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Back Next Contents Guide to good practices for WWW authors


One of the most serious criticisms of information on the Internet is that much of it is poor quality and unreliable. Users wonder which information, if any, they can trust. HTML authors in particular have a vested interest in building up the perception of the Web, and their own Web site in particular, as a reliable worthwhile information source. There is little point in adding to the dross which is already there. Poor writing undermines confidence in the value of the information presented and poor quality information reflects on the institution from which it is issued. As a starting point, information providers can ask themselves:

Affirmative answers mean that there is some hope for quality. A negative answer probably means that you might as well forget it. But this is only the beginning of quality of content...

Maintenance of data

An evident failing of many Web sites is lack of maintenance of the data. In this volatile and rapidly changing environment, the natural process is for information to go out of date. Without monitoring, the integrity and reputation of even the most well constructed Web sites gradually drains away in the course of time. To offer information effectively, authors must set in place a system of regular scrutiny of documents.
Check their:

Check documents on a regular basis.

Monitoring the usage of WWW documents helps to reveal what users really find useful. Where information providers need to ration their time carefully, usage statistics enable them to make informed decisions on what warrants maintenance and what doesn't and to optimise the benefit of the time and effort invested in document maintenance.


The person responsible for a document is the one most likely to be aware of incorrect or out-of-date information in it, and at least some checking is likely to be done manually by them. However certain tasks can be automated, particularly where Meta fields have been used to store relevant information about the document such as expiry date, author, etc. For further information on Meta fields, see A HREF="">HTML Metadata, July 1995.


For instance, a collection of documents might be checked through by a relevant program. When a document is found whose Expiry date (a Meta field) is past, or some of whose hyperlinks are no longer valid, the program generates a warning message which is dispatched to the e-mail address given in the Meta Name field of the document

Make use of Meta fields to facilitate regular checking.

When dating your document, use a date format which cannot be misinterpreted, such as giving the name rather than number of the month.


It is good practice to provide information about whoever is responsible for a document somewhere within it, either visibly at the bottom of the page, or in the hidden fields within the HEAD of the document. Many institutions will have a standard policy of including their logo on their authorised pages, but it is advisable to also provide contact details for the individual responsible, be it the author, editor, or Webmaster.

Provide author or publisher information in your documents.

The most widely-used method of identifying authorship is to insert a brief reference at the bottom of the page, using the address tag, linking to a file with full contact details, e.g.


A user interested in contacting the author would simply select the LBJ link and thus get the author's full name, address, e-mail, etc., contained in the document lbj.htm.

For purposes of automated retrieval of author information, a LINK tag in the HEAD can be used, e.g.

<LINK REV="made"HREF="">

The information here can be automatically retrieved by some browsers where the user wishes to contact the author, and may also be used by Web spiders and other tools.

Use of forms and CGI

CGI (Common Gateway Interface) programs provide a means for WWW to interface with other programs and generate feedback to the user. A common example is the use of CGI to offer database searching. The user can feed in their request via a form and be given the response as an HTML document. For a good explanation of the use of forms see Chris Lilley's A HREF="http:///">Active Web pages.

If CGI scripts do not function properly, or if instructions to the user are unclear, this will erode the confidence of the user in your site. Have someone else try out your scripts and test them under different conditions before unleashing them on your users.

Also be aware that there are potential security problems with scripts. Badly written scripts can actually compromise the security of your system or network. If you have any doubts about your own scripts, consult an expert.

Test scripts for effective functioning.

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February 1996

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