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HTML For Dummies

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New Web authoring tools such as Claris Home Page, Microsoft FrontPage, and Adobe PageMill almost take care of all the HTML markup needed to build great-looking Web pages. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the spirit of innovation rages on at companies like Netscape and Microsoft -- and stays well-ahead of even the best Web authoring tools. That's why it pays to have the completely updated HTML For Dummies, 3rd Edition, on hand so that you peer under the hood of your Web pages to add ...
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Overview

New Web authoring tools such as Claris Home Page, Microsoft FrontPage, and Adobe PageMill almost take care of all the HTML markup needed to build great-looking Web pages. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the spirit of innovation rages on at companies like Netscape and Microsoft -- and stays well-ahead of even the best Web authoring tools. That's why it pays to have the completely updated HTML For Dummies, 3rd Edition, on hand so that you peer under the hood of your Web pages to add Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer enhancements, JavaScript, ActiveX, and Java applets that heighten the functionality and style of your whole Web site. Plus, Web pros Ed Tittel and Steven N. James share their savvy advice on when and when not to use nonstandard HTML tags, including how to accommodate visitors using early, less capable browsers, and how to organize a large Web site so that it makes sense to you and your visitors. Best of all, HTML For Dummies, Third Edition, includes a bonus disk containing HTML templates, software, and other terrific resources to help you build great Web pages fast.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764502149
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 6/1/1997
  • Series: For Dummies Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 7.46 (w) x 9.27 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction.

PART I: Building Better Web Pages.

Chapter 1: The Web's The Place to Be!

Chapter 2: Getting Hyper.

Chapter 3: What's in a Page?

Chapter 4: Build Your First Web Page.

PART II: A Tour of HTML Basics.

Chapter 5: What's a Markup Language?

Chapter 6: Pigeonholing Page Contents: HTML Categories.

Chapter 7: Introducing the Unrepresentable: HTML Entities.

Chapter 8: Stick Out Your Neck! HTML Extensions.

Chapter 9: Using HTML Tables Effectively.

Chapter 10: Building Basic HTML Documents.

PART III: Advanced HTML.

Chapter 11: Beyond Basics: Adding Flair and Impact to Your Pages.

Chapter 12: Going High-Rise: Building Complex Pages.

Chapter 13: Strictly Pro Forma: Using Forms for Feedback.

Chapter 14: The Map's the Thing!

Chapter 15: Navigation Aids.

PART IV: Publishing on the Web.

Chapter 16: Testing, Testing, 1-2-3.

Chapter 17: Going Live with Your Web Site.

Chapter 18: What Do the Users Think?

PART V: It's Tool Time: HTML Development Tools and Environments.

Chapter 19: Tools of the Trade: HTML and Web Publishing Tools.

Chapter 20: Using UNIX Uniformly.

Chapter 21: More Macintosh Madness.

Chapter 22: Webbing Up Windows.

PART VI: The Part of Tens.

Chapter 23: The Top Ten HTML Dos and Don'ts.

Chapter 24: Ten Design Desiderata.

Chapter 25: Almost Ten Ways to Exterminate Web Bugs.

Chapter 26: Ten "Build or Buy" Tips for Web Services.

Appendix: About the CD.

Index.

Hungry Minds End-User License Agreement.

CD Installation Instructions.

BookRegistration Information.

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First Chapter

Chapter 10
Building Basic HTML Documents

In This Chapter

  • Putting it together for the first time
  • Making templates work for you
  • Starting page layout at the top
  • Writing titles and headings with a purpose
  • Building better bodies for your pages
  • Building strong paragraphs
  • Listing with the proper structures
  • Linking to your Web and beyond

Building your first Web page is exciting if you keep this thought firmly in mind: You can change anything at any time. Good Web pages are always evolving. Nothing is cast in concrete -- change is just a keystroke away.

Now that the pressure is off, you can build your own simple, but complete, home page. Think of it as a prototype for future pages. You can always go back and add a variety of bells and whistles to change your home page into any kind of page you want -- be it for a business, an academic institution, or a government agency.

The layout, or the way the page looks to the user, creates the first impression of your site. If that first impression isn't pleasing, the first time may also be the last time that the user visits your page. Not to worry, though: Your home page can be pleasing to the eye if you follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach.

The Web itself is a confusing concept to many users. Everything that you do to keep your page intuitively obvious makes your viewers happy and keeps them coming back for more.

Chapter 3 presents the basic concepts of a good Web page. It emphasizes form and content over the HTML controls and presents the elements of page layout and information flow. You may want to check out Chapter 3 before continuing here. If you used Chapter 4 to create a quickie Web page, now is the time to review that Web page and to use what you discover in this chapter to improve it.

The basics are content, layout, first impression, and KISS. Okay, now get on with it.

The Template's the Thing!

Well-constructed Web pages contain the following four sections: title, heading, body, and footer.

If you look at a number of Web pages, you'll undoubtedly see that most contain these sections in one form or another. You may also notice, as your frustration level increases, that Web pages lacking one or more of these elements aren't pleasing to your eye and aren't intuitive in their presentation. Plus, you can't find anything easily. We're not going to let that happen to your pages because you are going to use the following basic template for each HTML document you produce:

<HTML>
<HEAD><TITLE>Your Title</TITLE>
</HEAD>
<BODY>
<P>
Your headings and wonderful text and graphics go here.
<P>
<ADDRESS>
Your Name<BR>
Phone number<BR>
Standard Mail Address<BR>
E-Mail Address
</ADDRESS>
<P>
Copyright &copy; 1998, Your Name <BR>
Revised -- Revision Date <BR>
URL: <A HREF = "http://this.page's.url.here">
http://this.page's.url.here</A>
</BODY>
</HTML>

Getting started on the correct path is really that simple. This template actually works. Figure 10-1 shows what it looks like when viewed with Netscape.

  • Use your browser to open your Web page HTML document file from your local hard disk.
  • If you're using Netscape, remember to set the memory and disk caches to zero so that Netscape reloads each new version of your file from the disk, instead of loading the one in its cache. Other browsers cache pages, too, so make sure that you're reading what you just edited -- not some older version!

As you can see, your home page is currently plain and simple. That's not going to have folks flocking to see it, is it? That's because you need to add your own wonderful text and graphics. Even though most Internet surfers use GUI browsers, please follow our advice (from Chapter 2) and put your energy into providing high-quality content. Not to worry; in Chapter 11, you get to add some graphics, too.

Page Layout: Top to Bottom

Now that you have a basic template, you can start changing it. To begin the fun, make sure that your first home page doesn't occupy more than a single screen. This screen limit makes the page much easier to edit and test. You can get more than enough information on a single screen and help your audience avoid unnecessary scrolling.

A single screen seems like an easy concept, but is it? A single screen is the amount of information that a browser can display on the monitor without scrolling. This amount varies depending upon the readers' browsers and their monitor resolutions. You may decide not to design for the lowest common denominator for both elements, but please understand the following: If you assume that the user can see your page the same way that you see it in your browser, you're making a bad assumption. There is no easy answer to this problem, but testing your pages at a relatively low resolution (640 x 480 pixels) with several different browsers can help you see your pages through your readers' eyes. Getting this view is well worth taking the extra time!

Also, you may find it helpful to sketch your design ideas on paper first or to use a drawing program to create a model of your layout and components. (Figure 10-2 shows an example.) This model shows the spatial relationships on the page and the amounts and locations of the ever-important breathing room that page designers call white space. Although you can leave too much white space on a page, most designers err in the other direction and wind up with far too little, which causes a page to appear cluttered.

You must organize your page logically so that viewers can scan it easily. Because everyone is always in a hurry, put the most important information near the top, in larger type, and with plenty of white space surrounding it. Place the remaining items below as you work your way through the content.

Remember, you're not trying to stuff as much as possible on a single page -- you're trying to cover what's important for the topic at hand. If you have lots of material to cover or more topics to deal with, you can easily make more pages and link them to this one. A good rule comes from professional presenters, who say that a single slide should try to convey no more than three to five pieces of related information. We think that the same is true of a single HTML-based screen of information, too!

What's in a Name? Thinking Up Good Titles and Headings

In HTML files, the title provides the most important basis used by the search engines (Yahoo!, Excite, AltaVista, etc.) to index a document. However, after a user enters your Web site, your document's headings provide important visual cues within any page. This happens because the user's browser settings determine the font and page size and also control the line length. If you use appropriate content and layout, you can make the headings on your home page both attractive and informative.

Titles

The title of your page is important. Many Web indexing search engines -- the software robots that relentlessly cruise the Web looking for information -- use your title to create index records in their databases for your pages. Also, most browsers use the title in the name field of the bookmark or hotlist sections, which collect URLs that users want to revisit. That means they'll use your title to figure out what's on your page.

Because you want people to find and read your pages, you need to make titles as descriptive as possible. Try to limit the length of a title so that it fits on a single line. Think of the title as the keywords that describe the contents of your page. Understanding how titles get used can help you build titles that work -- we hope you get the idea!

One way to arrive at a truly descriptive title is to type a list of the keywords that best describe your page. Then use them in a sentence. Next, delete the conjunctions, adverbs, and unnecessary adjectives. With a little rearranging, what's left should be a pretty good title.

Here's an example of constructing a title:

  • Words: George, classical guitar player, bicycle racing
  • Sentence: George is a classical guitarist who races bicycles.
  • Title: George's Classical Guitar and Bike Racing Page

This title should fit on one line when viewed by most browsers. Test it with several browsers to see how it looks.

Headings

Discussing headings can get somewhat confusing because each Web page needs to have a heading section after the title and various paragraph headings within the body of the document. In the print world, for example in this book, headings are the emphasized text placed before paragraphs. This section explains the use of paragraph headings.

Headings, along with the title, may be the most important text in your Web page. They are the first text that the viewer scans. If the headings aren't attractive and instantly informative, the viewer may be off to another page with a single click. Well-written headings hook your readers and make them want more.

Concentrate on the content of your headings and the consistency of their meaning and usage throughout your Web pages. Your headings should arise naturally when you analyze your text. They should paraphrase an important concept that you are about to present. If you remove all text from your document (except for the headings), you should be left with a good outline or a detailed table of contents.

If the situation permits, headings may even be humorous. Headings can contain a common theme to help catch the viewer's eye and interest. The best approach to writing headings is to use your imagination and keep your audience in mind. We used this approach with the headings in this book; it is a hallmark of the whole ...For Dummies® series.

As a quick example, Table 10-1 shows some of the headings from this book in their "plain" and "humorous/theme" forms.

Table 10-1 Headings: Plain versus Extra-Spicy

Plain

More Interesting

Building Better Documents

Building Better Document Bodies

Building Good Paragraphs

Good Bones: Building Strong Paragraphs

Logos and Icons

Eye-Catchers: Logos, Icons, and Other Gems

In your Web page, you have only a few headings per screen or page, so make the most of them. Keep the size of like headings consistent throughout your pages to help the viewer understand the level of importance of the information. Although most browsers recognize at least four levels of headings, most well-constructed Web pages use no more than three levels of headings, even for very long documents.

Two schools of thought exist regarding the use of heading sizes. The information school says, "Heading tags should be used in increments or decrements of one and always start with <H1>." This approach definitely provides an ordered, standardized structure to your content and makes it easy for Web crawlers to pick out the headings for their indexes.

The design school screams, "BORING!" when the information school mentions its incremental approach. Instead, the design school states, "Use headings to draw attention to content. Putting an <H1> next to an <H3> or an <H4> creates more visual interest." As with most HTML design decisions, the choice is yours.

Experiment with heading tags to see what you think looks best. Remember, too much emphasized text diminishes the overall effect. Use it sparingly -- emphasis works better when it remains exceptional. If you're a fan of fairy tales, using too many headings is kind of like crying "Wolf!"

Building Better Document Bodies

The body of your HTML document is the core of your Web page. It lies between the header and the footer. Body content depends on the type and amount of information that you want to put online and on what kind of audience you're trying to reach.

Personal Web pages are generally quite different from business, academic, and government ones in the content and form of their bodies, although the layout for each type may be strikingly similar. The bodies of most personal Web pages contain text for, or pointers to, the following elements:

  • Résumé: Mostly dense text with a picture
  • Personal History: Mostly plain text
  • Favorite Sports or Hobbies: Text with an occasional picture and links to sports or hobby sites
  • Favorite Web Sites: Lists of links to Web sites

The body of a commercial artist's Web pages may contain the following:

  • Pictures, pictures, pictures: Usually small thumbnail-size pictures that are links to the much larger versions
  • Credentials: A page containing a résumé, or a list of shows and exhibits, awards, and other professional activities
  • Professional references: links to online samples of their work on other pages around the Net

The bodies of many government agency pages contain large amounts of text. Unfortunately, many of these documents are simply HTML reproductions of their long, text originals. Some are 100 screens long, or more! Fortunately, some government Webmasters provide a brief description of their text files along with an FTP hyperlink so you can easily download these monsters without having to read them on your screen first.

So, how much text is enough, but not too much, in the body of a Web page? The answer lies in the minds of your viewers. May we suggest, however, that large amounts of scrolling almost always causes them to think, "Too much already!"

Textual sound bites -- NOT!

When Web surfers want to read pages and pages of dense text, they buy the book or download the file and print it. For online reading, a large quantity of text isn't much fun, and many users view it as a waste of bandwidth (especially those who dial in with slower connections).

This view doesn't imply that your Web pages should be the textual equivalent of 30-second video bites on TV. It simply indicates that, at the current level of Web development, most users are looking for fast ways to find the information that they want. They aren't going to dig deeply into a sea of text to find it. Your job is to make the good information easily available to your readers by using an appropriate page layout and providing good indexes with hypermedia links within the body of your pages.

Balanced composition

The body on personal Web pages should contain three to five short, well-written paragraphs. If these paragraphs are interspersed with moderately sized headings, enough white space, and small graphics to add visual interest, readers will probably scan them in their entirety.

Good use of separators and numerous links to additional pages are also very much in vogue. Using these techniques should result in a page that's between one and three screens long. Avoid making pages longer than three full screens. Hardly anybody has a 33-inch, high-resolution monitor...yet.

Controlling long pages

In general, Web pages composed of more than five screens of text or five screens of URL link lists should be split into multiple pages. If your content insists on being served in long pages, you can greatly increase its readability by linking a table of contents (TOC) to each section and providing a link back to the beginning. This linking structure has an effect similar to splitting the page into multiple page files but still lets your readers capture the entire document as a single file. Also, this structure makes it easier for you to edit the HTML file. You want to balance your convenience against the penalty of moving a single large chunk of data -- moving it takes a long time! Just make sure that you aren't overdoing the links.

It looks like we've drifted out of the content stream and into the control stream. The two components tend to blur together when we discuss the layout of long Web page bodies. Nevertheless, content remains your most important concern, but when you have a lot of content, you can make it more approachable with effective use of controls.

The bottom line on bodies

The basic rules for creating great Web page bodies are:

  • Keep the layout consistent between pages to provide continuity for the reader.
  • Provide plenty of white space and headings for easy visual scanning.
  • Write short paragraphs and use them sparingly.
  • Use meaningful graphics but use them only when absolutely necessary.
  • Make liberal use of hypertext links to additional pages, instead of making your audience scroll, scroll, scroll.
  • Vary the placement of the hyperlink words to provide more visual contrast to the page.
  • Choose meaningful hyperlink words, NOT "Click here."

Good Bones: Building Strong Paragraphs

"Omit needless words!" cried William Strunk, Jr. He also propounds Rule 17 in The Elements of Style (co-written with E.B. White), which states,

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his objects only in outline, but that every word tell.

Rule 13 from the same work reads, "Make the paragraph the unit of composition." Combine these two rules and you have the essence of writing clear, accurate prose.

WWW users demand the clearest and most concise text you can muster. But alas, not everyone on the Web is an English professor. Many have never heard of (much less, read) The Elements of Style. Nevertheless, all WWW surfers are readers of some language, so regardless of the language, clarity promotes accurate communication in your writing. To this end, follow these steps to writing better paragraphs:

  1. Create an outline for your information.
  2. Write one paragraph for each significant point, keeping the sentences short, direct, and to the point.
  3. Edit your text mercilessly, omitting all needless words and sentences.
  4. Proofread and spell check.
  5. Ask a few volunteers to evaluate your work.
  6. Revise your text and edit it again as you revise it.
  7. Solicit comments when you publish online.

Listward Ho: Using a List Structure

Chapter 6 presents the different types of HTML lists. Now we can show you an example of the use of the most commonly used list structure, the unordered list.

The unordered or bulleted list is handy for emphasizing several short lines of information. The following shows HTML markup for an unordered list (displayed with Netscape in Figure 10-3).

<UL>
<LI> This is noticed.
<LI> So is this.
<LI> And so is this.
</UL>

Although you want to keep your page layout simple, lists and even nested lists (to produce outline formatting, as we explain in Chapter 12) can be necessary to optimally display your specific information. However, use lists intelligently and sparingly.

The following HTML document fragment shows the tags for an unordered list in the Web page body. The list serves to emphasize and separate the text lines.


You have reached the <I> HTML for Dummies</I> Web Pages,
a charming, and hopefully helpful, addition to the WWW
universe. These pages are designed to aid you in three
key areas:<BR>
<UL>
<LI> To help you find current information on the Web about
HTML
<LI> To provide working examples and code for all the
Web tricks in the book
<LI> To introduce <I> HTML for Dummies</I> - your
friendliest resource for HTML material offline!
</UL><P>

Figure 10-4 shows how this displays in Netscape. The bulleted list definitely emphasizes the body lines and adds to the visual richness of the page.

Hooking Up: Linking Your Pages

Hypermedia links within the body of your pages bring out the power of the Web. To many users, surfing the Web is the ultimate video game. Following links just to see where they go can be interesting and informative.

As a Web page designer and Web weaver, you obviously want your users to like your pages well enough to tell others, who tell others, and so on. Therefore, you must provide good links both within your own Web pages and to other Internet resources.

Links to pages within your Web are relative

From previous discussions, you may know that links come in two flavors: relative and full. You can use a relative link, such as this one:

<A HREF="ftpstuff.htm">Click here to jump straight to
the FTP page!</A>

You can use the preceding link within your own Web because the URL referenced is relative to the directory containing the Web page that calls the reference. In this case, the reference is to a file (ftpstuff.htm) in the same directory as the current HTML file (the current URL). The reference is relative to the server's document root plus the path in the file system where the current URL is stored. Got that? Don't worry; you'll understand it better later.

When you create links to HTML documents, you ordinarily use the .html extension. Some Web servers require all four characters in the file extension to recognize the .html extension in your Web document link. If the page resides on a DOS machine, the server ignores the fourth letter (the l). Make sure that you change (to .html) the extensions of the .htm files that you upload from a DOS or Windows computer to a UNIX server (or make sure it recognizes files that end in .htm as valid HTML files).

When you create links to HTML documents, you can use the ".html" or the ".htm" extension as long as you are consistent. Some platforms, servers, and browsers are forgiving when the "l" is left off the extension, but others are not, so be warned. In the past, Web servers required the full four-letter extension for both the filenames and the links that call them. Today, as long as your naming scheme is consistent, you can use either a four- or three-letter extension. But before you take our word for it, ask your Webmaster or system administrator about how your server really works; believe us, they know more about your server than we do!

A bit of advice regarding overuse of links: Use them only when they convey needed information and use each specific link only once per page. Users can get irritable when you make a link out of each occurrence of a commonly used word or phrase on a single page.

Links to the world outside of your Web are physical

A physical or full link, such as

<A HREF = " http://www.lanw.com/html4dum/html4dum.htm">

gives the entire http URL address. You may use physical URLs for all of your links without any noticeable difference in speed, even on your local server. However, relative links are much shorter to type into your HTML file and may improve your overall productivity.

When including physical URLs for links, we strongly recommend that you link to the resource first and capture the URL using your browser. Then you can paste this URL into your HTML file with little or no chance of introducing a typing error.

Whether it is better to use relative or physical links is a debate for the newsgroups or your local UNIX user's group. You are primarily concerned with the content of the links within your Web, their relationships to each other, and their contribution to your overall Web. Chapter 12 contains more advanced information on using Web links.

Choose your hyperlinks with care

Your home page may have links similar to the one, shown in Figure 10-5, from the HTML For Dummies® home page. Notice which words in the sentence are included in the hyperlink text (highlighted and/or underlined). You must click on these words to open the link.

Choose your link text and images carefully. Keep the text short and the graphics small. And never, never, never use the phrase "Click here" by itself as the link text. "Why?" you ask. Because your readers may think that you didn't care enough to write appropriate text with a meaningful word or phrase for the link.

Well-chosen hyperlinks let your users quickly scan hyperlink text and choose links without reading the surrounding nonhighlighted text. The surrounding text is usually included only to provide readers with clarification of the link text anyway. Remember: Users are in a hurry to scan your page and quickly pick out the important links by their unique wording or graphics. Make this task easy for them by using meaningful hyperlinks.

The next chapter goes beyond the Web building that you saw in this chapter. Move "onward, through the fog," to put the finishing touches on your first fantastic home page!

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