Wikipedia:WikiProject Usability/Scannability

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See the following resources about scannability, and please summarize them here.

As applied to Wikipedia[edit]

Much scannability is built into MediaWiki's own visual page formatting, especially its use of prominent nested headings, distinctive link style, and other presentational aspects.

The template {{strong}} can be used to highlight some very important words or phrases that are important to the subject of the text, for easy visual scanning (and to represent strong emphasis more generally, though excessively emotive writing is non-encyclopedic). The template applies the <strong> (strong emphasis) [X]HTML markup, which is distinct from <b>, the boldfacing applied by '''...''' wikimarkup. Simple boldfacing is a purely typographic effect (e.g., it is applied automatically to section headings in articles, and column headings in tables), while strong emphasis has semantic meaning, indicating particular weight or importance. Most browsers render strong emphasis visually as boldfacing, but various software, even user style sheets, can treat strong emphasis and purely typographical boldfacing completely differently (e.g. by rendering one of them as underlined instead), as can text-to-speech screen reader software for the blind (usually by ignoring the non-semantic boldfacing).

In the lead section of the article, the article's title and its synonyms should ideally be emphasized with {{strong}}, although the average editor will use the simpler ''' boldface. Example: "The {{strong|soma}}, also known as the {{strong|perikaryon}} or {{strong|cyton}}, is the bulbous end of a neuron...", which results in: "The soma, also known as the perikaryon or cyton, is the bulbous end of a neuron..." Editors should not be admonished to use {{strong}} (but nor should they revert its use, since it is semantically meaningful and correct). Another common Wikipedia use of strong emphasis is to highlight crucial terms of importance only slightly secondary to that of the article title and its synonyms, outside of the lead section. For example, the article on a viral infection might use {{strong}} to highlight the names of two identified strains of the disease in a "Varieties" section, as an aid to scannability.

The similar template {{em}} is used to apply the <em> (mild emphasis) [X]HTML markup, which is distinct from <i>, the italicization applied by ''...'' wikimarkup, which is a typographical, stylistic effect applied to book and film titles, foreign words, etc., and not a form of semantic markup, unlike {{em}} (which is also usually rendered visually as italic). Mild emphasis generally has no special function in Wikipedia article layout, unlike strong emphasis. It is most often used the same way with which most readers are familiar, to visually represent what would be spoken emphasis (e.g. "Contrary to reports, she was {{em|not}} dead after all.)". Encyclopedic writing, however, makes much less use of this form of emphasis (mild or strong) than fiction, journalism and many other informal styles.

Both {{em}} and especially {{strong}} should be used sparingly. A single word in italics or boldface attracts the human eye, and this fact can be used to highlight the most important words or phrases, or to represent the sort of emphasis that a word or phrase would have audibly if the passage were read aloud and the emphasis were very important to convey (e.g. a direct quotation in which something was shouted). Such cases certainly should use {{em}} (or sometimes even {{strong}}) instead of the wikimarkup for italics and bold, which are mostly for styling titles and headings. Other than in direct quotations, if the word or phrase to be emphasized is already wikilinked, or the sentence ends with an exclamation mark, it usually should not be further emphasized. Overuse of emphasis is self-defeating. Scannability falters rapidly when there are too many emphasized things to draw the eye and/or when the reader finds that the emphasized things are not actually important and begins tuning them out. This is why we do not wikilink everyday words like moon and house except in unusual circumstances; the resulting "sea of blue" overlinking would result in unscannable articles. The same thing happens in paragraphs littered with bold and italic emphasis.