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RE: need a new tag

From: Charles F. Munat <chas@munat.com>
Date: Sun, 13 May 2001 16:48:59 -0700
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Miraz Jordan wrote:

"When I use MS Word to type a letter to my Aunty Flo and print it
ready for posting or faxing, I don't think that my use of bold or
otherwise has much relevance to anything beyond how I want that page
to look."


So you add bold randomly throughout your pages? I doubt it. My guess is that
you use bold for emphasis, since that's what it provides.

I don't think you understood David Woolley's comments. If you want your
documents to be intelligible, then you must structure them. Most people
create structure unconsciously: they learned it in school and now they do it
without thinking about it. But when it comes to formatting a document, most
are at a loss. There weren't many options when all you had was a typewriter.

With the advent of word processors and desktop publishing, a world of new
possibilities was opened. Still, the average user treats his word processor
as a glorified typewriter. He may bold text instead of underlining it, he
might add colors or even experiment with italics and larger type sizes or
fancy type faces (usually with horrifying results), but he doesn't really
understand how the presentation of a document should reflect its structure.
And since he's not consciously aware of the document's structure, he's
unlikely to format it well.

Whether you are working with Word or HTML, the same rules apply.
Presentation should reflect structure. Text is set in bold type or italics
because it is being emphasized. Some types of emphasis are traditional,
e.g., the use of italics for book titles, or the use of different type sizes
to reflect the hierarchy of headings and subheadings; other types depend on
the context.

Just as with HTML, the proper way to apply formatting to a Word document is
via the styles feature. Instead of using the B button to bold a word, you
should use the Strong style. Instead of hitting the I button to put a book
title in italics, you should create a Book Title style and apply it.

Do you really need to do this with your letter to Aunty Flo? Probably not.
But you are doing your students a disservice if you think that structure is
any less important in a Word document than it is on a Web page. Even if it's
only a letter to Aunty Flo, you are creating structure. It's simply a
question of whether you want to do it consciously or not.

Consider this: Instead of faxing your letter, you decide to read it to her
over the phone. Do you read it in a monotone? I doubt it. Do you shift the
pitch and volume of your voice randomly? Do you quack like a duck because
you think it sounds cool? I really doubt it.

My guess is that you would raise your voice when you wanted emphasis, and
that you would pitch your voice quite differently for a joke as for news of
a death in the family. If you were reading the letter to her in person,
you'd probably add hand gestures, body posture, and facial expressions to
your repertoire of formatting effects. And all of them would be used to
indicate the importance, the function, and the meaning of the words in your

So the question is not whether form reflects function, but whether it does
so consciously or unconsciously and, more importantly, whether it does so
effectively. It is my opinion that one is much more likely to be effective
if one is conscious of what one is trying to achieve. Do your students the
favor of making them conscious of the relationship of presentation to
structure and meaning, and show them the proper way to format a
document--with Styles. You aren't doing them any favors by teaching them
that formatting is there just for "looks," as if that were even possible.

Charles F. Munat
Seattle, Washington
Received on Sunday, 13 May 2001 19:48:31 UTC

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