ordered lists vs unordered lists

Discussion in 'HTML' started by Roedy Green, Aug 30, 2008.

  1. Roedy Green

    Roedy Green Guest

    Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    used.
    --

    Roedy Green Canadian Mind Products
    The Java Glossary
    http://mindprod.com
     
    Roedy Green, Aug 30, 2008
    #1
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  2. Roedy Green

    dorayme Guest

    In article <>,
    Roedy Green <> wrote:

    > Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    > number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    > order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    > more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    > points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    > used.


    If the context or lead in words to the list makes things clear, and the
    list is not too long, there should not be any problem. What are you
    concerned about quite?

    There are theoretical and practical questions. Let's imagine you are
    telling someone how to do something, you mention that they must do the
    following in order, very important. You use an ol because it is the
    prima facie correct meaningful element to use. It should be pretty clear
    without numbers. You have already told the reader in the preamble. Or it
    is obvious from the context.

    But wait. What if it is a very long procedure and the introduction to
    the list has disappeared? (Perhaps numbers *are* best to help the user
    keep track of the order as he proceeds to carry out the steps. When it
    comes down to it, why not be solid and straightforward rather than futz
    things for arty purposes?)

    Suppose it is not obvious from the context that the order is important
    and that you don't want to, for some good reason, have some introductory
    lead in. You want the list to 'speak for itself'. Yes? You want an
    element that does the job and the context is within the element itself?
    Fine, you are in luck as it happens:

    An ordered list is nothing much more than a special kind of 2 column
    table where the order is placed in the first column and the items in the
    order in the second column, each row being locked tabularly together.
    Now the point of actually using such a table here is that it solves the
    problem of making the show 'speak for itself'.

    You do this by putting in a table heading or two. The crucial one is the
    one that heads the column of the order.

    <th>The critical order</th>

    Be careful not to be too unwilling to put in a table heading! Too
    "klutzy"? Ah, well now you are being a difficult customer! It might be
    impossible to avoid misunderstanding if you are too precious about the
    "klutz" factor. <g>

    --
    dorayme
     
    dorayme, Aug 30, 2008
    #2
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  3. Roedy Green

    Lars Eighner Guest

    In our last episode, <>, the
    lovely and talented Roedy Green broadcast on alt.html:

    > Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    > number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    > order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    > more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    > points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    > used.


    Theoretically, a browser should be within its rights to display a UL in any
    order whatsoever. It could alphabetize the list or randomize it (as much as
    computers can randomize) or or whatever. But in fact, no browser does such
    a thing. They always put the first item in the UL first, the second second,
    and so forth. I think it is arguable that authors seldom really mean the
    list is unordered when they use UL and would object if browsers did not
    honor the order in which the items were entered. This brings me to the
    question: Isn't the difference between UL and OL really just *gasp*
    presentational.

    At any rate, apparently you can style LI with any list-style-type you like,
    when means you can number LI in UL or use discs (etc.) for LI in OL or
    override with a list-style-image (and with various degrees of success, you
    can even display LIs inline).

    --
    Lars Eighner <http://larseighner.com/>
    I have not seen as far as others because giants were standing on my shoulders.
     
    Lars Eighner, Aug 30, 2008
    #3
  4. Roedy Green wrote:
    > Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    > number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    > order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    > more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    > points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    > used.


    Don't see a problem here. If the order of the sequence is important and
    has significance as in a procedure use OL, if not use UL.


    --
    Take care,

    Jonathan
    -------------------
    LITTLE WORKS STUDIO
    http://www.LittleWorksStudio.com
     
    Jonathan N. Little, Aug 30, 2008
    #4
  5. Roedy Green

    dorayme Guest

    In article <>,
    Lars Eighner <> wrote:

    > Isn't the difference between UL and OL really just *gasp*
    > presentational.


    Hello Lars.

    Yes and no. It is an interesting thing to ask and I would answer in the
    end by saying that some presentation is deeper and captures a reality
    better than other presentations. So I take issue with your use of
    "just". It can get to the point where presentation makes *all* the
    difference! So much so that we can say an ol is really a different beast
    to an ul.

    uls and ols are not quite like animals that can be captured and
    inspected and declared to have this or that. We can try to guess the
    intentions of the creators of them. We can stare at the written
    technical "standards". Or we can simply understand as best as we can
    what would be a reasonable sounding interpretation that made both ul and
    ol good and useful. Frankly, I suspect it might have been better for the
    world had ols not been borne but we have them and so better think how
    best to use them.

    One interpretation and use for ols that I favour makes them very
    different to styled uls. Sure, you *can* go another way and use an ol
    because it gets you some nice numbers for various purposes other than
    that the list items have a sequential order that is wanted to be
    conveyed. For example:

    Aesthetic, it might simply look nice!

    Reader usability, it helps to keep track of what item the reader is up
    to (not that it *really* matters which item is first) so he doesn't lose
    his place when he is suddenly distracted by something... easy to
    remember that he was up to item 15... this sort of thing...

    There are a million *no-real-ordering* motivations. I guess you might
    call these presentational motivations. I am not quite as sure. You might
    use an ol to be conveying the count of items, straightforward decimal
    numbering will give the number on the last item usually. Useful if you
    are shopping and simply have a check if you have missed something. The
    number of items bought should at least match the last item number. You
    are using and the user is appreciating the ol's facilities here. It
    gives a count, is that presentational? Maybe, maybe not.

    But I believe there is another thoroughly pure thing that an ol can be
    used for. For when you are conveying an ordered set of things, the order
    being an important part of the meaning. In this pure role, the ordered
    list is an amalgam of two unordered lists, one is the numbers that
    represent the order and the other is the ordered items.

    Here is a list of three people in order of tallness of three children in
    a house:

    Tallest: Alice
    Neither the tallest nor the shortest: James
    Shortest: Matilda

    No matter what the order of these lines, the meaning of the results
    would be exactly the same.

    But if you want to communicate this information in a shorthand and well
    known way, you map the three children onto numbers which are known to
    grow from smaller to larger. This allows considerable economy of
    expression. Don't let the simple example mislead you, there could be a
    lot more to keep track of! They might be children of the Chinese state!
    We have an unending supply of numbers, and we know how they represent
    growing quantity. So we use our ability to generate such numbers to map
    big and small and in between...

    You might be puzzled when I said that the numbers that represent the
    order is an unordered list (if you have got this far reading me <g>). 1,
    5, 7, 3 are just numbers and they are what they are no matter what order
    we get the numerals in. We would not go:

    2. James
    1. Alice
    3. James

    and *explain* that the numbering indicates the order, lowest number is
    tallest. But better to let presentation do the talking, and avoid having
    to explain so much...

    We should explain (for really clear communication), when the numbers are
    *not* for the purpose of communicating information abut order! And I
    would advise, not use ols unless they are really needed to convey
    sequential order.

    The tag ol marks things. This tag could alert a browser to do set
    things, when it sees an ol, whether there be numerals there or not. It
    could have a preprogrammed speech like: "The order is important in the
    following list" (It might be too hard for it to know anything more fine
    grained than this) or it could insert some text to the same effect,
    saving the author. The point I am making is that given we have an ol,
    lets use it right. If the order does not matter, use a ul.

    --
    dorayme
     
    dorayme, Aug 30, 2008
    #5
  6. Roedy Green wrote:
    > Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    > number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    > order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    > more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    > points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    > used.


    Bullets that clearly delineate the points are what make it clear that
    it's a list, not that the order of the items is significant.

    Here are things I should do today:

    * Wash the car.
    * Mow the lawn.
    * Patch the ceiling.

    To answer the question of how you would make a list that is logically an
    ordered one (because the order is significant) *without* explicitly
    indicating its ordered nature:

    ol.myList { list-style-type: disc; } /* or circle or square */
     
    Harlan Messinger, Aug 30, 2008
    #6
  7. Lars Eighner wrote:
    > In our last episode, <>, the
    > lovely and talented Roedy Green broadcast on alt.html:
    >
    >> Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    >> number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    >> order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    >> more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    >> points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    >> used.

    >
    > Theoretically, a browser should be within its rights to display a UL in any
    > order whatsoever. It could alphabetize the list or randomize it (as much as
    > computers can randomize) or or whatever. But in fact, no browser does such
    > a thing. They always put the first item in the UL first, the second second,
    > and so forth. I think it is arguable that authors seldom really mean the
    > list is unordered when they use UL and would object if browsers did not
    > honor the order in which the items were entered. This brings me to the
    > question: Isn't the difference between UL and OL really just *gasp*
    > presentational.


    Consider that the W3C didn't worry about communicating whether there is
    some logic to the ordering of the rows in a table. It's really too
    trivial a matter for it to have been dealt with for lists by separate
    tags, and I'm surprised it wasn't just an attribute (ordered, or, in
    XHTML, ordered="ordered"). Once CSS became mainstream, it seems one of
    the tags (ol or ul) could have been deprecated EXCEPT for the fact that
    both of them explicitly convey the concept of ordering (ordered in one
    case, unordered in the other). It would be awkward, for example, to
    deprecate ol and have ul stand in for ordered as well as unordered
    lists! A new tag, <list>, could have been invented, but that might have
    been too jarring a change.
     
    Harlan Messinger, Aug 30, 2008
    #7
  8. Roedy Green

    dorayme Guest

    In article <>,
    Harlan Messinger <> wrote:

    > Roedy Green wrote:
    > > Often I write ordered lists, but it seems rather klutzy to literally
    > > number the points. I would like to visually let my readers know the
    > > order of the list is significant, but without numbering -- something
    > > more aesthetic, something more like bullets that clearly delineate the
    > > points. I wonder if anyone has done this and what technique they
    > > used.

    >
    > Bullets that clearly delineate the points are what make it clear that
    > it's a list, not that the order of the items is significant.
    >

    ....

    > To answer the question of how you would make a list that is logically an
    > ordered one (because the order is significant) *without* explicitly
    > indicating its ordered nature:
    >
    > ol.myList { list-style-type: disc; } /* or circle or square */


    Perhaps it would be interesting to look again at the point of having an
    ordered list element in the first place.

    What is its point? It is a specialist tag that authors should use to
    communicate an ordered list. And, if all browsers were visual browsers,
    the whole point of the tag would be completely and utterly lost if in
    practice the browser did not generate either the numbers or some other
    indication that the user is looking at an ordered list. Another
    indication could be the browser has a standard way of inserting a few
    introductory words "The order is important..." or some other marker like
    a gif. It becomes standard and well known.

    In other words, leaving off the numbers and the browser making *no
    practical use of the tag* beyond displaying like a ul is only acceptable
    as reasonable if other browsers, say aural ones, or aural facilities
    make use of the ol tag to convey the idea of the meaning. It is an
    accessibility device. It is good practice. If *no* browser used the ol
    tag to override instructions by the author about accompanying
    indications of order (numbers, voiced words about order...) then the ol
    tag would be a totally useless one, it would have no meaning that
    differed in practice from a ul. The intentions of authors do not imbue
    meaning. Meaning is bestowed by practice. Leaving out numbers etc
    undermines the practice or, if you like, depends on most other authors
    *not* leaving them out or browsers *not* erasing all traces of ordering
    presentation.

    Lars was wondering about presentation being somehow the real point of
    the difference between ul and ol and he is right in an important sense.
    From the point of view of browsers, the difference between the tags is
    always and nothing but "presentational". If it sees a table tag it draws
    up things in a useful manner, an ol, in one manner and a ul in another
    manner. It has no concept of meaning, it is all Pavlov, stimulus of the
    tag and a response in pixels or sound or braille formation. If you
    remove all the responses that distinguish it from the response to a ul,
    you have made it useless.

    In other words, if authors keep on leaving out the numbers, they are
    undermining the very purpose of the ol tag. If they are authoring for
    visual users but use it in case this helps the blind (the voice reader
    utilizing the tag to deliver the message of order), it is fine to leave
    out the numbers as long as the context or their explanations outside the
    list makes things clear.

    --
    dorayme
     
    dorayme, Aug 30, 2008
    #8
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