[whatwg] Interpretation issue: can <section> be used for "extended paragraphs"?

Jukka K. Korpela jkorpela at cs.tut.fi
Thu Mar 10 00:20:32 PST 2011

The <p> element (ever since it became an element) has always allowed inline 
(text-level) content only, and no change is planned to this in HTML5. Under 
these circumstances, what should we say to people to need to use paragraphs 
that contain lists, for example?

A paragraph, in the old typographic sense, may contain lists. A sentence in 
the text may continue with list items, displayed e.g. as a bulleted list. So 
the list breaks the paragraph as a block of text but not logically - the 
list items are part of the sentence just as they would be if they were just 
mentioned in the text, for example using 1) numbers in the text, 2) letters 
in the text, or 3) no special notation.

The HTML(5) paragraph concept is different, so in HTML terms, such a 
paragraph would need to consist of a P element followed by a UL (or OL) 
element. There is an apparent need for indicating in markup that the two 
belong to together,
a) for styling purposes (you need a container element so that you can 
specify, without clumsily using classes on both the P and the UL, e.g. that 
vertical spacing be reduced or zero)
b) to ease handling in scripts
c) to act as documentation in the source code, warning future editors of the 
document that neither the P element nor the UL element should be edited in 
isolation but only considering the other part as well.

There are less apparent needs, or possibilities, too - e.g.,
1) to communicate to any interested software that the elements are coupled, 
treating occurrences of a word as occurring in the same "extended paragraph" 
for the purposes of indexing, searching, etc.,
2) to tell a grammar checker that the P element just _appears_ to end 
3) to inform editing software that e.g. triple-clicking the paragraph, for 
the purpose of moving it elsewhere, should also select the UL element.

I guess some of these needs, especially the most practical (in a sense) 
styling issue, could be addressed by simply putting the P and UL elements 
inside a SECTION element:

<p>Sometimes a paragraph isn't just a paragraph but continues with a list 
may be</p>
  <li>a bulleted list
  <li>a numbered list
  <li>a list constructed in some other way.

(I know that the period at the end of the last item violates English style 
rules. But it is allowed and even required by style rules of other 
languages, and at the logical level, it really belongs there - 
grammatically, the last sentence of the paragraph really ends there, not 

My question is: Is this acceptable use of the SECTION element, even in a 
flow that mostly consists of P elements, not wrapped inside SECTION elements 
of their own? That is, can we use, e.g. within the BODY or within a SECTION, 
"mixed content" in the sense that it partly has P elements as direct 
descendants, partly has them wrapped in SECTION elements that are basically 
just "extended paragraphs"? Or should DIV markup be used instead?

Should this even be mentioned, descriptively, as a common use case, or as an 
example of inappropriate use, depending on the position that will be taken?

Yucca, http://www.cs.tut.fi/~jkorpela/ 

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