From Microformats Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Book Brainstorming



Given analysis and research done on book-examples and book-formats, this page documents various thoughts and strawman proposals for a book microformat.

Table of Contents


HTML is a general-purpose markup language used for electronic documents, mostly for onscreen reading. Some content, however, is more suitable for other kinds of presentation and being able to reuse the same content for different media types has been a design goal of HTML and CSS.

It has been shown possible to use HTML as a format for book publishing. In the authoring process, it was helpful to use a set of class name on HTML element to further classify content. The classes, along with their associated structural elements, mostly served as hooks for the associated style sheet. In particular, the class names helped separate the content into different sections of a book.

The main motivation for developing a microformat for book is to encourage reuse of content for different media types. By offering people a sample HTML file and an associated style sheet, HTML can become a compelling format to use for book production. As such, the class names described in a book microformat are primarily hooks for style sheets to use, and secondarily machine-readable semantics.

Parts of a book

The user interface of books is fairly standarized. There is typically a front cover that includes the title of the book and the name of the author(s). Inside the cover, one will find a table of contents, chapters, and index and so forth. The table below lists commonly used section types.

Section typeDescription
frontcover The front cover
halftitlepageThe halftitle page is simple with only the title of the book, and perhaps the name of the authors
titlepage The title page contains (at least) the book title, the name of the author and the name of the publisher
imprint The imprint page typically starts with a copyright statement and also contains information about where the book is printed, its ISBN number etc.
dedication The dedication page is where you find "for mom"
inspiration Many books contain inspirational quotes by other authors.
foreword Many books contain a foreword written by someone other than the authors
preface The preface is written by the authors and often contains an acknowledgement of other contributors
toc Table of Contents
lot List of Tables
lof List of Figures
introduction An introductory chapter
chapter The content itself is typically organized in numbered chapters
part Some books organize sets of chapters into parts
afterword An additional, often unnumbered chapter at the end of the book
bibliography The bibliography lists other books and sources for further reading
references References from the text of the book are often listed in a separate section
appendix Additional information can be organized into appendices
glossary The glossary defines terms used in the book
index The index is a list of keyword with page references
colophon The colophon page contains information about the production of the book
promotion Promotional material from the publisher, e.g., a list of other titles in the same series
backcover The back cover

In boom, the section names are used as class names on the <div> element:

<div class="halftitlepage"><h1>Title</h1></div>

Not all books has all sections. A typical novel will have instances of around 10 sections. (My copy of Robert M. Pirsig's "Zen and the art of Motorcycle maintenance" uses these sections: frontcover, inspiration, praise, promotion, titlepage, imprint, preface, inspiration, part, chapter, afterword.) Non-fiction books often use more sections. (My randomly chosen title from O'Reilly uses 16 sections: frontcover, halftitlepage, titlepage, imprint, toc, lof, foreword, preface, part, chapter, appendix, index, bio, colophon, promotion, backcover.)

Are there too many section types?

It may be argued that the list of possible section types is too long for a "microformat". While one should always strive for simplicity, a few things should be kept in mind:

  • the section names only affect on attribute on one element (namely, the class attribute on the div element)
  • publishing is an established industry and paper-based books are not likely to change. As such, the format describes something that already exists.

Nontheless, some of the proposed sections could be combined. for example, the forewords and the preface are often formatted in the same manner and there is no need to distinguish between the two in the style sheet. Another similar example is the list of tables and the list of figures. And having a colophon isn't that common, is it? However, all the proposed section types are in common use and the cost of listing one more type is small compared to the extra cost of differentiating between sections through other means than standardized class names.

Are there enough sections?

The list of possible section types is seemingly endless. For example, one could have a separate "acknowledgements" section instead of using the "preface" section for this. Also, one could have different types of sections for different types of promotional material. The postcard, which is often included in books, is formatted very differently from the list of other books in the same series. Thus, having several promotional elements would make sense.

However, in the interest of simplicity it is important to keep the number of section types at a manageable level.

In the end, determining the list of section types for a microformat is a judgement call.


Figures are often used in book. From a typesetting persepctive, figures are troublesome as they form blobs that cannot be split over several pages. By classifying figures into different categories, typesetting can be made easier. The following categories are proposed

Other features of a book

Sections types provide a vocabulary for classifying different parts, pages, of a book. Book authors will also need to classify smaller elements, e.g.:

  • sidenotes
  • footnotes
  • different kinds of tables: small, multi-page ...
  • table captions

HTML has defined the semantics of table captions through the "caption" element. Alas, the quality of deployed browsers is variable and this makes it hard to use the "caption" element in practice. The boom microformat proposes class names for this to go around widely deployed bugs.

Comparison with DocBook

DocBook docbook is an SGML/XML vocabulary which is been developed for "books and papers about computer hardware and software", but it can also be used for other kinds of books. DocBook is a complex specification; it contains around 400 different elements. Some of DocBook's elements are similar to the section types in the table above:

Section typeDocBook element
frontcover not defined,
halftitlepagenot defined
titlepage not defined
imprint not defined
dedication dedication
inspiration not defined
foreword not defined, "preface" is recommended
preface preface
toc toc
lot lot
lof not defined, "lot" is recommended
introduction not defined
chapter chapter
part part
afterword not defined
references reference (not the singular form)
appendix appendix
bibliography bibliography
glossary glossary
index index
colophon colophon
promotion not defined
backcover not defined

Although DocBook doesn't have elements for all section types, it is still possible for these sections to appear in the resulting publication. For example, an XSLT processor can add a title page in the printed output based on information in DocBook's "author" element.

This underlines a difference between HTML and some other SGML/XML formats: in HTML, content is presented roughly in the same order as it appears in the structure. Other formats, e.g. DocBook, often require a transformation stage where content is moved from abstract elements (e.g., "info") to more concrete elements (e.g., the front and back covers).

HTML does not have the more abstract elements (although "meta" could possibly be used) and subclassing "div" elements in the order of presentation is therefore a pragmatic approach.


  • boom - the Book Microformat

See Also