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abbreviations and acronyms

Acronyms are abbreviations that form words from the first letter or letters in a series of words. For example, DOS is an acronym (as well as an abbreviation), while CPU is an abbreviation only as it does not form a word.

Abbreviations that are formed by using the first initials of separate words should not have any periods after the letters:


Make an acronym or abbreviation plural by adding an s (no apostrophe), for example


The article (a or an) that an abbreviation or acronym takes depends on the way it is pronounced—an if it’s before a vowel sound, a before a consonant sound

an IBM computer

an FTP program (pronounced with a vowel sound)

a DOS command

a UN resolution (although UN starts with a vowel, it is not pronounced with a vowel sound—you en)

Generally, spell out unfamiliar abbreviations and acronyms at first mention, with the abbreviation immediately following in brackets, for example

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Thereafter, use the abbreviation only.

See also [articles]
See also [contractions]

access devices

Any device used to access the Internet, including PCs, wireless devices, television, and public kiosks.


Accessibility covers how easily a website can be used by people with disabilities. Although adherence to certain accessibility standards is demanded by law in an increasing number of countries, accessibility is not just about the law, it makes good sense from a design point of view. Making a website fully accessible generally improves the usability of the website for everyone involved.

It is often not practical to have your website meet every single accessibility standard. You should prioritize them and aim to make at least the homepage and other highly trafficked pages accessible. There are a number of organizations that provide detailed accessibility standards— probably the most notable are the W3C guidelines on Web Content Accessibility (www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/), and the Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards of the US Architectural And Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (www.accessboard.gov/sec508/508standards.htm). Below, we have outlined the major points to consider.

  • Proper use of HTML: If you use HTML the way it was intended, you will go a long way toward making your website accessible, since this allows alternative browsers to present the page in a way that is optimized for the reader. For example, don’t use a header tag to change the font size. Also, ensure your documents are clear and simple and create a style of presentation that is consistent across pages. See also CSS.

  • Images: Provide a text equivalent (normally ALT text) for all images to aid readers who cannot see the images. Ensure only client-side image maps are used. See alt text, graphics, image map, client side.

  • Design: The foreground and background color combinations should provide sufficient contrast. Avoid tiled backgrounds as they can obscure text. Ensure that all information conveyed with color is also available without color. See also color.

  • Navigation: Use navigation mechanisms in a consistent manner. Make links self-explanatory. Add metadata, general information about the layout of the site, and navigation bars. Use a consistent layout. Do not cause pop-ups or other windows to appear and do not change the current window without informing the reader. See also navigation.

  • Screen movement: Try to avoid too much movement on the screen, including flickering screens or “blinking” content. Avoid creating auto-refresh pages. See also animation.

  • Technologies: Avoid using non-standard technologies that require viewing with either plug-ins or stand-alone applications. When inaccessible technologies must be used, provide equivalent accessible pages if possible. See also formats.

  • Tables: Mark up tables correctly and clearly identify row and column headers. For data tables that have two or more logical levels of row or column headers, use mark up to associate data cells and header cells. Tables of any nature can present problems for users of screen readers. Do not use tables for layout unless the table makes sense when linearized. If a table is used for layout, do not use any structural markup for visual formatting. Preferably, use style sheets for layout and positioning.

  • Applets and scripts: Ensure that pages can still be used even if they are viewed with a browser that does not support scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects. Ensure direct accessibility of embedded user interfaces. Design for device independence.

  • Frames: Not recommended. However, if you must use them, ensure each frame is titled in order to facilitate navigation and frame identification. See also frames.

  • Multimedia: Provide an auditory description of the important information of the visual track of a multimedia presentation. See also multimedia.

  • Forms: When forms are designed to be filled out online, allow people using assistive technology to access all the information, field elements, and functionality required for completion and submission of the form, including all directions and cues. See also forms.

address, physical

Always include your physical address on the website, preferably in the footer of every page. This reassures the reader that there’s a “real” organization behind the site, as well as providing them with necessary information. If you have more than one address, you can keep the list behind a “contact” link.

See also [footer]

address, Web

See [web address]

Stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line, a specific type of high-speed digital subscriber line that offers download speeds of up to 9 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of up to 800 kilobits per second (Kbps).

advanced search

See [search]

See also [promoting content]
See also [banner ad]


Advertiser-sponsored content that resembles editorial content and therefore contains a more “subtle” sell for that advertiser’s products. Advertorials should be clearly marked as such. For example, “This article is sponsored by X” or “Advertisement.” Readers have become quite cynical when using the Web, and if they feel that you’re trying to pull a fast one on them, they will quickly reach for the Back button.


This is one of the most common mistakes in English. The verb affect means to influence. Do not confuse it with the verb effect, which means to cause. The noun effect is used more often and means result.

Sales were affected by the downturn in the economy. [Here, affect means the downturn influenced the sales figures.]

Sales were effected by the downturn in the economy. [In this case, used incorrectly, it means the downturn caused sales.]

The effect of the downturn in the economy on sales was disastrous. [Here, effect as a noun means “the result” as in the downturn resulted in fewer sales.]


Afterward in American English, afterwards in British English.

ages/periods of history

Many names applied to historical or cultural periods are capitalized, particularly those recognized by archaeologists and anthropologists, for example

Bronze Age, Stone Age, the Renaissance

More general period designations are not capitalized, such as “golden age” and “fin de siècle.” For more information, consult a stylebook such as The Chicago Manual of Style. As always, the most important consideration is that you are consistent.

ages of people and animals

Hyphenate ages when used before the noun:

a 7-year-old girl

In general, it is better to give ages in figures, otherwise you might end up with a combination of a hyphenated number with another hyphenated word, for example “a sixty-five-year-old man” when “a 65-year-old man” reads better.

Only hyphenate ages before the noun, not after:

the girl is seven years old


Aging in American English, ageing in British English.

all right

Also spelled “alright.” Be aware, however, that many dictionaries disapprove of the use of “alright.” If in doubt, use “all right.”

ALT text

Stands for “alternative text.” It should be provided with every image on a Webpage, as it is particularly important for accessibility reasons. ALT text is contained in the HTML code and thus does not appear on the Webpage unless the cursor is held over the image and/or the image does not load properly.

Capitalize the first word only. No end punctuation (unless they are proper sentences):

Company office in New York

See also [accessibility]
See also [graphics]
See also [logos]


Choose a style for your site and stick with it:

  • lowercase with periods (a.m.—favored by the Oxford English Dictionary)

  • capitals with periods (A.M.—favored by The American Heritage Dictionary)

  • small capitals with periods (A.M.—favored by The Chicago Manual of Style)

American English

See [language]
ampersand (&)

Don’t use “&” unless it’s part of a trademarked company name, for example Ernst & Young. An exception to this could be the use of the ampersand in navigation where there is no space for and.


Not digital—data stored in a stream of continuous physical variables.


Animation is useful if it significantly adds to the understanding of some concept or product. However, animation can negatively influence the readability of text nearby, because movement affects the eye’s ability to focus. Therefore, an animation should either run a couple of times and stop, or have a command that allows readers to turn it off and on. In addition, animated content is generally much slower to download than ordinary text-based pages, and many readers associate animation with banner ads, which they tend to ignore.

See also [graphics]
See also [banner ad]


ANSI (American National Standards Institute) is a private, non-profit organization responsible for approving US standards in many areas, including computers and communications. ANSI is the American representative of ISO.

See also [ISO]


Avoid apostrophes in plurals:

the 1990s not the 1990’s

PCs not PC’s


Use apostrophes as grammatically required and remember the correct use of apostrophes in

women’s, ladies’, men’s, children’s, people’s, each other’s, one another’s

See also [possessives]


This is a small program that can be run in a browser or special applet viewer. For accessibility reasons, try to ensure that pages can still be viewed even if the reader’s browser doesn’t support applets.

See also [accessibility]
See also [Java]


Traditionally refers to data that has been backed up, but increasingly in Internet terms it can also refer to non-recent content available on a site— the content that is stored in the body of the classification but not directly highlighted on the homepage. Don’t remove old content that might still be of use to readers. Remove only content that is obviously out of date, such as an advertisement for a conference that has already been held.

See also [content review]

articles (the, a, an)

An article signifies a noun. The is known as “the definite article,” while a and an are the “indefinite articles.”

Use an before words that begin with a vowel sound and words that begin with a silent h:

an enemy

an heir

Use a before a consonant sound, including an aspirated (pronounced) h:

a hero (not silent)

a union

Use a or an appropriately before abbreviations and acronyms. Remember, it depends on how it is pronounced:

a UN resolution (although UN starts with a vowel, it is not pronounced with a vowel sound—you en)


Stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. ASCII is a code for representing English characters as numbers. ASCII files cannot contain any formatting commands (such as bold, italic, and so on); however, most computers can open an ASCII file. Plain-text files are in ASCII format.

  1. Application Service Provider: a third-party company that hosts software applications and services for customer companies over a network.

  2. Active Server Page: an HTML page that includes one or more small, embedded programs that are processed on a Microsoft Web server before the page is sent to the user.

assistive technology

This is software or hardware that has been specifically designed to assist people with disabilities to carry out daily activities. Assistive technology includes wheelchairs and reading machines. For the Web, common software-based assistive technologies include screen readers, screen magnifiers, speech synthesizers, and voice input software that operate in conjunction with graphical desktop browsers (among other user agents). Hardware assistive technologies include alternative keyboards and pointing devices.

See also [accessibility]


Not occurring at the same time, for example email, as opposed to synchronous communication, such as a chat room, which occurs in real time.


This is a file that is attached to an email, rather than being in the body of the email itself. The recipient must open the attachment to read its contents. The concern with attachments is the possible spread of viruses. Contrary to popular opinion, you cannot get a virus by simply receiving an email—it is only by opening an attachment that this is possible. To avoid email viruses, never open an attachment from somebody you don’t know. Even then, be careful. Some viruses take over a person’s email program and send themselves using that person’s address (such as the Love Bug). Basically, if you’re not expecting an attachment from someone, mail the sender to verify that the email is from that person.

Attachments can significantly add to the size of the email and therefore will take longer to download and open. In addition, the recipient must have the necessary software to open it. So don’t send attachments unless you have to.

See also [virus]


If any material is repeated word for word from a published source, it should be identified as such. If the source document is on the Web, the simplest way to identify it is to include the URL. If the material is general in nature, it is permissible to rephrase it in your own words. What must be avoided is copying someone else’s writing word for word.

Suppose a writer is mentioning the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in an article, and has copied the following passage from brittanica.com into their notes:

NAFTA’s main provisions called for the gradual reduction of tariffs, customs duties, and other trade barriers between the three members, with some tariffs being removed immediately and others over periods of as long as 15 years.

There’s nothing wrong with writing something like, “NAFTA was designed to gradually reduce trade barriers over a 15-year period,” and no need to attribute it. There’s also nothing wrong with repeating the entire description if it’s preceded by a statement such as, “As described by brittanica.com …” Offline sources must be described fully enough so that a reader can find them, and might include the names of the author, title of the work, the publisher, and date. Online sources should be directly linked to, preferably at the bottom of the document.

See also [referencing online sources]
See also [plagiarism]

Australian dollar

See [foreign currencies]

This is the process by which a person’s credit card is checked.

authoring tool

Authoring tools include HTML editors, document conversion tools, and tools that generate Web content from databases.


Fall in American English, autumn in British English—lowercase in both.



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