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Document structure: Semantic or just systematic?

10+ Year Member

Msg#: 3610706 posted 2:44 am on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

So, when I first started developing websites I used tables. Then I ditched that for separating the presentation to CSS. I labelled each section with a heading, structurally, so the outline would be like this:

h1: site name
--h2: main menu
--h2: content
----h3: document heading
------h4: document subheading
--h2: utility menu

In hindsight I think I confused semantic with systematic, cordoning off each area and creating, in my mind, too many compartments. It was systematic. Systematic might be so... portion-size controlled, that it becomes superfluous.

Eventually, I decided there were too many problems with this: shouldn't it be a more document-relative hierarchy, rather than a site-relative hierarchy? So I changed it all to this:

h1: document heading
--h2: document subheading

That's it. At each change I decide things are working smoothly, then the niggling thoughts get at you. I decide that yes, while that's great for a page in its own right, it's less useful to navigate through a collection of pages as a site. Taking a look at Web Usability's [usability.com.au] Article on Source Order [usability.com.au], I started to seriously question a document-relative page.

But no, the problem isn't that one is better than the other: I think both fail in equal rights. On one hand there is a nice labelling of navigation, on the other the headings accurately describe the document.

I believe two types of labelling are required: one set for the document, one for the site. This would give you the ability to have a document hierarchy to denote the content of the document, while still having a label for the navigation.

Unless I'm mistaken, this should be happening in xHTML 2.0/HTML 5. So that means I'm not the first person to have this thought. They will be implementing <nav> to label the navigation, which is good because you can leave the <hx>s for the content.

Problem is, xHTML 2.0/HTML 5 isn't out yet. So what does everyone here make do with until standards catch up to requirements?

I think a good idea might be:

h1: document heading
--h2: document subheading
h1: navigation
--h2: sub navigation

So that navigation still has a label, while content still has its structure intact.

Thoughts, comments, suggestions, virtual tomato throwing?



10+ Year Member

Msg#: 3610706 posted 4:57 am on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

You know what, rereading through the working drafts, xHTML 2.0 has this:

--<label>Main navigation</label>
----<li>Sub item</li>
--<li>Item 2</li>

... which is cooler than in the draft of HTML 5, which says <nav> with <h1>s or <h2>s. I wonder if one of them is old... but I do prefer the one in the xHTML 2.0 draft.


WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

Msg#: 3610706 posted 11:48 am on Mar 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the great links! I hadn't see the Web Usability site before, and it's an excellent resource.

I generally structure my pages like you did in your last example. It seems to work well, and I have never received any complaints about the structure of my site.

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