Style guide for online hypertext
Document style: Make it usable out of context
Even when you structure your site according to the tree model
described earlier, people can jump in at any point. They can find the document through
a search engine, or they could simply have bookmarked it on an earlier visit.
Regardless of the reason, there is no guarantee that a reader has followed
the path he is supposed to.
If the documents are naturally sorted in a specific order, then keeping the flow
from one to the next is important. It is not necessary to rewrite the entire document
set to help those who jump in half-way, but there should be enough information to
prevent them from being completely lost. Some ways to do this are:
Always make sure there is a way to navigate to the index or
- The introduction in a document should not rely on the intended context. "The next
thing discussed..." or "The solution to this problem is..." as the first line in
your document will certainly confuse readers.
- If you use acronyms or technical terms, link the first instance of the word in
a document to an explanation in a glossary, or to an information document about
the concept behind it. For example, "IETF" could be a link to the IETF's Web site.
- A navigation bar can give explicit pointers to indices and the previous and
next document. This is also useful for impatient readers.
Because of the nonlinear structure of the Web, readers may come into your site
at any point. A link claiming to take them "Back" to some document
makes no sense. Their browser will already have a "Back" function
that takes them back to the previous document that they were viewing, which
is not necessarily the previous document in your structure.
All links in the document are forward links, as far as the browser is
concerned. The job of the navigational links/icons is to help navigating around
the structure that you have defined. To do this, add links to make the
logical structure visible, but make sure they are usable out of context. For
example, "Up" (to table of contents), "Previous/Next" (to documents that belong in
the same logical sequence), or "More" (a document that
gives more detail about the topic in the current document).
The document's title
Since the title is often used by search engines to list the results, and by
browsers to label a bookmark for the document, it should be understandable
out of context. "Introduction" makes no sense when it appears in a hotlist,
but "The Gutenberg Project -- Introduction" does. Try to keep the length
under 64 characters; this prevents it from being cut off in browser windows
and bookmark lists.
Last updated: 30 Sep 1997
Copyright © 1997 Arnoud "Galactus" Engelfriet.