Longform Layout: Keep Readers Hooked ’til the End
We’ve written before about the importance of leaving white space in your posts and pages, and how breaking text into smaller chunks both makes it easier for readers to follow and helps us focus our own thinking.
But what about really long posts — 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000+ words? (Don’t think anyone writes blog posts that long? Then you haven’t checked the WPlongform topic!) White space remains critical — it provides breathing room we need to make it through a chapter’s worth of words.
After all, books have built-in “white space:” the pause as we turn the page. You can put that same space into a long post. Here’s how:
Use subheads to guide readers and break up text.
The simplest way is with subheads, something we do all the time on The Daily Post. Subheads are more than just a visual break from a block of text; they create an outline that reinforces key points and orients readers as they wander through your words.
Subheads are also a great marketing tool for your post. It’s a time investment to read several thousand words, and readers want reassurance that it’ll be worth their while to give you that time. Subheads are easy to skim, and act as teasers for your piece. Well-crafted, relevant subheads nudge readers to settle in for a few minutes (or more) with you, instead of clicking away to the Next Big (and Shorter) Post.
You can also use graphic elements to create visual breaks where your piece moves from one idea to the next. These can be as simple as a few dots between paragraphs, or as ornate as a bit of scrollwork inserted as an image.
Graphic breaks work especially well for less formal, more free-flowing essays, where you aren’t necessarily constructing an argument, but are exploring an idea. For a series of musings, a text subhead can take away from the delightfully meandering nature of the piece, imposing an unwelcome sense of order. A graphic element creates the page-turn opportunity without detracting from the stream of ideas, giving readers time to pause and think without interrupting, “Here’s what comes next!”
Breakout quotes are another effective way to introduce a visual pause.
Breakout quotes are another effective way to introduce a visual pause in a less structured way. Use them periodically in longer pieces to emphasize key points, or to train a spotlight on a particularly elegant turn of phrase. Create a quote by highlighting the text you want to use and clicking the quotation mark icon.
I. Use outline formatting for more formal, scholarly work
In more formal writing, you might actually decide to use an outline, especially if you’d like to include a table of contents or roadmap to the post at the beginning. As with subheads, the levels of the outline offer a breathing point and a roadmap; the latter is especially important in more scholarly pieces that include layered arguments, lots of data, or many internal references.
Outlines can also be helpful writing tools for long posts, regardless of formality — use them to guide you as you write, then strip out the outline elements and plop in some subheads for the main sections. It’s like bumper bowling, but with words!
Of course, almost any kind of post benefits from a photo or two; insert images for a pop of visual interest, to illustrate your thoughts or add another dimension to your words, and to give readers’ eyes a break.
Remember, “image” doesn’t just mean “photo;” a cartoon, chart, or diagram might be apropos (charts and graphs hold endless possibilities for both enlightenment and humor) or even a Wordle.
If you don’t have images of your own, there are plenty of places to find images you can use — there are thousands of images available with Creative Commons licenses that you can search. There’s bound to be one that works for your post; Just make sure to attribute the image appropriately.
Okay, one more tip — can you find it?
(Hint: look down.)
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