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Writing for the Internet

Copyright © 2002-2007, 2009 by David E. Ross

I found two sources of fiction on the Internet: the World-Wide Web and newsgroups.

When writing for the Web, remember there are more browsers than only Internet Explorer (IE). IE might have dominated the browser market in the past, but now Mozilla products (e.g., Firefox) have a market share about equal to IE. In the meantime, Netscape is no longer being developed or maintained. Web pages should be written to be viewed with any browser; at least, follow the specification for HTML 4.01. Otherwise, you limit your audience and exclude those visually handicapped persons who use audio browsers that require standard HTML per the specification. You might read what I have done to make my own pages viewable with any browser.

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Among strange character combinations I have seen — either in Web pages or newsgroup messages — are the following, with possible meanings in brackets:

^Å    [ — (em dash) or … ]

©    [ © without the  ]



^Â    [ é; used in flambé, seen as flamb^Â ]

,    [ é ]

‡ [ ç, used in façade, seen as fa‡ade ]

ø [ ° (degree) ]

ï [ ï; used in naïve, seen as naïve ]

é [ é; used in café, seen as café ]

Ò and Ó ["smart" quotes, a good reason not use them]

’ [ a "smart apostrophe" ]

â^À^Ù [ a "smart apostrophe" ]

“ [ a "smart left-quote" ]

All of the above special characters are presented as entity references in accord with the HTML 4.01 specification.

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Some popular newsreaders are much more simple than Web browsers. Thus, stories written for newsgroups should generally be in ASCII text, avoiding any HTML at all. Some moderated newsgroups for fiction have rules against anything except ASCII text.

One particular annoyance is the story with very strange characters in the text (see the sidebar). This results from the use of escaped characters or character references, which do not appear correctly on some computers or with some browsers. Do not use either of them! If you cannot figure out how to present a word in a Web page with accented or non-Roman letters using entity references, most dictionaries will show you how to write it with merely standard Roman letters.

Then there is the text showing the character reference coding instead of showing the intended characters. I recent saw a newsgroup message with “ and ” where "smart quotes" were intended. It also had ’ in place of apostrophes. Oten, this merely means the writer tried to use HTML character references in a non-HTML message. In any case, while code-numbers in the 8000 range are part of the Unicode standard, they are not part of the HTML specification. This further supports my position that character references (based on code-numbers) should not be used.

smart quotes Even something as apparently simple as quote marks can be a problem. What Micro$oft terms "smart quotes" are not smart at all. They often cannot be presented on UNIX platforms or with non-Micro$oft applications. Instead, they appear as ?. (The examples to the left are in a GIF graphic file to ensure proper viewing.) This is also true of "smart apostrophes" and "smart single quotes". Do not resort to the abomination of `` (two grave accents) and ' ' (two appostrophes) for left and right quotes; even Yahoo stopped using those. Just use " (normal quotes) both before (left) and after (right) what is quoted.

Further discussions of "smart quotes" and other problems with special characters are found at Daniel R. Tobias's Characters and Fonts and John Walker's Demoroniser, Correct Moronic Microsoft HTML.

For best results when writing for the Web, try validating the files at the W3C HTML Validation Service. If this is not successful, not everyone in your intended audience will be able to enjoy what you have written.

Updated 21 April 2009

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