Standardizing Nomenclature

I agree with Richard: peoples’ eyes do glaze over when you say “semantic,” but they don’t have to. When Molly & I co-teach or when I am on my own, I always try to strike a balance by alternating “meaningful” and “semantic.” I feel it is important that “semantic” does not go away because it does have value. That said, it is necessary to relate to your audience, no matter what their level or experience, so I think alternating the terms and showing the interchangability of the two is beneficial for everyone.

It is also very important to stress the difference between “structure” and “semantics.” Way too many people (myself included) have used these terms interchangably, when they are not the same. “Semantics” is about meaning whereas “structure” deals with the framework of your markup. Some say structure has only to do with your XHTML skeleton (DOCTYPE, html, head & body), but I view a page like a house. To me the “structure” is the framing upon which you build your roof, walls and floors. In XHTML, that translates not only to your document skeleton, but also to how you use divs to “frame” your content, how you use heading tags to designate content sections, etc.

Confusion arises in some cases when elements are both. In the case of heading tags, they are semantically meaningful (each tag conveying the relative importance of the heading it wraps in relation to the document and the other headings) and structural (forming the document outline). Additional confusion seeps in when we discuss how structural divs should be identified or classified semantically.

These sorts of nomenclature confusion are things we need to overcome. Our industry is still very new and we are all learning a little more every day. Sharing a common language is very important for effectively communicating (especially in our global community) and is something I think needs to be stressed even more as we move forward. I think this is yet another area where we need to establish standards and, by having discussions like this, we are taking the first steps toward establishing those.

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