Which Tags to Use?
= Index DOT Html by Brian Wilson =

Main Index | Element Tree | Element Index | HTML Support History

Reach the Largest Audience Possible
When building this site I tried to keep opinions on authoring out of it. There are often many "tricks" possible to make something look EXACTLY like you want. The problem is that the desired visual result may only appear using one type of browser. Some HTML tags and structures yield more consistent display results than others. The guiding tenet to the author should ALWAYS be - ACCESSIBILITY. Whether it be making pages readable by all or most browsers or making a page usable for text-to-speech browsers, this factor should always guide your design.

Having said that, it is really up to you, the author, to decide which tags to use in which contexts in order to accomplish this goal in your documents. In the end, if a reader can not read some or any of the content of your site, your message is simply not getting across to all the people that it could. The tables of historical browser support for HTML elements are meant as a guide only. It is up to the author to decide which tags and techniques are the best in a given situation. Hopefully the information presented here can help make the decision a more informed one.

Things To Keep In Mind
In the past, authoring HTML Tables without a simple-markup alternative was almost unthinkable since not all browsers could support the capability. In just a short time, browsers have developed to the point that almost all have table capability to some degree, even the celebrated "Lowest Common Denominator" text-based browser, Lynx. It is always a good idea to test how your pages will look on browsers that have more basic capabilities than those in general use, but with some features such as HTML tables, it is becoming increasingly harder to do this as the general capabilities of common browsers increase.

There are many criteria to consider when trying to allow for different browser capabilities. If these are considered or addressed in page design, it will go a LONG way toward reaching the widest audience possible:
  • What HTML capabilities will your target audience have?
  • What HTML capabilities are generally available to the most commonly used browsers?
  • What media capabilities will your audience have?

Usable On All Browsers?
Elements like HTML tables are fairly safe now to use without needing an analog for those who can not read them properly. Legal HTML "tricks" also exist (which I try document in these pages) to help many newer HTML constructs degrade nicely on older browsers. An author should try to incorporate these methods whenever possible. There are some capabilities of HTML for which this graceful degradation can never really occur. Text-only browsers or browsers designed for the sensory - impaired for instance can not deliver the multimedia content that many pages use to make the Web experience more visually compelling. In such cases, there ARE some crude, and also some elegant methods to allow for browsers that do not have rich capabilities, but they are often under-used. Seek these methods out, use them as much as possible, and your readers will thank you for it. After all, the content of the web is for the READER, not for the author!

For a good treatment of this topic, there is a book that covers it fairly well (although its information is very out-of-date now.) It is called "Hybrid HTML Design: A Multi-Browser HTML Reference" (ISBN: 1562056174) by Kevin Ready and Janine Warner. I do not have any affiliation with the publishers or authors, but I did think it was an excellent coverage of the topic in its time.

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