Menu

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…

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.

decorative

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.

saturday afternoon in the mission

A place you wish you were. Photo by Michelle Weber.

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.)

57 Comments

  1. This idea is not something I have really considered before now. Thanks for the read! I will be implementing and experimenting with this strategy in my next blog posts.

  2. Great post! I love longform and these are all great tips when doing longer posts.

    I do have one question, though.

    I often write longform and thus pagination is very common for me. I often wonder why I can insert a “more” tag in visual but not a “next page”.

    Since they’re both HTML tags, is it at all possible that this can be integrated into a future update of WordPress?

  3. Thanks for the tips. One more thing that works for me is to write in points – 1,2,3,… 25. It’s better if we can highlight the important word in each point. For some reason, people find it easy to read a list, than to read paragraphs. Of course, bullets can be included within paragraphs – that is even better.

    The challenge is to create a consistent experience for existing readers and the ones coming in from the search. The first group expect us to finish the post faster and give the message succinctly. But the second group expect us to give as many details as possible, as they are really interested only in that topic. Finding a balance with both is very difficult, especially with long-form content.

    I will implement your suggestions, for sure.

  4. I’m still trying to figure out many things like breakout quotes and all but thanks for the tips! When I get down to write a ‘proper’ post, writing beyond 2000 words seems like nothing and I feel forced to reduce it each time :P

  5. thanks. Still figuring out layout and will try to utilize your suggestions… I know I tire when I read long posts, and hate the thought of potential readers getting bored or overwhelmed at what I attempt to write. Appreciate this post. DAF

    1. Another thought is to publish long pieces as multi-part posts, either over the course of a day, or over several days. Then, readers can really tackle them at their own pace.

  6. I need to remember this–I get a little wordy with a post, then the paragraphs get a little fat, and then even I get bogged down reading through it. Great post! :)

    1. Happens to us all! My rule of thumb is to revisit any paragraph that’s more than 10-12 lines long. It might be fine as is, but often I find a place to add breathing room or do a bit of editing.

  7. Good basic tips Michelle re layout and readibility. White space, short pars, cross-heads are essential.

    A lot of my posts tend to be longform ie 1000 words plus. The last couple have been 2000 plus. Doesn’t seem to put off regular readers but I guess they know what to expect.

    Pagination eh? not my thing as it means an extra click. Any extra click is a nuisance. A bit like slow loading. Beware the gimmicks over simplicity.

    1. I’d certainly agree that most posts, even long ones, don’t need pagination, but for real multi-part posts or posts with lots of images/images meant to take the viewer on a journey, it can be deployed to lovely effect.

      I’m glad to see more people writing longer form posts; short and clever is great, but there’s something satisfying about spending time with a longer piece.

      1. It would be good in a future post if you could link to some good examples of pagination and make the topic a post in its own right. While I don’t think it would suit my style, I’m always happy to learn.

        In terms of writing longer posts, as ever it’s always dependent on style. You commented above about editing pars that are more than 10-12 lines. I just checked my last post and the longest pars are five lines.

        Reading down the comments you are clearly catering for such a mixed audience. It would be nice if you could occasionally have a post dedicated to people who have been blogging for years rather than weeks or months. I appreciate all tips are relevant to everyone but there is a big difference between telling people the basics (eg don’t use text speak, good page layout, be courteous by replying to comments and repaying the visit) and more advanced techniques (eg using HTML, changing photo sizes to an image size of your choosing, pagination that you have mentioned, and whatever other clever tricks may be around).

        I know you do posts with advice on how to write that involves other bloggers eg the parenting one. But have you done one about what other bloggers like to read? ie what makes a blog attractive to them and draws them back? Because that’s what we all want. If you have and I’ve missed it, sorry.

      2. Thanks very much for the feedback! We’re started trying some posts aimed at more advanced users, like CSS tutorials, and will certainly experiment with more in that direction.

  8. Great post and tips. I tend to get wordy with some of my posts but I always insert several pictures to break up the paragraphs. I will use some of your other suggestions as well. I’m new to WordPress so every little bit of information helps. Thank you.

  9. I’ve used pagination a few times, but find that it usually results in readers missing my second page because they don’t see the page numbers at the bottom. I’ve not taken to adding a message at the bottom of page 1 that they must click through to page 2. Isn’t there another way to make the pages more obvious to readers?

  10. Hehe, I already do a mix of headings and images to break my posts up.

    Not too sure about pull quotes, though. I find them distracting if I’m reading — I break out (hurr hurr) of reading the main text to read them out of sequence, as they’re so loud and big. This is exceptionally annoying if they’re just a quote from inside the actual passage.

    1. It does require self-discipline and time to cull out frivolous phrases and words.

      I have not pulled out excerpts even though my theme allows it. I’m not totally convinced with longer blog posts plus several photos embedded and subheadings already, that excerpts would keep a reader on the “page”.

      Subheadings help readers decide to read certain sections. Sure it would be great if my blog post was read in its entirety but I doubt it. So if they read 2 paragraphs with a germ of thought, ok plus look at pics with subheadings. Yes, it may not be an accurate takeaway of the blog post’s original meaning, but what can I do? This is why I try to minimize too many clicks for the reader to skim over the whole blog post or several recent blog posts on 1 page view.

      I get lots of remarks regarding my photos but I doubt I would get this much if I hadn’t also provided some text near the photo(s).

  11. This is a great post with a lot of helpful insights. I appreciate the theory of white space. Headings, quotes, and pictures are great to skim, helping you decide whether or not a post is worth a full read. Lots to think about–and that’s a good thing.

  12. As a yearbook adviser, I’m embarrassed to say that I have not even considered the design of my posts. Now it’s all I can think about! Thanks for the tips!

  13. Perfect! Love the idea of the subheading and the image to break it up. My posts are usually longer (I try not to go too much over 1,000 words/post). If it is going to be longer,
    I write it in parts. I’ve done a few of those. It’s fun to leave cliff-hangers so readers will be back. And in retelling a narrative, I like the idea of the scroll design to show the transition!

    Thanks!

  14. I always tend to think I’ve written something long enough as I write a post but then find myself surprised it turned out to be such a short entry when I view it. Thanks for the tips which are most appreciated..

  15. Lots of great ideas here! I’m pretty good about breaking up my writing into shorter chunks, but I hadn’t considered adding something like scroll work between paragraphs. Nor had I considered breakout quotes. My questions are: Where do you find scrollwork to insert and how do you do a breakout quote? Seriously, I’m going to insert both of those elements into a blog today!

    1. For the scrollwork, I just Googled “page divider” — really, you can accomplish the same thing with a row of asterisks. For a breakout quote, highlight the text you want quoted, then click the quotation mark icon in the Visual Editor. Your quote style will probably look a bit different from what you see here; each theme is a bit different.

  16. Thanks, these are very good tips. I wondered if you should use the drop-down Paragraph menu for doing sub-heads? I’ve been thinking about all this more since seeing how some of my blog posts look good on a big screen, but not so great on a phone or tablet.

Comments are closed.