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Writing For Web - Are You A Victim Of The Word

Arun Pal Singh

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Sometimes, you might come across text on the web that appears to be jumbled. It is full of odd foreign letters, is unreadable, and it takes ages to load. Do you know, nine times out of ten the culprit is a program that many people use every day.

It is Microsoft Word. Or popularly called “Word".

Microsoft Word is the world's most popular word processor. But while Word might be perfectly good for producing documents to print and email to people, Word is bad for the web.

The Quotes

The design of the keyboard comes from the age of typewriters and the symbols present represent the kind of writing that appears on typewriters. We have stuck with our keyboard designs. All the extra characters and letters of modern fonts have to be accommodated in that very keyboard. The solution thought was to code the new characters.

This led to the quote problem.

Take a look at your keyboard. Notice how there is only one kind of double-quote mark - the straight one. When you want a single quote, you have to use the same key as for apostrophes! Now, if you were writing on paper, you would put different shaped quotes at the start and end of a quote, instead of just making straight lines. But this is not so in case of typed texts.

Things that would be represented by five different marks on paper only get two symbols on the keyboard.

Long ago, Microsoft decided to solve this problem. First, they set up Word to look for quote marks and replace them with nicer, curly quotes, known as ‘smart quotes’. Then, they took some unused character codes and decided that they would represent these new, pretty quotes.

Everything was fine until, years later, people started copying text they had written in Word and pasting onto the web. Because Microsoft didn't stick to any international standard when they chose how to represent their smart quotes, the quotes ended up displaying as all sorts of unintended strange letters in web browsers.

Word's users never meant to do this, but Word had gone ahead and done it for them, because smart quotes is turned on by default!

Not so smart after all, was it?


There is more to all this. When Microsoft finally caught on that the web was going to be big, they quickly added web features to Word, not least of which is the ability to save documents to HTML. Microsoft again failed to stick to any standards at all. They made up their own HTML tags to represent the layout of Word documents, purely to make sure that the documents would look the same if people wanted to open them in Word and save them in another format. These proprietary tags now pollute HTML documents all over the web, simply because the people who created the pages by saving as HTML in Word don't know enough to remove them –– and they make pages load much more slowly.

Smart Tags

It does not end there. For their latest versions of Word, Microsoft added something they called ‘smart tags’. It is a kind of ‘link’ that adds contextual information to things you type. For example, if you type an address in your document, that address allows you to link through to a map.

The problem comes when documents containing smart tags are saved as HTML. The tags are saved too! This means that documents all over the web have odd text linked to completely frivolous places, simply because Word thought it looked like an address. Not only do these links take ages to load correctly, but they're ugly too.

They are nice features when you use Word to print documents or email. But for the web they cause messy pictures. Do you wish to see the impact they have produced on the web and amount of cautions they have generated. Visit an article directory and you will find a whole page devoted to how to remove smart quotes. Or they will have special paste link if you are copying from Word.

What is the solution?

Best would be not to use Word to write for the web. Use a text editor instead. Notepad is the simplest example but there are many other available which are much more advanced. As usual many are free and others come at a price.

If you still would like to use Word then turn the smart quotes off by going to options.

This will save a lot of headaches to many people including you.

Arun Pal Singh is a doctor, writer and internet marketer. He runs membership site where he offers downloadable products and traffic strategies which you can resell and use to build your own business.


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