Archive for the 'markup' Category

Yet more on abbr

Monday, January 17th, 2005

So I’ve been thinking more about <abbr> lately, and I think I’ve come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t be used at all.

First off, I don’t think it’s needed. For > 90% of the abbreviations I use, the target audience already understands them (even if the exact expansion isn’t known—but then, it doesn’t need to be). HTML, PHP, RSS, URL/URI—anyone reading one of my web-related entries would know what those mean (indeed, most people on the internet would know what at least two of them mean, even if they do no authoring themselves). On the offchance that someone reads a post and doesn’t know what one of those means, then a), they’re way out of their league, and b), they almost certainly won’t understand even if it is expanded.

Second, I don’t think it helps accessibility much, if at all. Sure, it lets a screenreader know that it’s an abbreviation, but there are plenty of other clues that can give that away. The screenreader could have an internal list of abbreviations that it knows, like humans do. Many abbreviations are typed in capital letters. And probably most importantly, most abbreviations can’t be pronounced, and if they can be, they normally are. There are a few exceptions, but they’re rare, and in most cases that a screenreader would mess up, a human without knowledge of the subject would make the same mistake.

(Disclaimer for that last paragraph: that’s just what I’m guessing, based on common sense. It’s quite possible I’m wrong, but if so, I want hard evidence.

Third, the expansions of abbreviations, if given, have always been part of the content. If you look at a newspaper it’ll say something like “The National Institute of Health (NIH) announced yesterday that…” “Later, the NIH also…”. If it’s something known by most people, the expansion might be in the parentheses, but it’s still a part of the content. Using the title attribute, which isn’t a part of the content, to say what an abbreviation means is wrong.

We don’t mark up most other parts of text (places, names, sentences) unless they have some distinct semantic meaning that’s not there without the element (em, strong, code), the only ambiguous case being q for quotes. I don’t think abbreviations should be an exception.

You may want to read my previous posts on the subject.