In WYSIWYG editors, when you select some text and try to format it as a heading the whole paragraph turns into a heading, rather than just the selected text. With all other elements (bold, italic, etc.)—granted they're inline elements but I don't think the average user know what that even means—the opposite happens.

I don't get this.

It seems that this is the most used (if not the only) approach used, but as a user I don't think I'd expect this behavior at all.

My question is: why are WYSIWYG editors implemented like this, and isn't it true that an average user would expect only the selected text to turn into a heading, rather than the whole block-level container?

I also made a video show the difference between the two approaches: https://vimeo.com/87710823

Any input appreciated.


  • 2
    Can you summarise the video in a bit more detail? Use the video to support the question, but you shouldn't require people to watch it to understand what you're requesting. All the information required to answer the question needs to be detailed in the question itself, without requiring people go elsewhere to get the knowledge.
    – JonW
    Feb 27, 2014 at 16:38
  • Ok, JonW. I'll try. :-)
    – nkkollaw
    Feb 27, 2014 at 16:48

1 Answer 1


The second option makes a few assumptions.

First, a fact: Headers are block-level HTML elements, not styling elements.

Selecting exactly every character you want can be rather tedious and very frustrating at times. Given that, this option assumes that if a user clicks anywhere in a paragraph they just wrote and changes the block-level style, they want to apply to the whole paragraph. Why? Because you just wrote the paragraph together. If you wanted it split into a headline and then a paragraph, you would have written it that way. Is this a big assumption? Yes, but most likely it's going to be correct most of the time.

It's quicker for most users to select a few characters anywhere in paragraph and change a block-level style then having to select the whole paragraph. The task doesn't have to be as precise now.

The first option also makes assumptions. The first assumption being that you've selected every character needed for your headline. Second, that you want to split the selected copy out from the paragraph.

  • Thanks for your feedback, Hynes (I also edited the question to make it more clear). I know about heading being block-level elements, but I don't think the average user does...
    – nkkollaw
    Feb 27, 2014 at 16:55
  • ...what I think "bothers" me the most is that turning a whole block into a heading goes against how the editor works for all other elements. Also, if the user is expected to select every character they want to make text bold, create links, etc., why would it be such a huge problem doing it for headings, too? Isn't consistency important?
    – nkkollaw
    Feb 27, 2014 at 16:57
  • Because style elements are fundamentally different from block-level elements. Also option 2 allows for user error. If I make an error, just remove the style. If I make an error with option #1, I have to (most likely) re-select every character and then remove the styling.
    – Hynes
    Feb 27, 2014 at 17:02
  • Right, Hynes. Like with everything else. i just don't get it. I don't think the average user knows or cares what a block-level element is...
    – nkkollaw
    Feb 27, 2014 at 18:08
  • I think both the answer and the comments are correct. Yes, headings are block level formatting and should be implemented as such. Also, the average user probably does not understand this, and I think it is important to distinguish inline formatting controls from block formatters in the UI.
    – Jason
    Jan 16, 2015 at 18:55

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