What is the best web display for multiple instances of a phrase/acronyms on a long page of content?
November 12, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Web Usability Filter: Acronyms. I'm looking for web standards (end-user impact and best implementation) for using phrases and their associated acronyms multiple times on a long page of content.

I work on a corporate intranet for a national company. As you can imagine, we've got acronyms galore floating around. I recently received a request from a customer to use "pop-ups for acronyms" in place of adding whole phrases and their corresponding acronyms directly to the text of the page (e.g. Point-of-Service (POS)).

In the past, I would have told the customer to write-out the phrase and corresponding acronym, not only the first time on the page, but throughout the whole page. I am curious about whether that is still the best implementation or if there is an updated way to present the information (without compromising the end-user experience).

I've searched and found a bunch of sites about how to implement the tag, but not a lot about how presenting the information different ways will impact usability (and, ultimately, the best display based on current standards). What little I found related to usability/display is generally conflicting and/or old.

I can't tell the customer "yes" or "no" before I'm clear on latest data and standards and, from a personal point-of-view (POV!), I'd like to make sure I'm up-to-date on this standard. Any additional information you smartypants peoples have will be helpful.

posted by gertrude to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
I like this style:

http://www.greatoceanmedia.com.au/portfolio-websites/ (See "CMS" in the second item)

It uses the acronym tag, which is semantically appropriate, and I believe a good choice for screen readers.

As far as usability goes, JavaScript gives you a lot of leeway there, so you can put in the HTML now and worry about front-end later.
posted by circular at 11:41 AM on November 12, 2010

I would use the acronym tag, and a bit of jquery. A quick search pulls up something like: http://wayfarerweb.com/wtooltip.php - should do the trick. That one works on the title attribute of the tag it's applied to, so something like: <acronym title="Multi-Word Acronym">MWA</acronym> should work out of the box.

I'm sure there's plenty of other nicely stylable tooltip implementations out there that will give you more than the default rollover behavior as well.

Like circular said, use the proper semantic markup and do progressive enhancement in the css and javascript areas and you'll stay on the good side of best practices and WCAG/Section 508 compliance, while letting you decide what user-experience best fits the majority of your users.
posted by mrgoat at 12:14 PM on November 12, 2010

I'm not a web developer or designer but my inclination as a user would be to look for it as the acronym with the definition in parentheses for the first instance on each individual page, and then without the definition afterward. If I were designing the page I'd probably do this and then use the acronym tag for the subsequent acronyms just in case, but as a user I'd probably want it spelled out the first time regardless of whether there's a tag or not. That's just my personal reaction, though, and I defer to those who are better designers than I.
posted by synecdoche at 2:11 PM on November 12, 2010

Is your material presented one-topic-per-page, or do the pages contain multiple topics separated by headings and navigated with anchors? If the first, go with full use on first instance and acronym afterward; if the second, do full use on first instance in each section, and acronym throughout the rest of the section.

If you are using a content management system where you reuse chunks, it can get trickier to be sure that acronyms are explained consistently, but that's something to think about when designing the information architecture.
posted by catlet at 2:52 PM on November 12, 2010

Here's the relevant section in WCAG 2.
posted by robertc at 3:36 PM on November 12, 2010

This is not a web usability issue; it's a writing style issue, and it's what style guides exist for. If your intranet does not adhere to a style manual (e.g., AP, Chicago), it should. (But I also work on an intranet and know that's not likely to happen.) synecdoche has the right idea: most style manuals prescribe something like this:

The Organization of Useful Things (OUT) says that blah blah blah blah blah blah. OUT once declared blah blah blah blah blah. Joe Schmoe, the executive director of OUT, blah blah blah.

Something else to consider: An intranet has a captive, repeat audience. It's more ok to use acronyms on intranets--where the employees are more likely to know what they mean or be able to find out if they don't--than it is to use lots of them on sites with, say, only or mostly first-time users.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 11:39 AM on November 13, 2010

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