Updated April 7th, 2020
People used to get them delivered to their doors and read them over breakfast.
They’re big and awkward to hold and they cover your fingers with 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.
Newspapers are going out of business because their news cannot keep up with the 24/7 news cycle that is so prevalent today [and with content marketing and social media].
Newspapers have their drawbacks but one thing they do right is to make sure their stories are easy to read. By that, I mean how they format and layout the newspaper and each individual story. Of course, the first newspapers hit you with a headline that makes you really want to read more.
Something like this headline 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 usually 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 expect.
Blog writers need to do the same when writing blogs and format their blog posts and picking their blog designs 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 to see what a blog page looks like. Newspapers follow set rules for the formatting and layout, their stories to make them easy to read and bloggers need to follow some of these rules and have good writing examples.
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 from how we read in print and more challenging [never mind SEO/WordPress and writing quality content].
- THE KING OF POP IS DEAD! How he really died! 10,000 pills in 6 months.
- Blog Rules are Based on Two Things:
- Blog Rules: The 16 Rules of Blog Writing and Layout
- 1. Format Every Blog Post
- 2. Constrain Column Width
- 3. Types of Blog Writing: Use Headers and Sub-headers
- 4. Use Lists
- 5. Use Punctuation
- 6. Short Paragraphs
- 7. Font Type
- 8. Font Size
- 9. Drop the Italics
- 10. Capital Letters
- 11. White Space
- 12. Background Color
- 13. Using Images
- 14. Be Consistent
- 15. Tell a Story
- 16. The Golden Rules of Blogging
- Blog Rules Practice
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 and read the post. For new bloggers, the long body of text on your blog page design is scary.
Even if the headline appeals to them, with no other clues about the content, people will be reluctant to read. By helping people scan your blog posts with a good blog format and layout and telling them more about what information they’ll find in it, you can entice them to read the post in full. [And make Google, and the search engines, happy!]
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 and your blog style, 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 blog writing is, if it’s not easy to read, people won’t enjoy it and won’t come back for more.
Blog Rules: The 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 a blog post column with a width of about 80 characters or fewer (including spaces) and your readers will thank you for it. 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. Types of Blog Writing: Use Headers and Sub-headers
4. Use Lists
Numbered lists or bullet-pointed lists help people scan blog posts quickly and find information they’re looking for fast. Some blogs that do this well are Buzzfeed, Nonstop Signs Blog, and Bored Panda.
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. And use short paragraphs.
Writing Rules Tip: 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 the text into manageable chunks. Paragraphs should be much shorter online than on paper, with two to three 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. Successful Blogging uses the sans-serif font Open Sans (without the 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.
Make it bigger on your own blog. Check out some of your favorite blogs, compare the font size they use and decide what works best for your readers.
Don’t overuse bold text or it loses its effectiveness but use bold text to make a splash and highlight important sentences that will catch people’s attention and draw them into the blog post.
9. Drop the Italics
Italics are hard to read in print. Couple that with on-screen reading already being challenged and banish italics from your blog writing. If you can limit italics, please do.
10. Capital Letters
Use capitals for proper nouns and at the start 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, I just wanted to get the point across.)
11. White Space
Readers need somewhere to rest their eyes and a good blog layout leaves plenty of blank space. Make sure your blog web pages aren’t too busy or distracting and give readers somewhere to rest their eyes from time to time.
12. 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.
There are plenty of choices that look good and are still easy to read but without the glare of white: try light grey or pale yellow.
13. Using Images
Good use of images will draw readers into your blog posts. Sometimes I read a post purely because I like the image. Ideally, your images will add to your blog or emphasize your message.
Even if they can’t do that, use them to break up text, draw your reader’s 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 make the text look more attractive and help people scan when they read.
14. 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.
15. 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 to those sub-headings because, hopefully, you’ve come up with hotter ones, do follow the convention to avoid confusing your readers.
16. The Golden Rules of Blogging
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 favorite newspaper is].
Instead, you download the thing to your iPad in a nanosecond and read it on the go. No dirty fingers, no struggle 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 newspapers.
Blog Rules Practice
Pick one of your favorite 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, a call to action and some smart formatting, it should get more readers than it did the first time around.
Here’s what to do next…
Want to make money by writing blog posts for other bloggers? Check out this post on Smart Blogger by my friend, Kevin Duncan.
If you want to get an additional free guide to blog writing, I’ve got something special for you.
It’s a book with more blog formatting and writing guidelines so you know the exact steps to take to write great blog posts that turn into more readers and more subscribers.