We’ve talked about the need to make scannable blog posts and how the visual system works. We’ve talked getting the right toolbox to create scannable posts. Now, let’s talk about how to put your tools to work.
|Use headings as sign-posts|
|Especially if your post is long, use headings to break it up and show what is covered in each section. Be succinct, but accurately capture what’s in the section. This allows people to:
|Call out the key points in your paragraphs|
|This is where I use bolding. But you can also use font color or even italics (with the caveats discussed in my second post). I like to highlight the key points of my post by bolding sentences throughout it. That way, if someone just looks at the bold sentences, they’ll get the main points.You can bold sentences or parts of sentences. Just make sure you structure the sentence so the bolded part can stand alone and make sense.As I said, you can use any of a variety of methods for emphasis:
Whichever method you choose, though, pick one and stick with it throughout your post. Don’t use two or three different methods for emphasis. Why? Remember in my first post I talked about how items that are visually similar are considered related. If you use a red font for some items and bolding for others, people instinctively think that there is something similar about all the red items versus all the bold items. If there isn’t, you confuse people and cause them to focus on trying to figure out that problem rather than focus on what you’re saying.
|Call out highlights with pull quotes|
|I use pull quotes to both highlight important information and to entice users. I generally use them for my more witty or controversial statements, as a way of hooking poeple to keep reading or at least scanning. Use pull quotes sparingly and only for your best stuff.|
|Use bullets or other grouping mechanisms to give users “information chunks”|
|By information chunk, I mean something like specific recommendations, suggestions, checklists, specific tools, a list of links, and so on. Use bullets to present these. Or use a table or some other structure that visually groups and sets the items apart (usually through indenting).Why? Using bullets or other grouping mechanisms serves to:
|Use pictures when they best present the information|
|Let’s compare two ways of presenting information:For Facebook users age 25-34:
The chart is the best way to present this information. Even if I bolded some items in my bulleted list, the chart would be better. Why? Because the reader can understand the data and the implications more quickly through the visual. Saying that 40% of users access Facebook daily doesn’t have the same impact as seeing that big chunk of the pie. The reader immediately sees the large difference in use, without having to make any effort at mentally processing the information.
One clue that a picture is appropriate: if you realize your readers are going to be painting a picture in their head by reading your description, consider just giving them the picture to begin with.
|Avoid the wall of text|
|I usually write my text, and then make an editing pass for scannability. That’s where I add the bolding, add headings (if I didn’t begin with them), insert pictures, and decide whether to move some items into bulleted lists, etc.If you’re reviewing your post and you see a block of paragraphs or a third of a page that is just plain text, do something. Add emphasis, break the paragraphs into a bulleted list, even add an unnecessary graphic to just liven up the page and break up that text. This is where you might use lines or little graphical flourishes to just give the page some space and make it feel more readable.|
Finally, take that extra time to scan it yourself. Don’t read, just skim over the page and see what jumps out. Nothing? Something? The something you want? When the items that jump out convey the message you want, you’re post is ready to be scanned, or read, and it’s time to publish.