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Authoring and Design for the WWW


Functional markup versus fixed formatting

- an important debate

The Web is in many ways in a state of flux. Its future direction is unpredictable. Choices made now (but largely out of our control) will dictate the kinds of documents we can make and use.

Prominent among the opposed choices is that of functional markup versus fixed formatting. While this might seem only of technical interest, the choice has a particular impact on work made for the Web. It touches on issues of communication, information and design, and affects the decisions we make about document strategies in Higher Education.

A printed document

To produce a printed document using computers, we can choose a fixed format or a functional description approach To produce a printed document like the one illustrated, we could take one of three approaches:

The fixed format approach

We can use the computer to indicate explicitly the visual formatting to be applied to the various parts, for example, choosing a bold style for the headlines: this is the approach taken by simple word-processing packages.

The functional description approach

We could indicate the function of each element and then as a separate process apply any specific visual formatting on the basis of that functional description. This is the approach taken by mark-up languages (and therefore by HTML, the Hypertext Markup Language for the Web).

A hybrid approach

Another common approach which is a hybrid of the previous two is to use style sheets, in the way that page layout and more advanced word-processors do. An account of what differentiates this from HTML is given below (p37).
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