Short-ish and simple-ish guide to using some HTML tags in comments sections of some websites

Some websites allow you to make comments on some of their webpages. Some of those allow you to use a limited part of HTML (HyperText Markup Language) to help format your comments. For example, I find it useful to differentiate me quoting someone else from my own comments, and at the moment for that quoting I use “italics and inverted commas”: the inverted commas mark it as quote and the italics differentiate it clearly from my own text.

What follows is intended to be a very simple guide to this assuming you know nothing about HTML.

Some websites use to handle comments.
On this IntenseDebate features page about halfway down is:
More neat features
HTML Formatting
You can also customize your links and add some photos to your comments. IntenseDebate supports the following HTML tags:
<a>, <b>, <i>, <u>, <em>, <p>, <blockquote>, <br>, <strong>, <strike>, <img>.

  • * the “a” tag is a bit (not very) tricky, so I won’t explain it – it enables you to insert a link to another webpage, but on IntenseDebate you can easily do that by just using the address of the webpage, so it’s not essential that you know how the “a” tag works;
  • * the “u” and “strike” tags seems to mean different things and/or are deprecated depending on which HTML version you’re using, so I’ll avoid explaining them;
  • * I’m not at all sure I want to encourage people to post images in a comment, so for now I’m not going to explain the “img” tag;

That leaves these HTML tags to use in comments using IntenseDebate:

(1) b = bold, i = italics, em = emphasis, strong = strong emphasis;
the HTML for that: b = <b>bold</b>, i = <i>italics</i>, em = <em>emphasis</em>, strong = <strong>strong emphasis</strong>;

(2) p = paragraph which groups a chunk of text; blockquote = indicate the quotation of a large section of text from another source – taken from Wikipedia.

(3) br = new line;

Each of the tags in (1) and (2) formats text between a starting tag and a closing tag.
Example, no italics here, text in italics, and more text without italics.
HTML: no italics here, <i>text in italics</i>, and more text without italics.
I turned on the italics by putting a starting tag <i> immediately before the text I wanted in italics, and turned off the italics by putting a closing tag </i> immediately after the text I wanted in italics.

* For each of the HTML tags in (1) and (2) the starting tag is just the name of the tag enclosed by < and > and the closing tag is the same as the starting tag except immediately after the < is /

You can use more than one type of formatting on one piece of text:
Example: this is in italics and this is also BOLD and this is not formatted;
HTML: this is <i>in italics and <b>this is also BOLD</b></i> and this is not formatted;
*BUT* each starting tag must have a matching closing tag, and the matching should be on a “last in – first out” basis. That example would be wrong if the closing bold tag was after the closing italics tag. So if I’d wanted the “BOLD” to be bold but not in italics, then I’d have to do this:
Example: this is in italics and this is also BOLD and this is not formatted;
HTML: this is <i>in italics and <b>this is also</b></i> <b> BOLD</b> and this is not formatted;

I think that’s all you need to know about (1).

For (2) the “p” tag groups text into a paragraph. You don’t need it on IntenseDebate because you can just use an empty line to separate paragraphs.
You might find “blockquote” useful for large quotations – I haven’t yet used it in a comment, but I might experiment with it in the future.

For (3) the “br” tag starts a new line: unlike the tags in (1) and (2) it only has a “starting” tag – there is no closing tag for a new line. (The “br” is short for “break”.) You don’t need it on IntenseDebate because you can just start a new line

WARNING: If you’re lucky, the website you’re posting a comment on will let you preview the comment, and if you’ve made a mistake you can correct it before you make your comment definite. But if you can’t preview your comment, then be careful. For example, more than once I’ve started italicising something and then either forgotten to put a closing italics tag or have accidentally used another starting italics tag instead, with the result that the italics continue to the end of my text: that did not look good! So my advice is to be sparing of your use of tags, and when you do use them be careful that each starting tag has a matching closing tag in the correct place.

BEWARE: At least one website which uses IntenseDebate seems to have the annoying feature that if you’re reading a webpage, and someone makes a new comment, then the entire webpage is refreshed and more than once that appears to have made me lose a comment or reply I was typing in myself. So my strong recommendation is not to type text directly into a comment or reply box on the webpage, but instead draft your reply in a text editor (for example Microsoft Notepad or the also free and in my opinion much superior Metapad) or open up your email, and draft your comment or reply as a draft email. When you are happy with your draft, select and copy all the text, including any HTML tags, and then paste that into the comment or reply box on the webpage. (I’ve just tried that and it seems to work with GoogleMail.) Then either delete (or don’t save) the draft, or do save the draft just in case your comment or reply doesn’t work or mysteriously disappears (that has happened to me), and only delete the draft when you are sure your comment or reply has “taken root” on the webpage.

If you have any questions, or have a suggestion for making this short explanation clearer, then leave a comment (I don’t know if WordPress accepts HTML formatting in comments – my guess is yes, but I’ve never tried!) or contact me via the Contact link near the top of this page. I don’t guarantee to reply, but you’ll probably get a response from me, albeit not necessarily very quickly.


About Colin Bartlett

I'm interested in arts, mathematics, science. Suliram is a partial conflation of the names of three good actors: Ira Aldridge, Anna May Wong, and another. My intention is to use a personal experience of arts to make some points, but without being too "me me me" about it. And to follow Strunk's Elements of Style. Except that I won't always "be definite": I prefer Niels Bohr's precept that you shouldn't write clearer than you think.
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