Paragraphs are the most commonly used units of discourse. While they are important, they are also the most commonly misused to emulate other units, like headings, lists and tables. Where word processor functionality is possible (e.g. WYSIWYG editor), you should use lists (ordered/numeric or unordered/bulleted) for simple lists of ideas and tables for tabular data.
Proper Semantic Usage
- A paragraph should be a complete set of thoughts. It should not start with ellipses (…), essentially an incomplete sentence. A heading should not be a lead into the paragraph to complete a thought.
- Never bold (the <strong> HTML tag) or italicize (the <em> HTML tag) an entire paragraph. If a paragraph was bolded or italicized previously (in a document before adding to a website), remove the styling, bolding and/or italicizing, and refer to proper semantic usage of headings.
- Where word processor functionality is possible, never use spacing to format any alignment issues or special characters (e.g. *, !, -, +, #, ^) to lay out content.
- Where word processor functionality is possible, never use special characters (e.g. *, !, -, +, #, ^) to emphasize the importance of something.
- Do use heading levels where appropriate (introducing a subject/topic).
- Use only one (1) space at the end of a sentence before starting a new sentence.
- Do use bold (the <strong> HTML tag) or italics (the <em> HTML tag) on important phrases.
- When needed, use a colon (:) to introduce a list, not a hyphen (-) or a comma (,).
- Use a colon to introduce a fact or important information (e.g. “Note:”, “Example:”), but do not use them at the end of a heading (Heading 1 – 6) as the format itself introduces information by default.
Guides and How-To’s
- Usability.gov’s Web Standards and Usability Guidelines
- Chapter 3: Accessibility
- Chapter 9: Headings, Titles, and Labels
- Chapter 11: Text Appearance
- Chapter 12: Lists
- Chapter 15: Writing Web Content
- Chapter 16: Content Organization
- Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI)
- Designing and Developing
- Web AIM
- WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.3 – Adaptable
- Understanding WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.3
- Techniques for WCAG 2.0 G115: Using semantic elements to mark up structure