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Structure of Paragraphs in HTML/XHTML

From: Laurie Brown <laurieb@tidalwave.net>
Date: Mon, 15 Apr 2002 10:13:03 -0400 (EDT)
To: <dsr@w3.org>, <www-html@w3.org>, <bookquestions@oreilly.com>
Message-ID: <000001c1e4a0$1eee0460$be769d3f@laurieb>
Hello -

I am having problems reconciling what I think of as a “paragraph” with how
the strict HTML and XHTML DTDs define the paragraph element.  I have spent
several hours trying to find an explanation on either the W3C site or the
Web in general that satisfies me and have been unable to do so--it is a
point that seems to just get glossed over in the literature.  If I have
simply missed the information, then my apologies for disturbing you and a
link to that information would be most helpful.   Otherwise, your thoughts
on the following conundrum would be greatly appreciated.

I have often run across paragraphs that are structured such that they start
with a few introductory sentences; have a block quote, list, or even a small
table (think 2 columns by a few rows) in the middle; and then have a few
sentences concluding them--the sum of this information expressing a single
thought or idea, the way we were taught a paragraph should back in school.
Thus, my instinct when tagging such a paragraph, in order to maintain its
structure, is to do the following:

<p>A few introductory sentences...
	<blockquote>The quote...</blockquote>
A few concluding sentences...</p>

However, the strict HTML and XHTML DTDs do not allow for such a structure.
Instead, by their rules, the above paragraph would have to be tagged as

<p>A few introductory sentences...</p>

<blockquote>The quote...</blockquote>

<p>A few concluding sentences...</p>

While this looks OK with the current default behavior of browsers--i.e.,
skipping a line between before and after elements denoted as paragraphs--it
may not in the future depending on rendering styles.  In addition, it does
not seem to me to be semantically correct.  The idea that this information
goes together to express a single thought has now been lost.  For example,
what if a user wrote a style sheet that indicated paragraphs should start
with an indent as is often done in the print world?  The <p> tag beginning
the concluding sentences would cause them to be formatted in such a way that
they would appear to be starting a new though rather than serving as a
conclusion to the information above.  Likewise, thinking about XML, such
tagging could lead to the same problems when outputting the information in a
printed form, where the convention of indenting is likely to be used.

It seems like my choices in this situation are to either write code that is
not well-formed or to lose the underlying structure of the document--neither
of which is particularly appealing.  Anyway, I'm just having problems
reconciling the idea that a "paragraph" should express a single thought,
with the actual tagging that is allowed and, particularly, what the
implications of that tagging might be down the road.  Again, your thoughts
on the matter would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you, in advance, for your

Laurie Brown
Received on Thursday, 18 April 2002 13:52:37 UTC

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