Style Comments for Web Pages

These are of course, just my opinions. My hope is that they cause you to think about your reader and how they interact with your web pages. If you do this, it will be time well spent.
  1. ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE. If your student's can't find what they want in a few minutes with a couple clicks of the mouse they will not bother. You need a clear, logical, and consistent structure to help them find what they want.
  2. Keep each web page short and to the point. Scrolling to read long web pages is tedious. Scrolling through a web page is boring. Long web pages take more time to load. Break long documents into short pieces if you want students to read it on the screen. If you want them to print it out, make one longer document.
  3. KISS (Keep it Simple S-----). There is an extraordinary array of formatting features available for web pages. But overwhelming your audience with features may not help them. It is unlikely you can compete with professional web development teams hired by the entertainment companies. Don't try, instead provide information and resources to your students.
    1. Don't use the blink tag or animated gifs (graphics image file) just to be cute. Did you ever look at a web page and say to yourself, "that flashing text really makes this easier to read" or "that flashing spinning smiley face is much more effective than a bullet"?
    2. Don't specify the font. If the viewer does not have that font, they will not be able to read your page.
    3. Don't underline text. People expect links to display as underlined text, if you use an underline they will try and click on it. When nothing happens, they'll be frustrated.
    4. Don't use blue or purple text. People expect links to be in blue or purple (the default settings). If you use these colors for text, they will try and click on it. When nothing happens, they'll be frustrated.
    5. Don't change the colors of links. Once again, people expect certain colors to indicate links, if you change this, you will confuse your readers.
    6. Don't specify the background and text colors. You may really like reading yellow text on an orange background, but others may not be so thrilled with the combination. If you like yellow text on an orange background, setup your browser to display everything that way but don't impose your color scheme on others. In addition to being difficult to read and ugly, specifying colors can also cause problems with printing. For example, if you specify white text on a black background, only a technically savvy user will be able to print your document. If you use color text, users with color printers may not be pleased when they use an entire cartridge of green to print your document. There is a reason publishers use black text on white paper. It works.

  4. Think about what the web is good at, and focus on that. The web is a rich source of visual material. It is also a quick and efficient method for presenting text (although long passages are difficult to read on the computer screen and will be printed by most users). Audio and video are also possible, but keep bandwidth limitations in mind. Just because you can videotape your entire lecture and put it on the web, does not mean a student will view it from home. Try and keep video and audio clips under a minute in length. If they are longer, they will take too much time to download and won't hold your students interest.
  5. Give up the desire for precise layout control. Keep your layout design simple. Don't try to set everything so that the spacing is perfect on your computer. It will show up differently on another computer and when it is printed. The simpler the formatting, the more portable the presentation is. One of the underlining principals of HTML is that it is that you don't try and specify exactly how everything will look. There are too many variables in screen size, color, computers, and browsers for this to work well. Instead HTML lets you specify when something is important or very important. Then the browser decides what to do with that. You decide if something should be one size bigger or 2 sizes bigger. Do not specify the size, let the browser decide what that means. Give up control, it is an illusion. If you need precise page layout, don't use HTML. If you need precise page layout use Adobe Acrobat, it is intended for that purpose.

    Some common mistakes include:

    1. Using spaces for formatting. Because tabs, indents, columns, and right justifications are not available in HTML, many people try to design pages using spaces. Don't try it, the page will look different on every computer. Often with terrible results. You can accomplish some of these features with careful use of tables, but if you don't do it right it will create a mess. If you want your web page to look like a newsletter, you and your readers will probably be disappointed. If you want this level of control, make acrobat documents and put them on the web.
    2. Using hard returns for line wrapping. Just like a word processor, let the computer control the line wrap. This lets the browser adjust the lines to display properly on different size monitors and when printed. You don't have control over the margins and the page breaks on a web page, so don't try. If you need that level of layout control, look into using Acrobat documents.
    3. Page layout control. If you want to carefully control the layout of a page, learn how to use tables. It is more work than you may want, but it does provide control, flexibility, and robust page layout.
    4. Page display. Remember that the page will display differently on different size monitors and also when printed. Take a look at your web page on a 14" monitor and on a printer to verify that it works well under these conditions.

  6. Additional Information
    1. A Beginners Guide to HTML from NCSA
    2. Hypertext Style guide from WWW3 This guide has many useful suggestions about writing "good" HTML.
    3. Composing Good HTML This is a more advanced and detailed discussion about writing HTML documents. This is highly recommended for anyone who has started writing HTML and is ready for some more detail. It also offers comments on common mistakes.
    4. The Yale Style Manual
    5. HTML Terrorist's Handbook This is a humorous and useful listing of things to avoid. Unless.....

Continue with Section III: Basic HTML Features

This page is maintained by
Scott Van Bramer
Department of Chemistry
Widener University
Chester, PA 19013

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This page has been accessed times since 5/30/97.
Last Updated Tuesday, January 15, 2002 3:39:52 PM