There are 4 main types of linked information: navigation, substantiation, definition and quotation. Links are specific to HTML and as such their usage and display is well defined and understood. Abbreviations, acronyms, quotes & blockquotes have specific tags but no defined display standards. HTML offers no method of representing references (substantiation) in text. It is these 4 document-link relationships that we will be developing and extending.


Each of these elements can be evaluated in terms of their relationships to content. For example, links point you to new information whereas references & quotes effectively replicated information from other sources.

Links (Anchors)

Link to new information: For navigating to new content – a new site, new page, or new section of a document. The text between link tags is not taken from the source, although it should give a relatively good idea of what you will find through clicking.

Abbreviations & Acronyms

Link to additional information: Abbreviations & acronyms are effectively definitions and are often used as such. They are used to show a expansion of shortened form, usually by providing a title attribute to give this information. There is presently no method of linking this content to a source for verifiability.


A link to same information as substantiation: References are used to substantiate content by showing context within the original document. When a reputable source is used we can have reasonable trust in it’s accuracy. By connection we can have increased trust in the current document. Citation & source should say the same thing in essence, albeit in different words.

Quotes & Blockquote

A link to the same information in context: Quotes and blockquotes should contain no new information that what is available in the source (although some modification for readability [is] acceptable). There needs to be a means to link to the source to check this, for which HTML provides the cite attribute.

Insertion & Deletion

A link to explanation of information change. While insertion/deletion itself is not a type of document link, HTML provides the ins & del tags with citation attributes as a means for substantiating changes made to content. In a sense this is a document link like any other although for different reasons. The link type is dependent on the information at the end of the link as there are no defined rules i.e. the link type in this example is inconclusive.

Display Standards


Typically, on graphical browsers, links (anchors) are represented using coloured text and matching underline. This display style is not an enforced standard but rather de facto by convention. The connection between links and underlines is so strong that use for any other purpose in a web document is largely deprecated. That said, it is common to see links without underlines used where colour itself is sufficient to identify clickable text.

HTML provides for only one type of underline (solid) which is used for all links and nothing else. Windows Help documents have commonly used the green text, dashed underline to refer to further definition information. This has been copied on a number of websites for use with acronym, abbreviation and any other definition tags.

It makes sense not to break these “standards” but we also want to style in a consistent and logical manner. We can take the broken-line styling of Windows Help as a guide for extending our styles. Referring to our earlier listing above of link-target relationships, we can arrange in increasing order. We can use graduated underline changes in the same way, i.e.

Insert and delete currently use the underline & strikethrough respectively, distinguished from links only by colour. Most current word processing software uses red text & underlines/strikethroughs to markup modifications and it makes sense to follow established standards where possible. Although, it would be preferred to indicate the insertion/deletion link more clearly it is not possible within the current underlining abilities of CSS. Of course this limits us from using red on link markup (more on this later).

Link to new information: Link (Anchor)
Link to additional information: Abbreviation / Acronym
Link to same information as substantiation: Reference
Link to the same information in context: "Quotation"
Link to explanation for change: Insertion / Deletion


Following our previous examples there are currently 3 standardised colours. Web links are usually styled with blue text/underline turning to purple when visited. Definitions are shown with green text & dashed underline. Red, with it’s links to editing, can be used for insertion/deletion markings.

This leaves references and blockquotes to be colourised as appropriate. We must first discount orange as unreadable, and purple because of it’s clash with visited links. Unfortunately at this point there are no more obvious “standard” colours to use – we need to rethink.

The solution is quite simple: no colour. While this may appear at first to break one of the basic UI standards for web usage this is not necessarily the case – it depends on whether you consider the link to be an indication, or an instruction.

In most cases, web links are instructions – you are directed to click on links to reach the next page, section, site. But not all links are equal – in fact, in the case of quotations following the link is distinctly pointless for the vast majority of users. The link remains as an indication that the content was taken from somewhere else, and the clickability exists to enable us to check. However, the vast majority of readers will not be checking every source & do not need to click. In this sense it make more sense for the links to have no colour.

Remember, the use of underlines for anything but links is now severely deprecated in online documents. Of course, we still need to provide mouse event feedback to indicate the text is live, but this is easily done.

Barnoldswick (colloquially known as Barlick) is a town in Lancashire, England, with an approximate population of 12,000, just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is administered as part of the Lancashire district of Pendle, and lies within the historic boundaries of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Ignore for a minute that this passage is lifted entirely from Wikipedia. It’s worth noting that this also makes it ideal for use in static printed documents. It is now possible to show the quality of references used, even if those references are not immediately available.

The final list of colours and uses (along with line styles already discussed) is given below:

Link to new information: Link (Anchor)
Link to additional information: Abbreviation / Acronym
Link to same information as substantiation: Reference
Link to the same information in context: Quotation
Link to explanation for change: Insertion / Deletion

Mouse Events

All the above tags now have link ability (where the relevant uri exists) and as such mouse-events & mouse points need to be handled as they presently are for standard links.

An addition the help cursor occasionally used on definition tags must not be shown where an actual link exists (as does the underline). It may be acceptable where no clicking action exists and this behaviour may be extended to other tags as appropriate.


If you have anything to say regarding the muRF tag stylings leave your comments below!


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