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Re: I and B vs EM and STRONG

From: Bruce Bailey <bbailey@clark.net>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 12:11:09 -0500
Message-ID: <3651AE2D.E3C1E707@clark.net>
To: WAI Interest Group <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
CC: Al Gilman <asgilman@access.digex.net>
We are preaching to the choir here I know.  Still, if we can't convince
ourselves that these things matter, how can we hope to educate others?

> I still don't understand how it makes any practical difference.

It may not, yet.  The difference is more philosophical.  Learning <EM>
and <STRONG> in favor of <I> and <B> allows one to focus on content and
structure rather than the superficial appearance of the document.  There
is a fundamental difference between "logical markup" (including DFN,
SAMP, KBD, VAR, CITE) and "physical markup" (including TT, U, STRIKE,
BIG, SMALL, SUB, SUP).  I steadfastly refuse to teach the latter group. 
It makes perfect sense that they are all "depreciated" with HTML 4.0.  I
look forward to 5.0 when validators will (I hope) report those codes as
an error.

> The general public has no idea of when to use EM other than "use
> EM in place of I for italics."  And similarly for STRONG vs BOLD.

You have the rule perfectly backwards.  You learn with word processing
to use bold and italics for various kind of emphasis.  HTML lets you get
closer to your original meaning when you put ideas into words.

> EM and STRONG are euphemisms.

This is also exactly wrong.  Italicizing and bold typeface are
euphemisms (or at least techniques) for adding emphasis IN PRINT.

> Their only advantage lies in the
> absence of the appearance of discrimination.

The advantage has nothing to do with discrimination.  In practice,
Braille and speech (human and computer generated) deals quite nicely
with traditional print conventions.

> There is insufficient practical difference to merit our attention.

This distinction merits your attention (and ANYONE else that teaches
others html) not because it is somehow "politically correct" but because
it facilities discussion about what is different (or should be different
anyway) between publishing in print and on the web.

> One needs to know the rationale or justification for the italics.
> Converting I to EM does not provide this information.

Yep.  That's why you should use <EM> <STRONG> <CITE> <SAMP> <H1> over
<I> <B> <I> <FONT> <BIG>.  That's why you should expect a browser to
displayed all of the above a little differently.  I sure wish mine did!

To my mind, this simple issue is very representative of the
philosophical difference between providing a second "text only site" and
using universal design in the first place.  Do you think of the web as a
way to present print materials electronically or as a completely
different medium for information?  This is why I dislike PDF so much.

Received on Tuesday, 17 November 1998 12:10:06 UTC

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