Do You Need to Know HTML?


This is html. Should you care?

It’s the special language that tells your computer how to organize a web page. Not how it should look, exactly — that’s mostly up to CSS these days — but which parts are lists and which parts are extra important, which parts should show up on the screen and which should not, where to look for images and how to decide which style to serve up on the screen.

There are those who believe that all schoolchildren ought to learn html, and those who feel that this mysterious stuff with the pointy brackets is just punctuation on steroids and should be left to the specialists.

I’m going down this afternoon to speak to Joe McCoy’s students about online copywriting, so I was checking out their textbook, and I was interested to see that it contains a brief section on html.

The textbook gave instructions for making italics and bold letters, links, and lists. These are generally considered the absolute basics, the equivalent of greetings and counting in human languages. I show some of these things to my writing students, since we sometimes write online and I don’t want them to be entirely at the mercy of their visual editors. You may feel this way about your website — why shouldn’t you be able to go in and fix things up a little yourself?

However, there are some problems with this.

The first and most important issue is that your designer uses CSS, or cascading style sheets, to add style to your website. This means that typing in the special html code for bold letters may not really give you bold letters on your website — it depends what your designer told the computer to do when it sees that code. If you plan to use html, you’ll need to work with your designer to make sure it does what you expect it to do.

Second, your html may not look the same on all browsers as it does on yours. That is, when you look at something with Internet Explorer, you may see something different from what people who use Safari or Firefox see. This means that you have to remember to check on all the browsers you’re supporting (all the things your visitors use) to make sure you’re giving everyone a good experience.

Finally, it’s easy to make mistakes with html when you only know a little bit. If you forget to close a bracket or fail to leave a space where you should, you can break your website. You’ll then have to hire someone to find your error and fix it for you. Not only do you need to be highly accurate, but you also have to keep up with changes. Using out of date html is very bad for your website.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn html. If you plan to do your own blogging and SEO, you pretty much have to learn at least basic html. In that case, plan to spend some time studying. Here are places where you can learn:

My advice: don’t learn just enough html to be dangerous; do be bold and learn enough to have control over your web pages.

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