Proposal: italic and bold as built-in styles?


In markup languages like HTML and LaTeX (for which LO has export filters), ‘emphasis’ and ‘strong emphasis’ don’t necessarily mean ‘italic’ and ‘bold’. You may prefer not to use them to call explicitly the italic or bold variants of the current font (or automatic substitutions).

Unfortunately, in LO they are the only built-in styles that give italic and bold font variants. If you want to be sure to get italic and bold, as well as other variants (small caps etc), you have to create your own new styles. User styles can make your work less easy to follow by other participants, and they might not be picked up by export filters, which are increasingly being used.

Quite rightly, LO is making an effort to get us to use styles (character styles here) instead of direct formatting. This is just good practice; there may even be a good case for having an option to hide the direct formatting functions (recalling the practice of removing the GOTO command from ancient versions of BASIC).

‘Emphasis’ and ‘strong emphasis’ are confusing for people who may not be too computer-literate but who need to make documents that are ready and reliable for export, for example, to different publication formats. A complete set of built-in font-variant styles would help beginners, and also provide a consistent framework for the design and use of export filters.

20 March 2015
In response to oweng, ‘emphasis’ and ‘strong emphasis’ were given non-committal names because people writing web pages and so on in X/Html were expected to want to re-define them as anything they like (nowadays usually in the CSS). LO and odf naturally continued with this convention, and users can redefine them by modifying the styles. But if you do that you then have to make user styles to get italic and bold, or use direct formatting; both of these options should be discouraged if possible. The present arrangement is possibly OK for (as the name implies) office software, but now people are taking their stuff to professional printers; for example you can have one copy of your book beautifully printed for a few euros. LO isn’t meant to be good enough for that but it’s a great engine for writing and exporting, for which direct formatting and user style kludges are a serious hindrance.

In typographical circles, ‘emphasis’ is a switch (I don’t have enough points to upload a LaTeX screenshot): if you use it in Roman text you get italic, and if you use it in italic/emphasised text you get Roman. Italic, bold, small caps etc are separate styles or markups that refer directly to font variants if they exist. I argue that they are common enough to be defined explicitly as built-in styles.

22 March 2015 Today’s comment by oweng on ‘default’ versus ‘text body’ styles highlights a difference between, to take the two extremes, hand-coding a web page and typing a document into a word processor. I’m trying to look further than my original question, and ask whether the web-like style management and application facilities of Writer are appropriate for an end user who would be happier with a more friendly (stylish?) front end. Many of us still use direct formatting and also get confused with the interaction between styles and the menu when, for example, trying to change defaults for lists (replacing bullet symbols and so on).

In large enterprises the IT department sets up a collection of templates; if those people are nice they will provide a set of controls to call up the styles. This would not work for the rest of us because everyone has different needs. Very few LO templates are available to download, presumably because of this but also, perhaps, because possible contributors don’t want to display their ignorance…

For what it’s worth, I propose that the tabbed window presentation of the style structure might better be displayed as some kind of organisation chart that maps the underlying code directly. That way, the end user could see directly the point where (for example) a font is first defined, and where it is subsequently varied. Ideally, the chart would self-adapt so all available variants of a font would be automatically available downstream of its declaration.

Writer and earlier, Windows 7 & 8.1 and sometimes Ubuntu or Lubuntu (for which my printer is too old).
Export to pdf and TexLive (LaTeX, editor TexStudio), copy-paste to Scribus, playing with export to ePub.

Thanks for clarifying. I actually agree that it would be good to have more clearly named default character styles. I just wanted to clarify that one point with my answer. The LaTeX way of handling is IMO most correct.

@crlMIDI, have you tried selecting Hierarchical to show the styles list?

@mariosv, yes. To illustrate one thing that might be improved, if you modify a bullet or numbering paragraph style, the Font tab doesn’t show whether the indicated font is specific to that style or inherited from List or further up. Also, it’s sometimes horizontal not hierarchical; there are List list styles and Paragraph list styles. As I suggested, the tabbed window presentation may not be optimal and an organisation chart could be worth considering, perhaps as an extension.

@crlMIDI, while editing a style, in the Organizer tab, you can see what is changed by the style and from what style it is inheriting.

May I propose you file an enhancement request here:
Please note that for:

  • Selecting the LibO version you need to scroll the Version list up
  • Making the bug report an enhancement request you need to select “Enhancement” in the field “Severity”

Done, keyword FORMATTING.

In markup languages like HTML … ‘emphasis’ and ‘strong emphasis’ don’t necessarily mean ‘italic’ and ‘bold’.

In X/HTML <em> (emphasis) is used to indicate italic and <strong> is used to indicate bold. LO is consistent with this. The ODF specification even references the HTML v4.01 specification.

EDIT: The proposal (more readily identifiable default character style naming / tdf#90068) seems reasonable. As suggested in the question, the base styles are intended to be extensible and default child styles are often not used e.g., the relation between the paragraph styles Default and Text Body for basic paragraph text. It would seem on the face of it to be a request for improved interoperability / export filters.

Those are the defaults, but with those markup languages such tags are designed to be redefinable. By contrast, font variants need to be named explicitly, which I argue would best be done in a word processor by means of built-in styles. Part of the argument is that export filters, a very strong point of LO, should be as easy to design and configure as possible. I’ve edited my post.

In response to oweng’s edit I’ll edit my question (no more space here).

There are three things to consider here.

My biggest objection to character styles is not that there are so few inbuilt ones but that you can’t toggle them very easily. So when I need text in italics or boldface, I just use direct formatting. Implementing a way to toggle character styles would be much more useful than adding a lot of inbuilt ones. Also, if you give user defined character styles meaningful names, they won’t raise any questions.

Many of the inbuilt styles are meant to be applied automatically, without any effort on the user’s side, like in footnote anchors, footnote text (even though that gets overruled a lot by inexperienced users), headings in a TOC. So they have to be predefined.

The last point is something I read about a while ago, it’s far from obvious for the average, visually oriented user (and I am one). What if somebody uses text-to-speech software to read a text aloud? How do you convey that some words are in italics, or bold? What will it mean to the listener that some text is apparently in italics? You can even distinguish between different uses of italics, like in “this is so cute”, and “the magazine Nature”. This brings us to the heart of the problem: it’s not about how to get text in italics, but what it means. You should use character styles not to tell how text should be displayed, but to give information about that text. A character style called “Magazine title” is much more informative than “Italics”. Using Emphasis and Strong will also force you to think about what any special formatting of some text means. If you simply use Italics or Bold, you might use italics in one place and bold in another, for exactly the same purpose, simply because you forgot or aren’t even thinking about what you had decided to use for what.

You point to the two basic uses of word processor:

  1. visual effects: styles are used for their display values (this is usually what a beginner will do)
  2. semantic markup: styles try to convey the intended meaning of the text, just like some XML-like marking provides (this method is adopted once the word processor concepts are mastered)

In the second case, visual properties can be defined afterwards but do not necessarily result in unique visual effects, as you mention in your example.