Techniques for WCAG 2.0

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H49: Using semantic markup to mark emphasized or special text

Important Information about Techniques

See Understanding Techniques for WCAG Success Criteria for important information about the usage of these informative techniques and how they relate to the normative WCAG 2.0 success criteria. The Applicability section explains the scope of the technique, and the presence of techniques for a specific technology does not imply that the technology can be used in all situations to create content that meets WCAG 2.0.



This technique relates to:

User Agent and Assistive Technology Support Notes

See User Agent Support Notes for H49.


The objective of this technique is to demonstrate how semantic markup can be used to mark emphasized or special text so that it can be programmatically determined. Using semantic markup to mark emphasized or special text also provides structure to the document. User agents can then make the structure perceivable to the user, for example using a different visual presentation for different types of structures or by using a different voice or pitch in an auditory presentation.

Most user agents will visually distinguish text that has been identified using semantic markup. Some assistive technologies provide a mechanism for determining the characteristics of content that has been created using proper semantic markup.


See rendered examples of semantic text.

Example 1

This example shows how to use the em and strong elements to emphasize text. The em and strong elements were designed to indicate structural emphasis that may be rendered in a variety of ways (font style changes, speech inflection changes, etc.).

Example Code:

 ...What she <em>really</em> meant to say was, &quot;This is not ok, 
 it is <strong>excellent</strong>&quot;!... 

Example 2

This example shows using the blockquote element to mark up long quotations which may require paragraph breaks. It also demonstrates the use of the cite element to specify a reference.

Example Code:

<p>The following is an excerpt from the <cite>The Story of my Life</cite> by Helen Keller</p>
   <p>Even in the days before my teacher came, I used to feel along the square stiff boxwood
   hedges, and, guided by the sense of smell, would find the first violets and lilies.  
   There, too, after a fit of temper, I went to find comfort and to hide my hot face 
   in the cool leaves and grass.</p>

Example 3

Here is the use of the q element to mark up a shorter quotation. Quotes are provided around the q element, because many user agents do not support this element yet and therefore do not display it properly (see UA notes). CSS rules to suppress automatic generation of quotes are provided for those user agents that do support the q element, to prevent them from generating quotes automatically in addition to the quotes provided by the author, resulting in double-quoted content. In the future, when the q element is more broadly supported, the need to provide quotes and suppress browser-generated quotes will go away.

Example Code:

q:before { content: ""; } 
q:after { content: ""; }  

Example Code:

 <p>Helen Keller said, "<q>Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, 
we can never do anything good in the world.</q>"</p>

Example 4

Superscripts and subscripts are created using the sup and sub elements.

Example Code:

 <p>Beth received 1<sup>st</sup> place in the 9<sup>th</sup> grade science competition.</p>
<p>The chemical notation for water is H<sub>2</sub>O.</p>


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  1. Examine the content for information that is conveyed through variations in presentation of text.

  2. Check that appropriate semantic markup (such as em, strong, cite, blockquote, sub, and sup) have been used to mark the text that conveys information through variations in text.

Expected Results

If this is a sufficient technique for a success criterion, failing this test procedure does not necessarily mean that the success criterion has not been satisfied in some other way, only that this technique has not been successfully implemented and can not be used to claim conformance.