Web readers are skimmers. Formatting your content for quick digestion can help you capture and keep your readers’ attention, whether you’re writing about food, cats, or what Donald Trump is up to lately.
Keep paragraphs short.
Online readers can easily lose their place amidst a thick chunk of text, especially when they’re forced to look up and then back at their device for whatever reason. Keep paragraphs to roughly 4-5 sentences, or easily manageable chunks. When you have a lot of information to share, consider using bullet points to highlight instructions, steps, or lists; using numbered lists works well, too, depending on the nature of your content.
Be consistent in choosing font styles and sizes.
Avoid serif font types – that little extra flare at the end of a letter stroke may be stylish but can be hard for folks to read online, especially when the font size is very small. Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana are examples of sans serif fonts. It’s also wise to keep all of a piece of text in the same font style throughout.
Headings cue readers on what to expect. It also makes it easy to skim content and pick up main ideas, as well as locate your place again easily in an article, essay, story or other piece of online writing. The headers should have the same font as the rest of the text, and the font size should be in proportion. You wouldn’t choose say, 72pt. headers to go with 12pt. text – something like 14pt., 16pt., or even 18pt. would be a better fit, encouraging the flow of reading.
A lot of text on a plain background is boring. Breaking up your content with relevant visuals can hold readers’ interest. Be mindful of the image size you’re using. You may need to re-size some images so that they don’t show up much larger online than you anticipated. Web readers should find the visual as an enhancement, not something big that they need to scroll past because they can only see part of it.
Quality links are key.
It’s no longer standard practice to use “click here” when including a URL in your text; use descriptive text as the hyperlinked text. In general, it’s understood that you can click here on hyperlinked text. Before publishing your work, make sure to double check your links, and where you’re able to, make sure that clicking the link opens the link in a new window or tab; you don’t want to unnecessarily move readers off your site – they may forget to come back!
Avoid enhancing text with underlines and italics.
Use bold formatting sparingly, and only for key vocabulary or phrases that you want to stick with readers. Browsers vary widely from desktop to mobile devices, and even among devices of the same type, there are differences. Keeping text as plain as possible minimizes the changes that some wonky formatting will make your content hard to read.