The Motive Web Design Glossary
what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)
Pronounced ‘wiz-e-wig’, a wysiwyg is a graphical user interface (GUI) where the user appears to interact with an accurate, screen-based representation of an end-product. This form of software interface was pioneered by computer programs used for creating (print) documents, specifically newspapers.
In early desktop-publishing systems, before the introduction of a wysiwyg, an author would format text by assigning a content-type to copy. They would specify whether text were a headline, caption, quotation, etc. The onscreen representation would indicate which content-type had been assigned, but not emulate how the text would look when printed.
Visual [webpage] editors
Programs for creating webpages may also use a wysiwyg interface. Such programs are often described as ‘visual editors’ and include Microsoft Frontpage, Macromedia/Adobe Dreamweaver and Adobe Go-live. However, unlike printed documents, how a webpage ‘looks’ will vary, depending on:
- the software used to view the webpage (browser)
- the type, quality and display-size (resolution) of the computer monitor
- operating system (e.g. Windows, Macintosh, Linux),
While a visual-editor enables a designer to quickly layout a webpage, it may lull a less-experienced author into thinking that the webpage they have created will look and work the same way for all users—in fact it is more accurate to label the interface to a visual editor: ‘what-you-see-is-sort-of-what-you-get’.
‘WYSI-’ as prefix?
Variations have been created on ‘what-you-see-is…’ model to describe scenarios where it is important to maintain a direct relationship between an ‘original’ and its (often electronic) facsimile. In such cases, ‘wysi-’ is often used as a prefix.
- what-you-see-is-what-you-search: first-generation electronic documents generated by desktop publishing software focused on capturing the visual aspects of a document: preserving the typefaces, layout, etc. As use of the web has increased, the emphasis on visual-fidelity has been surpassed by the expectation of utility, in particular the ability to search the content of a document. This requires that text is stored in a format where characters create words and sentences rather than as a ‘picture-of-text’. (See also: HTML-text)
- what-you-see-is-what-you-see: differentiating between how a webpage ‘looks’ and the underlying code, with specific reference to accessibility; also described by the less-elegant: ‘what-you-see-is-what-only-you-see’ (WYSIWOYS) 
- what-you-see-is-what-you-sent: ordering online means that a customer may never see the gifts they send; Flowerstalk emails the customer a photograph of the flower arrangement ordered
- what-you-see-is-what-you-sign: electronic signatures for electronic documents 
authoring, browser, chrome, CMS, GUI, interface, open source, web standards.
References and further reading
-  A journey through accessibility (Roberto Scano, Juicy Studio)
Charting the evolution of the technical specifications used to create webpages and the companion issue of making webpages accessible.
-  OpenSign design principles (Peter Lind Damkjaer)
a free open source Java-applet for digital signing in a browser environment.
- Evaluation of wysiwyg editors (Peter Krantz, Standards Smandards)
- WYSIWYG Editor (Jenifer Tidwell, MIT)
Defining wysiwyg as an interface design/pattern: examples of software that uses a wysiwyg interface, context for use, problems, forces and solutions.
Motive Web Design Glossary Trivia