Ways to Skin a Cat

It might not look like a pun, but it is, because 'skinning' can also mean changing how something looks... so there.

Anyway, following on from my post just now about how digital copywriters are more awesome than typewriter copywriters (well, the ones who refuse to make the transition to online conventions, that is), I got to thinking about some of the other aspects of writing for the web.

Look at this word: bold. It's bold. And so are these two. And so are these.

But they're all emboldened in different ways.

Old-School, Bold-School

The good old way of emboldening text was to use <b> at the start, and </b> at the end of the bit you wanted in bold. It's still the easiest and quickest to type, and tends to be the one I use in my own blog posts - because I can break the rules when I'm writing for myself!

Along with <b>, there was also <strong> - this is the HTML tag that's emboldening the second bit of bold text above.

But we're not really supposed to use those any more - because now, there's CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

They're a way of separating out the formatting from the text on a page, and they mean you can set the formatting for, say, headings across your entire site in one go, and then they'll just show up all bold or big or underlined or however you want them to look, each time you use the appropriate heading tag on a page.

However, since the introduction of CSS, those fixed-in-place formatting tags that were so quick and easy to use have been replaced by bits of HTML like <span style="font-weight:bold;"> - the third option I've used above.

Turning a Formatting No into a See-Ess-Yes

Here's the thing. CSS has a tendency to dominate a site, to the point where individual elements on a page start to do things that look a bit odd.

One recent example in my case was a client whose CSS style for 'bold' included specifying which font to use. That's fine, only it wasn't the font that was supposed to be used in the section my text was appearing in, and I didn't have access to the CSS to edit it (and heaven knows what their site would have ended up looking like, if I'd removed a single font specification from the style sheet anyway...).

In those instances, it's time to dodge the rules slightly and use those old-school formatting tags to make your text bold in a way that's not subject to an ill-advised CSS rule. Knowing multiple ways of achieving that effect just gives you more options to work with.

Before you tell me I'm an idiot and it's not acceptable to use <b> any more - take a minute and think about it. No mainstream browser is going to drop support for that tag any time soon. It's already embedded into billions of web pages throughout the internet.

Experience as a digital copywriter isn't just about knowing the standard ways of doing things - it's about knowing how to tweak your content, too, to achieve the desired effect with the minimum of fuss.

If you've found yourself staring at a blog post, product description or 'about us' page that refuses to format the way you want it to, consider handing that job over to someone who's been there, done it before, and knows how to eliminate the problem quickly and quietly.

That's not actually supposed to sound like a threat...