Format to give your reader a good reading experience
I write content on multiple sites. The editor available on each one may provide different ways of formatting my content, but there are universal basics to keep in mind. They are driven with the reader in mind. Some will help to make your content more search engine friendly.
Headlines are important. Subtitles provided added value.
Writing an ambiguous but intriguing headline works for fiction posts. It doesn’t work for non-fiction. People scanning headlines of non-fiction posts will not usually click just out of curiousity. They want some idea what the post is to draw their click.
Your headline can be written first or last. Put thought into it. It’s carrying the weight of first contact with your reader.
Catch your reader’s eye, tell them what they will get in the post. Be clear. The title on this post is crystal clear. Formatting is about the reader experience. It tells the reader what they will receive in this post
Think about the message you want your reader to take away from the post. Can you summarize it into a few words in the title? Is the post going to solve a problem for them? Meet a need? Say so.
Not every platform requires a subtitle. I’d never come across them as part of the naming until I started writing on Medium. They expand the title, usually with a one-line summary of the content to follow. By the time the reader finishes looking at the two parts, they should have a clear idea of the information to follow.
Now I’ve gotten used to adding them to Medium posts, they go on all my posts. I’ve been using the tools at Capitalize My Title for both my title and subtitles. It properly formats them and then you can use the tool to analyze the title.
Don’t use commonplace images
Beside the headline, the header image is the next in importance. The image should enhance the content. If you’re using an image from one of the many free sites, don’t take the first image you come across.
Most people grab the first one they come across. Do you really want to see the image for your post show up repeatedly on other posts? How will your post stand out when it looks like so many others?
If you’re really, attached to the first image you come across, then at least make it stand out. Personalize it. Don’t forget, properly source your image. Give credit to the original image.
If you can, enter ALT text for each image you use. Describe the image in the ALT text. Some try stuffing it with keywords. Don’t, not only are the search engines wise to the practice, the reader doesn’t benefit.
ALT text describing the image serves two purposes. If the reader is sight impaired their reader will describe the image for them. Or, if something happens the image doesn’t load, the reader can see what the image would look like.
Section headers should be to the point
People scan articles before reading. Splitting your work up into sections with relevant section headers gives the reader more information. For that to be effective, you need to be sure your section headers briefly states the point of the section of text.
A reader able to scan down through the section headers and get a sense of the content in the article is more likely to be drawn in to read the article.
Formatting titles and subheadings
The H tags are used to format the Title and subheading. Search engines use the H1 tag as the title/headline. There should only be one H1 tag in a post if you want the search engines to read it properly.
The title should be capitalized. Subheadings should be in sentence case. Use H2 tags for the subheadings relevant to the headline. If you need a third or even forth level of subheadings use H3 and H4, respectively.
If you need a break in the text to draw attention to a specific section of text, use graphical dividers. Keep them simple, you don’t want the divider to be so noticeable the reader becomes focused on them instead of the text.
You can also use text dividers like ~~~~ or ——— on a separate line.
Presenting your text for a pleasant reading experience
Your text is where your message lives. You want your reader to be drawn through the text with your polished writing. You don’t want the polish to lose its sheen with sloppy presentation.
Bold — use this sparingly. You want to draw attention to the text, not scream at the reader.
Use lists and bullet points when you can. A list of items in a sentence will be noticed and read better.
Paragraphs — vary them, but keep them short. Blocks of text are hard to read online.
White space — provide the reader with brief breaks for their eyes. Make sure to put a blank line between paragraphs. Space between text and images is also needed.
Fonts — just because you can use different fonts, doesn’t mean you should. An easy to read san serif font is best used for text. Serif fonts are effective for headlines.
Font Size — you want the font to be large enough to be easily read on screen but not so large the reader has to constantly scroll. 8u9
Text Alignment — text should be left aligned. If available, you might want to use justified, but don’t use centred. The eye will easily draw to the left aligned text, while centred text makes the eye shift more often. It tires the reader.
The bottom line is: reading your content has to be a pleasant experience for your reader. The best content with poor formatting will have poor readership.
Image source: Unsplash
Shadowspub is a writer from Ontario, Canada. She writes on a variety of subjects as she pursues her passion for learning. She also writes on other platforms.
She created Prompt A Day to share with others. You can subscribe to Prompt A Day for a set of ideas in your inbox every day.