Web searchers will return titles of documents, and
``No Title'' is not very illuminating.
- Use physical styles. I have no idea why the Netscape
folks think that logical styles are better. What is
the difference? Logical styles allow someone else
to change the appearance of your document without
your knowing it. How can they possibly do a better
job than you can? If something new becomes available,
you can adapt your documents to use the new capability.
- Jargon is acceptable only in some contexts. Realize that
many of your audience will not have the specialized
knowledge to understand it, so material for general
consumption ought to avoid jargon. That ultra-rad
skateboard jump's technical description, however,
ought to be in jargon, because no one who won't
understand the jargon will understand (or care)
what you are talking about anyway.
- Date items. If I like your page, I can go right to
the bottom (or better, top) and see if you've added anything since
the last time I checked it.
- Note that not all browsers support the same command
set as does Netscape 126.96.36.199.472.beta.42. If
something is very important, be careful to supply a
version without all the features, or avoid them if you
don't really need them. If you are not worried about
ensuring that some users will lose out, follow the
Netscape version of HTML, preferably an older one,
because most Web users use Netscape. Eventually, all
non-text-only browsers are supposed to become HTML 3.2
compliant, but by then, 3.2 will probably be obsolete.
- Test your pages. Be particularly careful about the quotes
in references; browsers are not as forgiving as they used to be
about this error.
- When using the `a' tag, don't place a space between the last
part of the material and the closing tag. The space will be
underlined as part of the link. Contrast:
Newlines are treated as spaces in this respect.
- Remember that you are creating a public document. If you
say something incendiary about someone else, assume that
it will get back to them. Better still, edit out such
material. Something nice, on the other hand...
- Avoid constructions like ``click here.''
Attach the link to the noun which says what the link is.
- Try to make your HTML readable. I find this particularly
difficult because I usually use programs to generate HTML
rather than type it in directly. Someday, perhaps, there'll
be a reasonable ``table'' mechanism; then that
might even be possible.
- Many people print out web pages for reading later.
When designing your pages, consider how it will look
printed on white paper. Consider testing printed
- I think header size 1 is too large for nearly any use.
- About home pages: believe it or not, most people don't
really care about you; they don't care if you are interested
in ladies' sumo wrestling (sorry, when I wrote this,
there was no such thing!), Sumerian lithography, and Pictish
hieroglyphs. If you have something to contribute, to say or
show, however, on one of those topics, then an interested
reader will be happy to find your page. Try to contribute,
not just to be there.
- Include actual pixel dimensions for images; that makes
page loading quicker for many users, and allows the browser
to complete the page even if there is a delay in or failure
in loading the image.
- Don't let browsers resize images. They do not do an
adequate job at it. As a result, don't use <img width=100%...>
because that will force a resize.
- I cannot see why anyone would care how many folks have
visited your page. Counters are great for you, the content
provider, since that information might help you produce more
material that is interesting to more readers, but the readers
really don't care...unless you are looking to find advertisers.
- Use the newest coolest Web trick if you have a reason,
but don't otherwise. The medium is not the message.
Believe it or not, by the time the vast majority of
readers get around to your page, they'll've seen it already
somewhere else. ...probably hundreds of times already.
- If an image is used as a hyperlink, a common way for browsers
to indicate that is by outlining the image in a (usually blue)
box. If you are using images embedded in text, as bullets, or
as other ancillary devices, generally this outlining looks awful.
To turn that off, specify <img border = 0 ...>.
- Whether or not you want it, some of your readers will be
children or from countries with differing moral standards
that yours. Try hard to avoid sexual reference, profanity,
or other devices inappropriate for such readers. If you
must use them, please indicate that such will follow.
- People like interaction.
- Some browsers (particularly some versions of Netscape)
mistypeset italic headers. Avoid them.
- Some constructions look awful if broken across lines.
Since you cannot tell how wide someone's browser screen
will be, Netscape's extension <nobr> is a good idea
for such items.
- To typeset the "less than" character, '<', use '<'.
- My version of Netscape has a funny bug. It won't vertically
align images at the beginning of a line of text correctly.
I work around this by putting a space ( ) before
the image. Then "align = absbottom" for example, will work right.
- Use speech affectations only when you expressly intend to.
Saying "would be" instead of "is" or "at that time" instead
of "then" looks very goofy in print. More importantly, these
constructions can confuse the reader.
- Omit anything needless. (With apologies to Strunk and White.)
- Don't use the applet that puts stuff in the lower
left hand corner of Netscape's window. It replaces
information that is useful to users.
- Incorporating images into your pages can make the pages
enormously more attractive and can add a great deal of
information to them. Don't, however, do it gratuitously.
Not everyone has a direct T3 link, so loading images
takes time. If an image really isn't all that helpful,
June 26, 1997