An Algorithmic and Social Introduction to Computer Science (CSC-105 2000S)

Do cascading style sheets better support readers or authors?


Although I belive that the cascading style benefits both parties, i can't help but think that things are much more simpler for authors through cascading.


It depends on what you mean by "better support." I will assume you mean who has more control over the appearance of a document. From what I understand (which is definately not total), cascading style sheets allow document authors to specify any number of physical attributes of their pages and text, while a browser will have a basic default style sheet. Although the intracacies of the rules are not totally clear to me, it seemed as if, overall, if an author uses a style sheet, it generally takes precedence over the default.


Cascading style sheets very much privilege the author over the reader in the sense that the author has more say, or clout, in how her/his page appears to the reader. This makes sense to me because, after all, the author is the one who created the page, so shouldn't she/he have the right to dictate how it looks to others? The reader doesn't get to choose what the cover of a book looks like, so why should she/he be able to alter the appearance of a site from other than was intended? But I guess one could argue that that is a limitation of print that should not carry over to the web. I guess I would disagree. If I wrote something, I would feel rather upset if anyone could just edit it. Then again, perhaps this is all part of what makes the web interactive and (most) books not.


After reading some of the information I found at, it seems that cascading style sheets are beneficial to both readers and authors. However, it seems that the cascading style sheets "better" support authors because the foremost function of the program seems to 1. make it easier to publish a webpage and 2. increase the stylistic options available for page creation. It is the reader who may have to pay some price for the variety which would inevitably be produced by this added convenience. Most web pages seem to use the blue font = link convention, and sometimes pages which do not use this method are more difficult and thus slower to process by the eye. Cascading style sheets seem to allow authors to do so much in presentation, that some, perhaps unexperienced readers, would find the web more difficult to navigate because of the variety of choices each person can make in designing the visual layout of the page. Readers might also be seen to benefit from the visual variety of interesting information available, which should grow as the ease of creating web pages grows.


Assuming that readers know how to utilize CSS, then I think CSS supports readers equally as well as authors. However, odds are that those that write and design webpages are far more knowledgeable in how to use and manipulate cascading style sheets than your average reader.

The web site you directed us to said that in order to design simple style sheets, "one needs only to know a little HTML" as well as "some basic desktop publishing terminology." Well, that's really nice, but I would question how many of your average web browsers actually know anything about HTML. Or desktop publishing, for that matter.

The web site also mentions that for those that choose not to mess around with style, the default style sheet will present documents in a "reasonable, but arguably mundane" manner. As mundane as a document may be, though, the question seems to be whether the average browser is really going to care enough about how any given document looks to put in the effort to alter its presentation. If one already knows how to do so, then it's not so much an issue. But as I mentioned earlier, there are probably far more readers out there that don't have the know-how to manipulate CSS than there are those that do. I think that the purported "simplicity" of CSS is relative to your exposure and experience, and thus, would generally favor the author.


I found two parts of the text very relevant to the question. Direct quotation from :

"HTML authors need to write style sheets only if they want to suggest a specific style for their documents. Each User Agent (UA, often a "web browser" or "web client") will have a default style sheet that presents documents in a reasonable -- but arguably mundane -- manner."

"author/reader balance Both readers and authors can influence the presentation through style sheets. To do so, they use the same style sheet language thus reflecting a fundamental feature of the web: everyone can become a publisher. The UA is free to choose the mechanism for referencing personal style sheets.

Sometimes conflicts will arise between the style sheets that influence the presentation. Conflict resolution is based on each style rule having a weight. By default, the weights of the reader's rules are less than the weights of rules in the author's documents. I.e., if there are conflicts between the style sheets of an incoming document and the reader's personal sheets, the author's rules will be used. Both reader and author rules override the UA's default values. "

If each person is able to be a publisher then the reader is supported. The authors have given up the exclusive power of presentation. If the reader chooses not to define the properties they wish to read then or remain with the default settings the author still has the power, however, the reader is able to determine the properties of the author's work. The default internet browsers protray the author's work as the author intended it to be. I assume that most users do not alter the browser's default preferences and the author's intent and property remains unchanged. The authors are able to present the reader the material in the fashion they want. The readers are able to read the material in the fashion they want. If the reader wants something different the reader is able to change. Both the readers and authors are supported. If the author's weight outweighs the reader's weight then there probably is a reason that the property is defined as such and the author must believe the reader would want to view it in the manner the author intended even if the reader programmed the settings in a contradicting manner.


Cascading style sheets allow people to attach style (e.g. fonts and colors) to HTML documents. I'm not exactly sure how they "cascade," but on the Cascading Style Sheets, level 1 web page it said that "authors can attach a preferred style sheet, while the reader may have a personal style sheet to adjust for human or technological handicaps." Since the CSS1 language is human readable and writable, it is equal in that sense to authors and readers. However, the weight of rules in the author's documents is greater than that of the reader - when there are conflicts between the incoming page and the reader's preferences, the author's rules will be used. Therefore, CSS better support authors.


Cascading style sheets are great. Instead of being purely author-controlled, style sheets set forth a primary idea of how the author wants the page to look. However, that's all the say the author gets, and the author may never know what a reader chooses to do with the page. Style sheets allow the reader to set their own preferences as to how a Web page should appear, whether it be the default of the author or their own personal preferences. What a great idea!


The first answer that pops into my mind is: I don't know, because I couldn't understand most of the implementation reading. So, I would say it better supports authors, because it is highly technical and allows for very specialized formatting, which isn't always as essential to the reader.


Well, it seems as if style sheets have to be mutually beneficial to the author and the reader. The fact that both parties have the ability to interpret the style sheets individually, and differently if necessary, is part of this balance. But the author does have the pentultimate [???] control, as a "conflict" of styles is resolved in their favor. So... cascading style sheets serve the reader, but the author's power of design seems to be more beneficial. But the emphasis on compromise leaves the question open-ended.

Disclaimer Often, these pages were created "on the fly" with little, if any, proofreading. Any or all of the information on the pages may be incorrect. Please contact me if you notice errors.

This page may be found at

Source text last modified Sun Feb 13 09:55:43 2000.

This page generated on Wed Feb 16 08:36:27 2000 by Siteweaver. Validate this page's HTML.

Contact our webmaster at