Blog Rules Vs. Print Rules
Remember newspapers? People used to get them delivered to their door and read them over breakfast. They’re big, awkward to hold and they cover your fingers in black printer ink. Plus, getting them to your doorstep takes hours so, by the time you read a newspaper, the news isn’t all that new.
Newspaper have their drawbacks but one thing they do right is make sure their stories are easy to read. By that I mean how they actually format and layout the newspaper and each story.
Of course, first newspapers hit you with a headline that makes you really want to read more. Something like this works wonders:
THE KING OF POP IS DEAD!
How he really died!
10,000 pills in 6 months
Sensational tabloids aside, the content in newspapers is generally good ~ the writing’s high quality and they usually get their facts straight.
But quality content isn’t all you expect when you buy a newspaper and it isn’t enough for blog writing either. All newspapers make sure their content is easy to read by constraining the width of their columns and that’s what their readers rightly expect. Blog writers need to do the same and format their blog posts so they’re easy to read.
Long narrow newspaper columns mean your eye can easily jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next without losing its place. If the column’s too wide readers will keep getting lost, unless they enlist their finger to help them keep track. Even if they do that they’ll get frustrated and won’t enjoy the reading experience. This is just one element of traditional media and legibility knowledge that we can use on our blogs or website layout.
Newspapers follow set rules for the formatting and lay out their stories to make them easy to read and bloggers need to follow some too. Blog writing and formatting content for the Web is more complex than writing for print because how we read on a computer screen is different to how we read in print and more challenging.
Blog Rules are Based on Two Things:
People skim read when they read things on screen
A website or blog is missing the usual cues that let us know how long an article is. Pick up a book or cast your eye over a newspaper article, and you’ll instantly be able to gauge how long it is and how long it will take to read. Online the only way to find that out is to scroll down to the end of the blog post and that’s what most people do.
While they’re at it, they’ll also try to scan read the post. A long body of text is scary. Even if the headline appeals to them, with no other clues about the content, people will be reluctant to start reading. By helping people scan your blog posts with good layout and telling them more about what information they’ll find in it you can entice them to read the post in full.
It’s harder to read things on screen than on print
Screen legibility is improving along with resolution and screen size but there are still some simple rules you need to know to help people read your blog more easily. If you want to make sure people enjoy reading your blog, tell their friends about it and subscribe then you need to make sure the very act of reading your blog is easy.
No matter how great your blog content and writing is, if it’s not easy to read people won’t enjoy it and won’t come back for more. I recommend you stick to these blog rules.
16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout
1. Format every blog post
Careful formatting will make your blog posts easier for people to scan. Write your posts with the page layout in mind or edit them to make sure they’re well formatted for scan reading.
2. Constrain column width
Keep the blog post column width about 80 characters or less (including spaces) and your readers will thank you for it. Check out these before and after screen shots of Under the Mango Tree. I advised Stacyann to update her blog to make it easier to read and changing the column width for the main body of text was one of the first things we sorted out. Wide columns of text are an instant turn off and very hard to read. The difference is incredible and it’s such a simple change.
3. Use Headers and Sub-headers
Headers and sub-headers will break up long blog posts, help people scan read your blog and convince them to read the whole post. Read How to Write Hypnotic Headlines to read more about the importance of headlines and headers for blog writing.
4. Use lists
Numbered lists or bullet pointed lists help people scan blog posts fast and find the information they’re looking for quickly.
5. Use punctuation
Use full stops, commas, dashes and colons to break up each paragraph into smaller pieces of information that make sense quickly. No one wants to read the same sentence several times to try to make sense of it. If you’re not confident about punctuation keep sentences short. As you practice writing and start to improve you can experiment and lengthen your sentences, chucking in a long one here and there to keep things interesting for readers, and make sure they’re really paying attention. Long sentences are fine but check that every sentence makes sense and the meaning is clear.
6. Short paragraphs
Because reading is harder online it’s best to break text into manageable chunks. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper with two to six sentences per paragraph a good guideline for blog posts.
7. Font type
Sans serif fonts (without the squiggly bits) are generally supposed to be easier to read on screen, in particular Verdana. Get In the Hot Spot uses the serif font Georgia (with squiggly bits) which is also designed for easy reading on screen.
8. Font size
Big is better. Teeny tiny writing is hard to read online, even for people with 20/20 vision like me. Make it bigger. Check out some of your favourite blogs, compare the font size they use and decide what works best for your readers. If they’re older they might prefer even bigger text than the average blog reader.
9. Be bold
Don’t overuse bold text or it loses its effectiveness but do use bold text to make a splash and highlight important sentences that will catch people’s attention and draw them into, or on with, the blog post.
10. Drop the italics
Italics are hard to read in print. Couple that with on screen reading already being challenging and banish italics from your blog writing. I hate them. If you can avoid italics please do.
11. Capital letters
Use capitals for proper nouns and at the beginning of sentences but avoid writing all in capitals because it’s harder to read. PLUS USING CAPITAL LETTERS CONSTANT IS THE ONLINE EQUIVALENT OF BEING SHOUTED AT. Sorry, just wanted to get the point across.
12. White space
Readers need somewhere to rest the eye and good blog layout leaves plenty of blank space. Make sure your blog isn’t too busy or distracting and gives readers somewhere to rest their eye from time to time.
13. Background color
Most blogs and websites get the contrast between text color and background color right, but make sure your blog background doesn’t make the text hard to read. It makes me sad that a white background with black text has become the default for most blogs. Bright yellow text on a black background is easiest to read but that’s quite a confrontational look. Dark text on a light background has a wider appeal but consider using another light color for the background as white gives off a harsh glare. There are plenty of choices which look good and are still easy to read but without the glare of white: try light grey, minty green or pale yellow.
14. Use images
Good use of images will draw readers in to your blog posts. Sometimes I read a post purely because I like the image. Ideally your images will add to your blog or emphasise your message. Even if they can’t do that use them to break up text, draw your readers eye down the page and reward them for reading and spending time on your blog. Some blogs like Viperchill turn their headers and sub-headers into images which makes the text look more attractive and helps people scan read.
15. Be consistent
You don’t know how readers found your blog. You can’t be sure if they arrived straight at your latest post, on your about page or via an archived post. You can’t know which order people will read your blog in so every post you write needs to tell the same story about you, your message, your blog and your values.
16. Tell a story
Speaking of stories, every blog post needs to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Think of it as an introduction, the main information and conclusion if you prefer. Even if you don’t give use those sub-headings because, hopefully, you’ve come up with hotter ones, do follow the convention to avoid confusing your readers.
Blog Writing Rules Wrap Up
You’ve probably noticed traditional media like newspapers are struggling and the Internet’s taking over. It’s amazing to think that in less than 10 years you may not be able to buy the L.A. Times or whatever your favourite newspaper is. Instead, you’ll download the whole thing to your iPad in a nanosecond and read it on the go. No dirty fingers, no struggling to read text that runs over a crease and no pages blowing down the street.
I love newspapers, and I’ll miss them, but I look forward to the day when every blog is formatted and laid out so it’s as easy to read as one of those old newspapers. Now all I need is an iPad to read them on wherever I go.
Have I missed any blog writing and formatting rules?
Blog Writing Magic Practice
Pick one of your favourite old blog posts and rewrite it or revise the layout for easy reading on the Web. Give it a new headline and repost it. Even if the blog content is the same, with a snappy new headline, some calls to action and some smart formatting, it should get more readers than it did the first time round.
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