Style guide for online hypertext
As said in the introduction, an on-line document
can correspond to a whole book, or just a footnote. Usually the document
will be something in between, which means that there can be more than one
HTML document for one piece of information. The most important thing here
is that one document should contain one well-defined concept. Just
splitting a file to reduce its size, or join many small files into one is
not generally a good idea.
If the information is available in separate documents, the reader has to load each
subdocument to read it. On a slow network connection (or busy server) this might take longer
than the reader is willing to wait.
However, presenting everything in one large document also has its disadvantages. If it
does not fit in one "screen" (whatever is displayed at once in a browser window) then
the reader has to scroll through the document. If his interest hasn't been grabbed
within the first couple of screens, he will likely go elsewhere. To prevent this, don't
split up the document into arbitrary pieces, but add an overview and perhaps a table of
contents at the top.
A one-document, or archived/compressed version of all the information on a particular
topic is often useful. A reader can then download it and read (or print) it offline.
It's hard to give even a rough size for the size of a document,
since there is no way
to predict how much space a document will occupy on a reader's screen. One of the
few aspects you can control is the loading time. A typical speed for loading a
document is about 1 kilobyte per second. Many people use slow modems, and even when
the physical connection is faster, the network can be very slow.
On a related note, make sure that any
navigational images in documents are less than
450 pixels wide. Most browser windows are about this size, and if
your image is wider, the reader has to scroll horizontally to view
the rest. For preformatted text, use a maximum of 75 characters for
the same reason. Scrolling horizontally to read a document that is
slightly wider than what you are used to gets tiresome really quickly.
- For introductory pages, tables of contents and the likes, keep the total size
(text and images) under 60 kilobytes in all cases. A size of 30 kilobytes is a
recommended upper limit, since then a document takes only 30 seconds to download and
render completely. Any longer and your reader may go elsewhere.
- Informational documents should be split up in separate documents,
as discussed above. There are situations where this is impractical -
if each aspect is contained in one or two paragraphs of text, splitting
it up is not necessary. A reasonable upper limit for such documents
is 60 to 100 kilobytes. To make things easier for readers, the document
could also be made available in a compressed archive, or in a one-part
Having a table of contents does not mean you can't directly link to
documents available from it. Include links between related documents (e.g.
"Next", "Previous", "More") so that readers aren't forced to navigate to
the table of contents (this is known as the "staircase syndrome") every
Last updated: 30 Sep 1997
Copyright © 1997 Arnoud "Galactus" Engelfriet.