Write Better. Stop With All The Crazy Formatting Already.


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Did you ever have a hard time reading an article online because the author went overboard with font selections, text alignment, bold, italics and colors?

Yeah. I hate that.

If you are writing your own personal blog then I absolve you of this sin, but if you are writing for a business, don’t make your content the equivalent of drawing on poster board with a 64 color box of crayons.

Seriously.

That Thing That Newspapers Get Right

Did you ever notice that newspapers all look kind of the same? That’s because a lot of thinking has gone into what allows people to read most efficiently. Most newspaper use a Times New Roman-ish typeface with the text justified in narrow columns. Publishers know that if your eyes can track a short distance before having to hop to the next line, reading becomes easier and faster. Books and magazines follow the same general principles with some variations.

Traditional publishers know that if their content can be consumed easily and quickly, then they can convert readers into repeat readers.

This is what writers of the electronic age can learn from their print counterparts. If you organize your content and make it easy to read, then you can turn readers into repeat readers. As a point of clarification, I’m not using the phrase “easy to read” as an excuse to write inferior content. I’m speaking specifically about unnecessary visual cues that stalls a reader’s ability to get through your content easily and quickly.

More on that later. Let’s first evaluate common mistakes that can create a bad reading experience.

Don’t Be The Center Of Attention

Probably the worst thing you can do is write an article that is center aligned. A close runner up is an article that is partially center aligned and partially left aligned. If you are going to do that, you might as well use Comic Sans as your font and steal a bottle from a baby because you are a terrible person.

Eye tracking. Say it with me: eye tracking. You want your readers to be able to track your text comfortably and jump from line to line without getting a headache. Centered text doesn’t make for a comfortable read and can cause eye strain. If you want to get more readers to your site and encourage those readers to become repeat readers, then avoid giving them migraines.

Oh, My God. You With The Bold.

Throwing in lots of text variations in your material can be disruptive to the reader. Every bold word, every different color, every size change, every shift in spacing acts as a tiny speed bump to your reader. Every time I’ve done a copy review for a client and asked why typographic variations were added, the answer is almost always: “creative reasons.” In their mind, their written words become art with the addition of several dozen bolds, italics and colors. They mistakenly believe this is a benefit.

I’m going to say something to you because I love you.

If you need to litter your writing with a ton of “creative enhancements,” then you’re quietly saying that you don’t have faith in your material. All of those bolds, italics and block quotes don’t make your writing more impactful. They’re simply a crutch.

If you want to entice your readers and make them repeat readers then show them that the strength of your writing is the actual writing.

Emoticons Are Cute.

If you are a 13 year old girl then use every emoticon you can. If you run a business and want people to give you money, emoticons make you look like an amateur. As with the “creative enhancements” above, emoticons can dilute your message, create roadblocks for the reader and ultimately send a message that your writing is not strong on its own.

OMG! LOL! I’m Totes ROTFLMAO, But Whatevs.

When writing an article for your business, you may want to rely on the strength of words and not acronyms to make your point. I’m talking specifically about slang acronyms of the LOL nature. If you are an Original Equipment Manufacturer then you are certainly entitled to use OEM in your writing.

If you want your writing to be taken seriously, perhaps LOLing or referring to things as being “cray cray” may not present you as the beacon of your industry.

On this particular subject there is a trend with adults that use blogging or social media as part of their business. They decide somewhere along the way that the way they can be “cool” is to ROTFL all over the hizz-ouse.

If you are an adult writing for business, don’t undermine yourself and your business by making a fool of yourself.

It’s A Trap

Yes, that’s the dirty reveal here. It’s all a trap. Word processors and CMS platforms give you editorial options and widgets because it creates the illusion of more granular control. The bar above your text has an unlimited number of tools that allow you to shape your text in a variety of different ways.

If you write content that is strong, you don’t need a half a dozen typefaces, emoticons and different variations of emphasis. People will read your stuff, like it and come back for more. Never in history has anyone said, “Man, that author sure does use bold in an exceptional manner!” And no one ever will.

Whenever your hand pushes your mouse up to the bar with all the formatting options I want you to repeat to yourself, “I can write good content that does not need the support of such tomfoolery.”

Say it twice. Just in case.

Narrow Columns. Flush Left. Headers. That’s It.

To produce the perfect article page, use these guidelines. First, use a Heading Level 1 at the top of your article to illustrate the name of the piece. Then, if necessary, break your article down into sections that will be delineated by a Heading Level 2. If necessary – and it’s usually not – break down further into third level headings.

I know what your thinking. What about fourth level headings? You don’t need fourth level headings. Ever.

Once you have your first and second level headings, just write text. Good, high quality, well written, clear, understandable text that is meaningful to your audience. If you really need to add emphasis, go ahead and add a bold or two if the inflection is absolutely necessary. Don’t turn your text into word art because the buttons are easy to use. Format all of your text so that it is aligned left – all of it – and make your text column a reasonable width.

If you really want to go nuts, have a designer design a placebo page for you with dummy text as a guide and then make all of your articles look like that. The consistency will help your readers bounce from article to article, improving your site’s stickiness.

And you know what the kicker here is? My suggestions actually involve less work for you.

You see what I did there? I used bold on the words “less work.” That’s because those two small word have major significance. If nothing else, your eyes will gravitate towards those two small words because there aren’t dozens of other words in bold diluting each subsequent use.

Every article is a narrative that you are carrying the user through. Make it simple for them. Make them absorb each word. Make each word have meaning and impact without relying on gimmicks.

I promise you, your readers will be grateful.

Grateful readers become repeat readers.

Coda

Ok, so not everyone is Shakespeare. While my suggestions are easily implemented by anyone, crafting exceptional copy is not such a simple task. Take a long hard look at yourself and be honest about your writing. Better yet, have your writing evaluated by a third party. Most people consider their writing capability to be significantly higher than it is.

If you need help, let me know. My team and I are here to help you craft the written word into a powerful business and marketing asset, not a liability.

Give me your thoughts in the comments and if you need to hire exceptional writers to support your business, reach out to me and we’ll set up a call.

Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer at Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company that I founded in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn. In January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. I'm also founder and CTO of Podcaster's Toolbox, a SaaS platform designed to help podcasters plan, produce and promote their shows. I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I are home based near the Jersey shore but we're currently location independent and traveling the country for a year, working and podcasting. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera