Weekend Reading - Document Outline Dilemma


The Document Outline Dilemma By Amelia Bellamy-Royds

I love this paragraph...

So, the question we should be debating isn't "How should we assign outline levels to headings?" It's: "How can we summarize the meaningful structure of a web page, so that people using assistive technology can easily find content?"

This is a subject that I've raised in not a few topics over the years, when describing the semantics of heading level hierarchy. Now we have a meaningful discourse on the subject to inform us of the document structure paradigm.

HTML5 more or less steamrolled an age old tradition of only one H1 per page when it introduced ARTICLE which is allowed to have an H1 of its own. So the core document is shifted, but the general hierarchical rules still apply to the article. The integrity of the heading levels is preserved within the independent units (sections) of the page so it essentially upholds the old model.

That's so long as the humans writing the markup wish to adhere to the unenforced rules of document structure. There are no heading police out there, only search engines and user agents. A well formed and well structured document is not much to ask for from an authorial standpoint. It doesn't stop people skirting the accepted rule and pushing the envelope.

On a personal approach level, I have only three rules.

  1. Respect hierarchy.
  2. Never use headings for their built in style properties.
  3. Write meaningful and descriptive headings.

The title of a page tells what the page is about. Headings tell the reader what the article or segment are about. Headings are topical and explicit.