Blog / Formatting web content for readability

By Will Hall April 19, 2016

Summary: Web users scan pages for actionable content.  Actionable content gets people involved in the website and, hopefully, excites them to go out and try a new tool, product, or method.  To accomplish this, use the list below to format your content.

  • Use fewer words. Users don’t read on the web – users “scan” on the web, meaning their eyes travel down a page looking for words that are relevant to their task or question. In most cases, the more you write, the more of it will be ignored, so be brief.
  • Put important information first.  What’s the most important thing on the page you’re editing? That thing should be at the top of the page.  Users start at the top and scan down, and they’ll be overjoyed if you make their lives easier by putting important stuff first.
  • Start sentences with relevant words and phrases. When scanning content for information, people use an F-shaped pattern of reading. Putting important words first makes it easier to move your eyes vertically down a page and find what you need.
  • Use bold text sparingly. If everything is emphasized, nothing is. Is there one phrase or sentence your readers should take away from a 10-line paragraph? Then, bold it.
  • Use bullet points to organize. People love lists because lists organize complex streams of text into ordered sequences. Because of their left-aligned formatting, lists also assist with the F-shaped pattern of reading. Can that paragraph be made into a list? Then it’s probably better of as a list.
    • Use sub-lists as well. They make comprehension easier by providing a visual outline for content. Be aware:  Users can choose to ignore a sub-list if they deem the parent bullet irrelevant.
  • Use headings (h1, h2, h3) to organize content. Users can scan the headings on your page or site to see what kind of information it offers and find the piece of information they need. Headings provide a form of visual outline and act as navigation waypoints for pages of content.
  • Use descriptive link text. The page a user is on is often not his/her destination, but a point along his/her journey. The way one travels from point to point is clicking links. When scanning content, users will often be looking for the next link or button to click. So like road signs, links need descriptive text that tells users what they’ll get when they click. Avoid link text like “click here”, “this article”, or “learn more”.


Will Hall

Web developer

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