What’s Wrong with a Block of Text?

person typing on keyboardWriting for the Web? Consider this: People don’t read online. They skim.

There’s plenty of research that will shock and amaze you with data on how people read online.

Very few people will actually read your copy right through.

The average web surfer has trouble focussing. They’ll generally only read something word for word when it really grabs their interest.

Until then, they’ll scan, looking for visual cues such as headings, lists, highlighted key words, quotes, short paragraphs.

So aside from keeping your copy clear and concise, how you format is important.

Need a quick demo? Here’s the same text formatted in a variety of ways:

A Block of Text:

Steve wants reflections, so let’s give him reflections. Don’t hurry. Take your time and enjoy. Just let your mind wander and enjoy. This should make you happy. Very easy to work these to death. Take your time. Speed will come later. If you didn’t have baby clouds, you wouldn’t have big clouds. You got your heavy coat out yet? It’s getting colder. If there’s two big trees invariably sooner or later there’s gonna be a little tree. Trees get lonely too, so we’ll give him a little friend. The more we do this – the more it will do good things to our heart.

Looking at this makes me want to give up before I start. It’s too much like hard work.

A Block of Text with highlighted key words:

Steve wants reflections, so let’s give him reflections. Don’t hurry. Take your time and enjoy. Just let your mind wander and enjoy. This should make you happy. Very easy to work these to death. Take your time. Speed will come later. If you didn’t have baby clouds, you wouldn’t have big clouds. You got your heavy coat out yet? It’s getting colder. If there’s two big trees invariably sooner or later there’s gonna be a little tree. Trees get lonely too, so we’ll give him a little friend. The more we do this – the more it will do good things to our heart.

Despite this text being a bunch of random quotes, the simple act of highlighting certain words makes it easier to scan. I’m inclined to at least give it a go.

Same text broken up into short paragraphs:

Steve wants reflections, so let’s give him reflections. Don’t hurry. Take your time and enjoy. Just let your mind wander and enjoy.

This should make you happy.

Very easy to work these to death. Take your time. Speed will come later. If you didn’t have baby clouds, you wouldn’t have big clouds.

You got your heavy coat out yet? It’s getting colder.

If there’s two big trees invariably sooner or later there’s gonna be a little tree. Trees get lonely too, so we’ll give him a little friend.

The more we do this – the more it will do good things to our heart.

That’s a lot better. I can make out units of meaning and the key words are catching my eye. I’m going to start reading this because it looks readable.

Same text, let’s try adding a list:

Steve wants reflections, so let’s give him reflections. Don’t hurry. Take your time and enjoy. Just let your mind wander and enjoy.

  • This should make you happy.
  • Very easy to work these to death. Take your time. Speed will come later.
  • If you didn’t have baby clouds, you wouldn’t have big clouds.
  • You got your heavy coat out yet? It’s getting colder.

If there’s two big trees invariably sooner or later there’s gonna be a little tree. Trees get lonely too, so we’ll give him a little friend.

The more we do this – the more it will do good things to our heart.

Using lists can increase readability.

These are over-simplified examples of how layout and the use of design principles like emphasis and repetition can help your readers to make sense of what you have written. Whether they or other techniques are appropriate will depend on the context and purpose of your writing.

Keep in mind that too much emphasis like bolding will reduce it’s effectiveness. 10% of your text is a reasonable upper limit.

Beyond that, the logical flow of your writing will determine how you can best divide and format to create scanable units of meaning.

Format Now, Ask Questions Later

Large blocks of plain text look like hard work. They will discourage people from actually reading what you have written.

Remember – you’re not writing for you. You know your topic and each word you’ve written. Put yourself in the shoes of a speedy skimmer looking for hooks into your content.

Try reworking big blocks of text into smaller paragraphs. Try employing other formatting techniques to provide visual gateways into your text.

You’ve put a lot of effort into creating copy for your site. You’ve checked and re-worked it. It’s part of your carefully designed sales funnel.

Now you just need people to read it.

There are literally hundreds of factors influencing how people arrive at, and interact with, your website content.

Start with the basics and go from there.

Don’t underestimate the value of your website content. It is a key part of your overall strategy.

Content creation is a team effort. We can help.

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