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BMJ. 2007 August 11; 335(7614): 287.
PMCID: PMC1941878

Why don't doctors use HTML?

Emma Stapleton, clinical research fellow, department of otolaryngology, University of Edinburgh

As a regular browser of the BMJ's online Rapid Responses, I've noticed that most contributors don't format their entries in HTML (hypertext markup language). Perhaps they don't know basic HTML code, or they just don't bother to use it. Either way, it's a great shame because HTML is extremely easy to learn and use, and formatted letters are a lot more aesthetically pleasing and therefore easier to read.

I've performed a quick audit of recent Rapid Responses. In the past 21 days, 334 responses have been accepted. Of these, 318 (95.2%) were completely unformatted, and 15 (4.5%) were formatted. Special mention goes to the author who used “XX” to separate paragraphs, making his contribution (0.3%) readable without the use of HTML code. Of the 15 formatted responses, five were authored by clinicians; the others were submitted by software developers, an author, a lawyer, a professor of computer science, a medical student, and a naturopathic medic.

Appearances are important, and when I read unformatted but otherwise excellent Rapid Responses, I often think the contributors' gems of wisdom and knowledge have been done no justice by being squashed into a single paragraph devoid of indentation or font formatting.

If you learn only one piece of HTML code it should be the paragraph code, which allows you to leave line spaces between paragraphs simply by inserting <p> at the beginning of each paragraph and </p> at the end.

If you're adding references to your letter, you might also want to remember the code for italic and bold letters:

  • <i>italic</i> becomes italic
  • <b>bold</b> becomes bold

If you're using quotations or excerpts, the <blockquote> </blockquote> code can be useful. The wrapped text will be presented in its own indented paragraph.

Alternatively (and if this brief educational intervention is inconsequential), it might be worth badgering the BMJ for a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) web editor, so that contributors can submit beautifully formatted letters without having to bother with HTML code at all.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group