By Charlie on November 7th, 2007 | Filed in Writing | 2
If you use the tips in this post you’ll see a rise in the amount of time people stay at your site. Guaranteed.
Writing well is important, but so is dressing up your writing so it looks good.
Even if your writing is Shakespearian in quality if it looks too clunky it may not be read at all. Huge chunks of unbroken text just look too scary, too long, too hard to read.
Online, most people read by scanning. Our eyes hop from headline to headline, to a word in bold, to an image, to a bulleted list, etc.
This document was written to help you make your writing look more appetizing for those who scan. If you’ve put in the work to write something, you better make sure it gets read. Here’s how you do so.
In the advertising world, ads without headlines are invariably less successful than those with headlines. This is for the simple reason that without a headline, someone might not even notice there’s writing there.
Imagine you’re flipping through a magazine or click wildly through a list of websites. You come across one that is all monochromatic text with no headline. To someone scanning, a page like this registers as a solid field of gray.
So, yes, you’re writing should have a headline. And as a simple general rule for headlines, they should be bigger than body text. The headline doesn’t necessarily have to be darker, a different font type or an entirely different color. Its size sets it apart already, but those things often help as well.
Section Headers and Sub-Headers
If there’s any question as to what a section header is you just read one.
Many of your readers aren’t going to read your post word for word. They’ll scan it and see if some of it looks appetizing.
Bold type looks good too. It will help your readers scan for important and interesting words/subject matter within a body of copy.
Ah, the list! People love lists! That’s why you see so many articles with headlines such as:
- “Top 10 Fastest…”
- “101 Ways to…”
- “5 Things That Will Destroy…”
Not only do lists make great headlines they’re also easy on the eyes. They’re full of whitespace, have plenty of breathing room and are bite-size. Readers love all of those.
There are two different types of lists that you can use to excellent effect. And from what current research is telling us it’s nearly impossible to either.
The ordered list
Like its name implies, an ordered list is a list. And it’s in order. You can use it for sequential lists, like so:
- Get in the car
- Go to the store
- Pick out your groceries
- Run away without paying for them
- Just kidding. Always pay for your groceries
The unordered list
This is also a list but is not in order. Instead of numbers there are bullets. An unordered list looks like this:
- Wilma Flintstone
- Betty Rubble
Use Smaller Paragraphs
Even if you don’t use lists, never use section headers and refuse to use bold text, there is still one thing you can do to make any writing look drastically better.
Break up your writing into smaller paragraphs.
The more paragraphs you use the more whitespace there will be in your text and the more palatable it will seem to your reader.
Smaller paragraphs just seem more inviting.
Like this paragraph here.
And this one.
Again, yummy whitespace.
Do you feel more at ease with all that air in there? And doesn’t it actually make it seem there is less text than there really is? Less text, even if it’s only apparently less text, is much more likely to be read.
Similar to using smaller paragraphs, you can also break up one big text field into two (or more) columns of text. Look at the difference it makes…
Doesn’t the two-column layout seem more appealing to you? These two-column layouts aren’t something you’re necessarily going to use on the web much, but keep it in mind for those non-web projects.
Tell your friends there’s a new sheriff in town.
His name is Roscoe P. Blockquote.
There’s another element that newspaper and magazine editors use all the time, and for good reason. If your medium is 99% text, making the words themselves appear more interesting is a very good idea.
And that’s exactly what blockquotes do. They’re great for breaking up a monotonous page.
Dialogue is brilliant for breaking up writing. It’s fast, it tells a story and it’s engaging. More than that, it’s also inherently full of whitespace and small chunks of bite-size writing. Look:
“I don’t like toast,” he said.
“What?” she asked, obviously surprised.
“I don’t like toast.”
“But everyone likes toast.”
“I don’t like toast,” he repeated.
“Yes. You do. Even people who don’t like toast like toast.”
“Not me,” he said. “I don’t like toast.”
See how that flows? See how all that whitespace and the small text chunks seem so easy to read?
If a picture’s worth 1000 words, why not use an image and get rid of all that bastard text? What better way to break up text than to get rid of it completely?
If you’re a programmer or web guru you can also include code snippets into your text.
<php? echo "Wow! I never ever thought of that!" ?>
The cool thing about code snippets is that it is almost always formatted in a completely different fashion from the surrounding body copy. Not only is it a different font-style, Courier usually, it’s also often formatted with a completely different color.
These are really only a few of the ways you can increase the visual interest of your writing, be it online or in print. I’d recommend trying a few of these for yourself. Before you do, take a look at your web stats, specifically at the “time spent on site” stat, and make a note of it. Check it again a month or two from now, after using some of the tips in this post. I can pretty much guarantee that number will increase, as your visitors will simply find your content more appetizing.
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