Are there any grammatical rules for linktext?
February 9, 2005 8:33 AM   Subscribe

I know I'm being a bit of a hypertext pedant, but are there any grammatical rules for linktext? Any stylistic rules for linktext? Linktext is the stuff that goes in between <a> and </a>. I know to never use "click here" as linktext but I'm interested in other rules about syntax and style. (more inside)

I should point out that I'm barely literate (mostly due to reading MetaFilter) and have the only the loosest grasp on the parts of speech, i.e. I thought "the" was a preposition.

Should I include articles in linktext? "The Star-Belly Sneetches" or "The Star-Belly Sneetches"? Are there differences in linking to nouns and verbs? Do I need to think about how the document would read without the hypertext when writing my linktext?

In the question I wrote the linktext so that if you saw the link 'never use "click here" as linktext' on its own you would know where it goes.

Do I need to think about how the hypertext would read without the surrounding document when choosing what to link? Using my question as an example again, I think that it would read correctly

I've developed a feel for where links should go but the web has been around for over a decade, there have got to be some rules somewhere. I couldn't find anything from MLA or AskOxford.
posted by revgeorge to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
Wired put out a style guide a while back, although unfortunately, I don't have it in front of me. (In fact, it's probably out of date by now.)

Purpose and tone have a great deal to do with how you're linking. Something like a Wikipedia is going to use links much differently than an article that links just to its sources, etc. Which makes establishing a clear-cut set of rules rather difficult.
posted by Gucky at 8:49 AM on February 9, 2005

Good linkers try to obey The Principle of Least Astonishment. If you follow that, you've got 90% of link style figured out.
posted by Plutor at 8:56 AM on February 9, 2005

I always tend to link to the object being described. Such as:

I found this great article in The Times.


Be sure to check out the user guide for this software.
posted by bkdelong at 9:08 AM on February 9, 2005

Don't have a reference, but I try to be aware of how the link will influence web indexes (like Google), and treat my link text like a mini review / summary. For instance, I might link:

"an insightful article on copyright by Laurence Lessig"
"Matt Haughey's congregation of communists* "

*card carrying member
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:28 AM on February 9, 2005

If you are actually linking to a piece of work entitled "The Star-Belly Sneeches," I would make the entire title the link anchor, as well as the quotation marks.
posted by grouse at 9:53 AM on February 9, 2005

I've read that HTML-readers for the blind are less annoyingly verbose when you include trailing punctuation inside the link. Like this. Not like this.

Other than that, I agree with the others. Link on the phrase describing the link target, remember how Google will treat your link-text (manipulating this en masse is called "google bombing" as you may know).

There are two exceptions to the "don't link on 'click here'" rule: 1) writing for really naive web users; 2) pages formatted so that the links are indistinguishable from the regular text (which I see often enough)--otherwise, the only way to discover links is to wave the cursor over all the text where I think a link may be hiding.
posted by adamrice at 10:16 AM on February 9, 2005

Interesting, the top results on both search engines for "click here" are Acrobat reader, Flash, Quicktime, and Realplayer.

You can almost hear the implicit "If the movie didn't play..." or "If you didn't see the document..." in front of it.
posted by Caviar at 10:30 AM on February 9, 2005

When "click here" or "see also" is called for, but ugly, an easy-out is to simply link to the hypertext link itself. For instance: Of course, the COPY LINK LOCATION functionality of most modern browsers makes this somewhat redundant.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:49 AM on February 9, 2005

I'm not so bothered by the linktext being "click here" as I am by the oft-seen-on-Metafilter link to book or movie that forces the user to click through to Amazon or imdb.

For example,

"I just got done reading this classic and it was great."

is horrible, compared to,

"I just got done reading War and Peace, a real classic, and it was great."

The former forces me to click through just to know what the heck is being talked about. The latter lets me make a decision to get more info if I want it. I see this all the time here on the blue and green when referencing books, movies and music. It's not so bad when the links include the title, but that is usually not the case.
posted by achmorrison at 11:12 AM on February 9, 2005

*indicates emphatic agreement with achmorrison*
posted by languagehat at 12:28 PM on February 9, 2005

that's not quite as wise as it sounds, since presumably the link is usually to something new/unknown. conversely, if it was war + peace, there's not much need for a link at all, is there?
posted by andrew cooke at 12:50 PM on February 9, 2005

Here here, achmorrison. I hate playing the link guessing game on MeFi.
posted by knave at 12:55 PM on February 9, 2005

Well said, achmorrison and knave, the link guessing game is a pain on any site.
posted by lagavulin at 1:34 PM on February 9, 2005

There seem to be two different conventions for link targets. If a blogger writes about "reading a novel," you expect a link to a page about the specific novel he's reading. But if a wiki contributor writes about "reading a novel," you expect a link to a page about novels in general.

I don't think it matters which of these conventions you use. I do think it's important to be consistent. If you switch off between them within a single page, it's hard for your readers to guess where a particular link will point.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:25 PM on February 9, 2005

I agree about looking forward to the end of the "guess what's here" linking trend.

I would like to add, knave, that it's usually spelled "hear, hear." More command-tense verb than location indicator. I've just seen it misspelled several times in the last few days, so I have to vent now.
posted by Jonasio at 2:39 PM on February 9, 2005

There is an object of some sort -- be it document, file, or some other blob of data served over HTTP -- at the other end of that link. The only rule I believe ought to be applied is that the linktext should be a noun (or a phrase functioning in that capacity) that applies to the linked object.
posted by majick at 3:08 PM on February 9, 2005

Jonasio, thanks for the tip. I found a page that backs up your claim, and hopefully I'll remember that in the future. :)
posted by knave at 3:32 PM on February 9, 2005

Here here, achmorrison

I would like to add, knave, that it's usually spelled "hear, hear."

Thank you Jonasio. That is a pet peeve of mine. "Here, here" doesn't even make any sense...
posted by rooftop secrets at 3:51 PM on February 9, 2005

Response by poster: majick: What about when you are offering someone the ability to do something at the destination? "Please post a comment if you like foo too" vs. "Please fill out the comment form if you like foo too" ? I think the first one reads better, even though the linktext is imperative.
posted by revgeorge at 4:13 PM on February 9, 2005

revgeorge: I agree. You'll notice that that's the way Ask MetaFilter does it. ;-)

I don't think your instincts are so bad.
posted by grouse at 4:52 PM on February 9, 2005

revgeorge: I think the distinction would be between "Please click here to post a comment if you..." vs. "Please post a comment if you...."
posted by nobody at 8:01 AM on February 10, 2005

Screen-reader verbosity can be set by the user. The fastest listeners, in my experience, have it set to the bare minimum and never hear any punctuation whatsoever.

Nonetheless, even if it were true that all screen-reader users heard punctuation enunciated when immediately surrounding a hyperlink, that would not justify falsifying the hyperlink (the punctuation is not part of the link; Cf. rules for using quotation marks). Errors of user agents to get something as basic as hyperlinks and punctuation right are not our problem.
posted by joeclark at 10:10 AM on February 10, 2005

I'm with achmorrison on this too.
posted by walljm at 1:56 PM on February 10, 2005

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