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The Challenge of Special Formatting

The language of the web, HTML, comes with limitations that make it difficult to publish writing that is formatted with anything more than very basic styles. The most severe lack is of multiple spaces and tabs. HTML simply can’t be used reliably to format writing in any kind of way that will display identically on all devices and browsers. There are many different methods available to try to get around these limitations, but none of them is perfect.

Our solution has two components: one is to take advantage of what’s called a ‘code block,’ and the other is to provide some works in PDF format. When text is placed in a ‘code block,’ multiple spaces are enabled. This allows us to display work that includes multiple levels of indentation and extra white space. But in order to work reliably, the type in a code block must be monospaced. The default typeface for the web version of Exist Otherwise is Josefin-Sans, but for code block we specify “monospace,” which means the particular typeface seen by readers will be determined by their browser, but at least one with reliable formatting. Monospace type is less elegant, but more reliable for alignment.

Example:

Some say         the world will     endin fireSome say                    in ice

If we publish these kinds of works as images or PDF files, the size of the screen (what we call a page for print) becomes an issue. To account for many different screen sizes, each work would have to be formatted multiple times, in many different ways. The above excerpt would probably display well on most devices as a single image, but a longer work like Melissa Coffey’s On the Fluidity of Gender in Flotsam, would be unreadable on most mobile screens.

Of course, there are many other good reasons why images fail as a good substitute for type. PDFs have some advantages over images, but not many. The bottom line is that there is no single, or easy, or 100% reliable solution. There will always be some written work on a web page that doesn’t display properly on some devices.

Our two-pronged method provides what we think is the best solution for a majority of devices —code blocks— with a downloadable PDF as a backup for any reader who wants to be sure that they’re seeing

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