There are two approaches that readers take to online content. The first is skimming, and the second is reading closely to absorb the content. On the web, most people are scanning content for the main points in order to decide whether or not they will save it and read it more closely later. The key question for a writer is how to structure content so that it has the highest impact and makes the reader want to return for a closer look.
Here are a few formatting tips to accomplish this and keep readers coming back:
Use White Space Effectively
The last thing that some want to see when they land on your content is a dense block of text. You may have the best ideas in the world, but they will not have any impact if you just have longs paragraphs with little white space. Your paragraphs should be shorter in order to create more white space on the page. This is much less intimidating for the reader and easier to skim than a long block of text.
Headings Invite the Reader Forward
Just like the purpose of the title is to invite readers to click on the content, good headings invite readers to continue scanning the text for information. Ideally, you should be able to catch the main points of the content by simply scanning the title and headings. Make sure you try this when you check over your content.
Use Bullets and Lists
Bullets and lists allow you to package content in bite-size chunks that are easy to follow and digest. If possible provide a summary of your content using a bulleted list to help people get the point.
Bold Key Sentences
When skimming people are looking quickly for the main ideas. You can help them out by making your main points easy to find. Put your main claims in the first sentence of each paragraph and then provide supporting details. You might also try bolding the text of these important sentences so that they stand out and attract the eye of your reader.
Images help break up the text so that people can follow the key points. An image that helps illustrate your main point is also very helpful. If you can provide an infographic, table or flowchart, that can speak volumes to someone skimming your content.
Other Formatting Aides
There are many other ways to format your document for high impact. The first is line length. People have a hard time taking in long lines of text, so make sure that when you post your content the line length is short. Experts suggest that 50-60 characters is optimal for line length.
The font you chose is also important. A sans-serif font, one without the small projections on the type, is easier to read on the screen. You want to pick one font for the body text and one font for the headlines. Too many fonts can be distracting, but having a different font for headings makes them easier to follow. You can contrast a plain easy-to-read sans-serif body font with a creative and stunning heading font.
Color is another important factor. You want a high contrast between your text and background colors. You may also want to change the background and text colors to highlight important parts of your text. You don’t want to have too many colors in your content, but a change in color to highlight a key point can be helpful.
Converting Skimmers to Readers
Obviously, if you’ve done the hard work of creating insightful and valuable content, then you want to make sure that people read it. The problem is that the people you are hoping will read your content will first skim it to see if it worth their time. Using these formatting tips to structure your text for easy skimming will show off your great content. People will save it and return to it later for a more careful examination.