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Re: italic fonts

From: <jon@spin.ie>
Date: Tue Oct 7 07:37:27 2003
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Message-Id: <20031007113558.957F013DCC@dr-nick.w3.org>

> Does anyone know where use of italic fonts stands from an accessibility
> perspective?
> 
> should they be entirely avoided and bold or bullets be used to pull out
> information?

There are three main uses of italic fonts in English language typography - how much this applies to other languages may vary:

1. Emphasis.
2. Block quotes (somewhat old-fashioned).
3. The titles of books, and some other documents and sources. (Some others are generally given in quotes, for example the titles of poems are normally quoted rather than italicised).

The use of *some* sort of font variation here is, in general, a usability aid - it supplies information and context to the reader. Each of these have variations, respectively:

1. Bold text (sometimes colour variation).
2. Indentation.
3. Underlining.

Colour variation is sometimes used with each of these, though this generally moves away from style conveying meaning and towards style as a matter of graphic design (of course there is always an overlap between the two). I only mentioned colour in the case of emphasis above because that is the most common and most immediately comprehensible option.
Of course these variations can be used as well as italicisation or instead of it. In particular the use of italicisation with block quotes would almost always coincide with extra indentation.
The use of underlining for book and document titles is normally only used as a fallback when italics aren't available, notably it is used as a proofreaders mark to indicate something in a draft should be italicised. Underlining is a particularly poor choice on the web, because it is often used to indicate a link.

It is worth noting that these three uses coincide with semantic HTML elements; <em> (and <strong>), <blockquote> and <cite>. In the cases therefore of emphasis and blockquote the CSS would be pretty simple and obvious, and accordingly a user-stylesheet for a user who had difficulties with italics would be accordingly simple:

em, strong{
	font-weight: bold;
	font-style: normal;
}
blockquote{
	font-style:normal;
/* assuming extra indentation is provided by author stylesheet, maybe unwise, but maybe unwise to specify how much here */
}

Italics for emphasis and block quotation is therefore pretty safe.
Unfortuately <cite> is often used in cases where the italics would not generally be appropriate styling (e.g. the case of the title of a poem as mentioned above). Hence an author stylesheet would generally use classes to distinguish different uses of <cite> like so:

cite.book{
	font-style: italic;
}
cite.poem:before{
	content-before: open-quote;
}
cite.poem:after{
	content-before: close-quote;
}

A user stylesheet would have more difficulty in over-riding this. In particular the obvious choice:

cite{
	font-style: normal;
}

won't work as "cite.book" is more specific than "cite". Hence it may be advisable to use a "plain" cite for such cases - or at least not use the class to select it in the CSS, using a class for other purposes would be okay, and to specifically exclude other cases of cite from the italicisation:

cite{
	font-style: italic;
}
cite.poem{
	font-style: normal;
}
cite.poem:before{
	content-before: open-quote;
}
cite.poem:after{
	content-before: close-quote;
}
Received on Tuesday, 7 October 2003 07:37:27 GMT

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