Editing Web Pages

Whole forests-full of books have been written about coding web pages.  There is a short guide available here should you want it.  However, for most people, the arrival of CMS systems has made a great deal of this somewhat redundant.

You just need to write a properly structured document in your on-line editor - and the system will do the rest!

The rub comes, of course, in deciding what is a "properly structured document"!

When most people create a word processor document, they make decisions:

  • I want this in the middle
  • I want this bigger
  • I want this in Times Roman
  • I want this to be bold

... and so they press the [centre] button - or change the font size - or hit the colour wheel - and so on.  And, when it is all printed out on paper, no one will notice the difference.

On a web site (or, indeed, if you are emailing a document to your friend), all these little quirks will become significant, because each person will be reading the document on a different platform.

A properly structured document should cope with all of these differences, because what you tell the document is not how you want it to look, but what each element is.

And so, what you should be deciding is:

  • I want this as a document header
  • I want this to be a sub-heading
  • I want this to be the main body text
  • I want this to be a list

As a different operation altogether, you will decide what a document header will look like (Times New Roman, centred, bold, 16pt with a 16pt space below) or what your first sub-head will be (Arial, italic, bold, 12pt with a 6pt space below).  Once you have defined your house style, you can then quickly and consistently apply it across all of your documents. 

This is all done by means of a Cascading Style Sheet ("CSS" to its friends) and this is normally managed by whoever set up the site in the first place.  On a Content Management System, you don't need to be greatly bothered by this - just don't try to stamp your own likes and dislikes on top of the designed "House Style".

Actually, on a properly-organised web page, you won't specify exactly what size you want your text.  You'll define it as "120% of a normal letter" - or "80%", if you want it smaller.  That way, the document will look right, whether your visitor sees it enlarged on one screen, or reduced on another.

If you don't grasp that and continue to try to micro-manage individual elements of your web pages, you'll be in for a disappointment.  Every single one of your readers will be accessing your web page on a different system, with different size screens and different software.  Gone is the neat 210mm x 297mm of an A4 page.  Nowadays, some screens are the size of a young bedspread, while others fit into your iPhone pouch.

to be continued...