Web Writers Learn Your Medium: HTML For Dummies Will Save Your Life


Just writing isn’t enough. Writing correct English isn’t enough. Knowing what pool you’re in and learning how to swim is crucial. If you are going to write on the web, you’ll will need to learn some basic hypertext markup language (HTML). Before you run away screaming, “I’m not a programmer!” you’ll need to get that mind-block out of your brain. This isn’t about programming. It’s about using your chosen medium, the web, to its fullest extent for maximum impact.

HTML is exactly what it says it is. It’s a markup language. It was created thousands of cyber-years ago so web pages could display common print formatting like bold, italics, underlines and even strike-through. It has unique attributes created specifically for its medium, the web.

If you are going to use the web as your writing medium, you’ll need the basics. You can only coast so long on other people’s widgets. “I’m computer illeterate,” quickly wears thin as an excuse for not being able to communicate your thoughts in your chosen medium. Claiming to be a web writer means you can no longer ignore the need to learn the tools of the trade. The lamest words you can utter are, “Why can’t I just use Microsoft Word.” It’s simple, Microsoft may own many things, but they don’t own the internet. So with the thoughts of “learning to drive a stick shift transmission means you’ll be able to drive any car, any where, any time,” let’s go for a drive.

Knowing a little HTML means you’ll be able to use practically any web site for your writing. Ninty-nine percent of sites accept basic HTML documents. Even if they have some widget editor that offers the basic formatting at the click of a button, being free of such widgets means being able to do things that enhance your reader’s experience and convey your words more effectively. For example, many sites translate two returns as a paragraph break. Knowing a that, you can format your documents to look more professional than the average writer. Which looks better?

This intra-body headline

Followed by the paragraph…

or

This intra-body headline
Followed by the paragraph…

The first is what you get with most on-line widget editors. The second is what you get when you bypass the editor and take matters into your own HTML hands. You’ll have to agree the tight spacing of the second example is more agreeable.

The Basics
Though you can do many fancy things with HTML. I don’t want to overwhelm you with a bunch of jargon. Let’s just stick to the basics for now.

HTML tags: What are they?
Tags are the basis for all the markup you’ll need. Tags consist of an open and closing delimiter that wrap the text you want to change. HTML tags all start with the less-than symbol (<) and end with the greater-than symbol (>). Most, but not all require you to close the tag with a slash (/). The most elemental are the bold, italic, and underline tags. Here’s how you do it:

 "I want the word <b>word</b> in bold" yields, "I want the word word in bold."
You opened the bold with <b> and closed it with </b>. Everything between displays in bold.
You can to the same to create <i>italics</i> = italics and <u>underlines</u> = underlines.

You can explore more tags in depth at W3Schools, but the basic syntax doesn’t vary much. Here is another article from W3Schools that reiterates what I’ve just covered.

Hyperlinks: What paper can’t do
Working on the web means you have access to millions of other web sites and pages which can potentially enhance your message. Being able to connect to those sources adds a new dimension to your writing that paper can’t. The hyperlink is how this is done and it’s so easy to do. You just need to know about the anchor tag.

To create a hyperlink use the anchor tag with the “href” option.

"<a href="http://www.w3schools.com/TAGS/tag_a.asp">W3Schools Anchor Tag Page</a>"
     will display as
"W3Schools Anchor Tag Page".

We all know how hyperlinks work. You simply click the words and the target page loads. This is great for adding depth, references, footnotes and all sorts of cool links to your writing.1

The important thing to remember about HTML is balance. Every open needs a close. If you use double quotes at the begining of the HREF, you must use double quotes at the end. Single quotes will work just as well, as long as they are balanced.

Thats all for now. Just the most simple things to start. I don’t want anyone throwing up their hands and saying, “I can’t do this.” If you’re going to build with wood, you have to know how to use a hammer and saw. If you’re going to write on the web, you need to learn some basic HTML. No one is asking you to be a programmer, just a better writer.

1If you’re submitting to Associated Content, please read more about how AC mangles handles hyperlinks AC and Hyperlinks.

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6 Comments

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  1. Thank You Randy!
    Cyndee

  2. Okay, okay, I get it! But, I have a question. I use MSWord for spelling and grammar check. I MUST have a spelling and grammar checker. What should I use? Can I just use HTML within MSWord?

  3. BTW, I absolutely love your “Stripper thingy”. Thanks so much!

  4. Thanks for that, BF. Not all of us are naturals where computer-language is involved. (And I’m probably one of the slowest learners in that). These articles really help me because it’s written in very simple words. :) MJ

  5. Vicki Sulllivan January 26, 2009 — 10:44

    Why is “Bob says slack off” published at top right column?

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