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RE: standard vs guideline

From: Richard Bowers <rbowers@intelixinc.com>
Date: Wed, 6 Mar 2002 10:32:45 -0500
Message-ID: <2E4803362989244D963CE9812CDCF75D3DF181@PEGASUS.intelixinc.com>
To: <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Actually, "standard" usually has a defined meaning, at least in my
experience. Standards are meant to be implemented as written, and
generally don't use the subjunctive case anywhere in them -- no
"coulds", "woulds", "shoulds", etc. They don't have levels of
implementation that are soft, or statements that certain things should
be avoided if possible. For example, most internet protocols, the format
of HTML, or the type of wood used in telephone poles, could be

Guidelines are different. Things that they publish don't contain words
like "will" or "shall", but words like "may", "could", "should", or
"would". Guidelines are used in places where the group knows that
there's either no way to get everyone to agree on something, or where
the guidelines will specify that something that is impossible be done.
You can't generally refer to a guideline in a standard as a normative
reference, because it is softer than a standard. Examples of guidelines
include the WAI 1.0 guidelines as written today, at least in my opinion;
example project plans published by ECIC; most documents that define
usability/accessibility, etc.

I'd say that there is room for both standards and guidelines in the
world of WAI. Standards should be unbreakable and quantifiable, while
guidelines are the place for the softer science, the places where things
are in the AT of the beholders, as it were.

Parenthetical note --
I've worked on standards before, inside T1M1.5, which is a standards
group for telecom interfaces. There were defined formats and a process
for getting the documents that we agreed on to ANSI, which would bless
them as a national standard. For some documents, they would eventually
work their way out to the ITU-T, which would publish them as an
international standard. The solutions we came up to were always
lowest-common-denominator, not ideal but the only things that everyone
could agree on. Standards were usually tested before being voted on,
using a variety of platforms, because they had to be implementable as

I've also worked inside a guideline-group, the ECIC. Some of the exact
same things were debated, but the solutions were usually better, as
people discussed what the solution would be in an ideal world, then
"weasel-worded" them to avoid committing anyone to actually follow the
rules. Some of the things that people came up with were impossible to
implement using current technology, but were used as a way to agree on
what the ideal technology would be.

In both cases, the attendees were often legally obligated to implement
the things that we decided on. However, since the guidelines were worded
softer, there was generally less force to them. It is much harder to
show that someone has done something against a document, when all it
says is "someone should do this" vs. "communications will work like

-----Original Message-----
From: Charles McCathieNevile [mailto:charles@w3.org] 
Sent: Wednesday, March 06, 2002 7:56 AM
To: Kynn Bartlett
Cc: Phill Jenkins; w3c-wai-ig@w3.org
Subject: Re: standard vs guideline

Anyone can call anything a standard. It isn't some magic reserved name,
it is actually a word that describes the thing which people all use (so
in fact many so-called standards are not) or agree to use as the measure
or interface they provide for outside evaluation or use.

Beyond which, I don't personally think that it matters a great deal what
they are called - if someone advances a sufficiently compelling case for
one name or another I am ready to be convinced.



On Tue, 5 Mar 2002, Kynn Bartlett wrote:

  At 6:16 PM -0600 3/5/02, Phill Jenkins wrote:
  >Should W3C rename the WAI guidelines as standards?

  Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that since W3C isn't an
  official standards-making body, nothing can be legitimately called a
  "standard"; it's a reserved word. However, "specification" should be
  available for use.

  I agree that the term "guideline" is problematic, because it
  carries an implication of "suggestion" which is not really what we
  are trying to accomplish nor is it in line with the way the
  "guidelines" are written.  (If we are truly writing "guidelines"
  then WCAG 2.0 would look more like advice and less like

  Anyway, I suspect this won't change, even if it really should.


Charles McCathieNevile    http://www.w3.org/People/Charles  phone: +61
409 134 136
W3C Web Accessibility Initiative     http://www.w3.org/WAI    fax: +1
617 258 5999
Location: 21 Mitchell street FOOTSCRAY Vic 3011, Australia
(or W3C INRIA, Route des Lucioles, BP 93, 06902 Sophia Antipolis Cedex,
Received on Wednesday, 6 March 2002 10:33:21 UTC

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