Winter 2010

HTML & CSS: Not-So-Foreign Languages

By Raederle (Red) Clay

At the end of the fall semester of 2002, I was volunteered to work on a web design project: overhauling a cluster of five web sites for local wildlife refuges.  I'd never contemplated how a web page was built until then and, on the whole, the internet was a big mystery.  I took several minutes to panic and wonder why I had been volunteered for the project, then got down to business and focused on a plan of attack.  The first step:  sign up for a web design class for the next semester.

I was terrified at first.  I had tried learning a foreign language before and after seven years, still couldn't carry on a conversation without writing down everything I was going to say and double-checking my conjugations.  Now I had to learn a new language from the ground up in less than 5 months.

The difference between Spanish and HTML, however, is fairly basic: HTML is written using English terms.  It's not really a foreign language.  It's less important to know what the different tags mean than to know what they do.  So stands for "HyperText Mark-up Language" and tells the browser what language the page is written in; what the tag does from a practical standpoint is surround the full content of a web page's source code.

Back then, browser support for Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) was full of bugs at best and nonexistent at worst.  We spent less than an hour during the entire semester on it.  Everything was built using the rigid structure of tables or frames.  I built web sites for friends and family for three years using this method before I took another class.

By 2006 when I settled on web design as a career option, CSS had become a browser standard and I had to not only learn a new language, but I had to re-learn HTML in order to integrate CSS.  It was a daunting prospect, but I tackled it the same way: sign up for a class.  At first, I hated CSS because it changed everything about how I built web sites, but now I look back and wonder how I ever built web sites without CSS.

In this day and age, HTML and CSS familiarity has almost become a requirement for anyone who works in an office and uses a computer.  Many aspects of the iProduction Publishing Platform rely on the use of HTML and CSS, a concept that can be intimidating to users.  But who has the time and money in this economy to take one or more classes at a university to learn it?  Fortunately, some helpful folks have created tutorials that anyone can take at any time.

W3Schools by Refsnes data is a free Internet Developers Portal.  Their tutorials are short, sweet, and to the point.

The first six chapters of the HTML Basic tutorial will cover the basic information most users may use on the iProduction Publishing Platform.  These chapters include definitions of HTML elements, several of the more common tags and attributes, and even provide test web pages you can use and a "Try It Yourself" dynamic editor.  The HTML Basic tutorial can be found here: W3Schools HTML Basic Tutorial.

The CSS Basic tutorial consists of five chapters covering definitions of CSS elements, proper syntax, and how to use CSS.  Like the HTML tutorial, it includes the "Try It Yourself" dynamic editor.  The CSS Basic tutorial can be found here: W3Schools CSS Basic Tutorial.

Although neither Basic tutorial cover all of the possible options and combinations of HTML tags and CSS styles, the W3Schools web site also has reference sheets for these:

iProduction encourages our clients to complete the recommended tutorials below; familiarity with HTML and CSS will allow users to identify and change coding errors that interfere with the display of content on the web site.  Our customer support and professional services staff are always happy to assist users and demonstrate some of the more complex methods for using HTML and CSS.

And the most important thing to remember: even the professionals had to take classes to learn HTML and CSS.