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Five Fixes to Clean Up Your Posts

Readers love easy-to-read, uncluttered text. Here are five quick fixes to clean up your posts and pages.

Image by Josep Ma. Rosell (CC BY 2.0)

While we offer tips for storytelling, social media strategy, and more, it’s important to point out quick fixes on the most basic level — such as common phrases to avoid. Below, we’ve rounded up five examples — from posting habits to customization choices — to watch for on your blogs.

1. Not linking your text

Take a look at this passage:

At my previous job in animation, I worked alongside talented compositors. (You can read about compositors here: http://www.media-match.com/usa/jobtypes/compositor-jobs-413172.php)

In your dashboard editor, you can link text in your post with the Link button, so there’s no reason to drop entire URLs into your post, as shown above. In a cleaner approach, use the Link tool to link a piece of text:

At my previous job in animation, I worked alongside talented compositors.

You also don’t have to tell your reader to “click on the link to learn more” (which we can add to our list of bulky, unnecessary phrases).

2. No breathing space

We’ve said this before: embrace the white space. You might write a stellar post, but if it’s published as one lumpy mass of sentences, the form overshadows your content, and people may not bother to read it.

Exhibit A:

It’s five in the morning on a Saturday. I don’t remember the last time I’ve sat in front of my computer to write, just like this, without interruption. Without having to think about anything else — my work, my husband, or any of the noise unleashed on other tabs in my browser. Time when I can sit and think and type and hope that, in these hours, a part of me — unaccessible at any other time — will make its way onto the page. I’ve come downstairs to my sofa, to my laptop. Always glowing, always waiting — rarely touched in quiet, intimate hours like these, when I’m up and automatic, when the day hasn’t seeped in, when the outside world hasn’t grabbed hold of me. I don’t know how long this lapse will last, so I’ll just type until I stop. For Roxana, the writer of “How I Get to Write,” coffee is part of this delicate, easily pierced space. The elixir of the imagination, she calls it. I once felt the same, but in the past year I’ve delayed putting on the coffee until later in the morning, or waited for my husband to wake up and do it. At first I thought I was just lazy. But now, I realize this lengthens the in-between state of free-flowing thoughts. It’s a bit of a game I play with myself: creating these magical hours to produce something — anything — unrelated to my waking world. Because once the day starts, my window closes. So here I am, molding jet lag into something productive and creative, carving out a bit more time. Squeezing out as much as I can between 5 am and 7 am, as dark turns to light outside of my window and this play time for my mind runs out . . .

This excerpt is from one of my favorite posts, “26 Hours,” merged into one suffocating paragraph. I wouldn’t expect anyone to read all of it.

The lesson? Insert paragraph breaks.

3. Too small or (too big) body text

In your dashboard, you can control basic body text styles. You can use the B (bold) or I (italic) buttons for certain effects, but you probably don’t want to bold or italicize large amounts of text:

So here I am, molding jet lag into something productive and creative, carving out a bit more time. Squeezing out as much as I can between 5 am and 7 am, as dark turns to light outside of my window and this play time for my mind runs out. There are not enough hours of the day, I’ve begun to think.

If you’d like to emphasize a passage, use blockquotes instead; placing an entire paragraph in bold is hard on the eyes and makes the bold tool less meaningful.

Likewise, don’t use the heading tags (like <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, and <h4>) to make your body text bold or big — it makes your text clunky, distracting, and hard to read:

So here I am, molding jet lag into something productive and creative, carving out a bit more time. Squeezing out as much as I can between 5 am and 7 am, as dark turns to light outside of my window and this play time for my mind runs out. There are not enough hours of the day, I’ve begun to think.

To change the default font size (and color) in a post, you can use HTML in the Text Editor to adjust size and color. Heading tags like <h3>, used in the example above, are best used to insert headings and sub-headings in your posts and pages, using the Text Editor.

4. Excessive capital letters, exclamation points, and LOLs

Some of what we’re discussing today is a matter of style, as well as taste. You don’t have to make any of these fixes, this one included, as we’re offering tips to clean up your posts — not completely change the voice and style with which you’re comfortable. But consider this passage:

I DON’T REMEMBER THE LAST TIME I’VE SAT IN FRONT OF THE COMPUTER TO WRITE, JUST LIKE THIS, WITHOUT INTERRUPTION, LOL!!! Without having to think about anything else — MY WORK, MY HUSBAND (LOL), OR ANY OF THE NOISE UNLEASHED ON OTHER TABS IN MY BROWSER. Time when I can sit and think and type and hope that, in these hours, a part of me — unaccessible at any other time — will make its way onto the page!!!!!

And then consider this version, which has the same text — minus the capitalization, exclamation points, and LOLs:

I don’t remember the last time I’ve sat in front of my computer to write, just like this, without interruption. Without having to think about anything else — my work, my husband, or any of the noise unleashed on other tabs in my browser. Time when I can sit and think and type and hope that, in these hours, a part of me — unaccessible at any other time — will make its way onto the page.

Comparing the two, you don’t need these extras to create emotion or get your point across. Trust the strength of your own voice.

5. Faint, too bright, or jarring colors against a dark background

With the Custom Design upgrade, you can update your color palette. Be careful, though, with your body text color choice, particularly against a dark or black background. Consider this lime-yellow shade against the dark background of the Trvl theme:

This shade works great as an accent color, but probably not for your body text — it’s bright and distracting. You want your readers to stay on your blog as long as possible, so experiment with color combinations and text colors that are easy on the eyes.

We hope these five quick fixes help to clean up your posts and pages. Are there any other posting habits and style choices that belong on this list?

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  1. Another tip- if you’re background is an image, consider an overlay behind the post so that the post is readable and undisturbed by the background image.

    1. I tried making my background an image and my post was fine but things like my twitter timeline and other widgets became difficult to read :/ do you know how I can fix that?

      1. I use Blogger as my main platform, but I think if you made an HTML div with an plain-colored or white background for each widget and then placed the code for said widgets in there, they would be easier to read.

      2. Not sure which blog your referring to (I checked http://theblossomingfallam.wordpress.com/ but your background in the sidebar is solid and fine).

        If your background (on a different blog) is making it difficult to read your widgets, you might want to either change it, or perhaps darken the image or edit/add a filter to it to tone down the pattern or color. (PicMonkey helps with this sort of basic filtering/editing: picmonkey.com)

      3. I had an image in my background before but I had to remove it because it was making it difficult to see my widgets… thank you so much for your help :)

    1. I hope you do. I love finding links in blog posts, especially if they lead to something funny or unexpected – they’re like hidden treasure gems!

  2. Amen to #2. Reading on a screen is different than reading on paper. I will not read walls of words. Break up paragraphs, and media like images & video don’t hurt.

    I’m also not a fan of really fancy fonts (comic sans, cursive and calligraphy fonts). They look cute, but Lard Cheeses it is hard to read after a while. We teacher/education bloggers are bad about this one. :)

    Great suggestions.

  3. It pays if your platform (Blog*Spot offers this) has a “mobile view” as well as a “desktop look” – allowing bloggers to avoid having to use oversized fonts and ultra-minimalist themes, which turn many people off, especially in libraries and internet cafe settings where users don’t want passers-by to be able to look over their shoulder (or just in their general direction) to see what they might be reading. Some platforms allow users to adjust font size, I’ve seen it on some (but not all) WordPress blogs – which may have an advantage over strictly defined display parameters!

  4. Got a lot out of this post! What is the current opinion on dashes? (Not making a mad dash to the refrigerator when you are supposed to be writing!) I noticed the sections of blog you exampled above rely heavily on “–” as a punctuation mark.
    I also started using the dash to cut down on my use of ellipses …. See, isn’t that annoying?! But now I’m addicted to the Dash instead. (As an aside, my use of Parenthesis may not be much better!)
    So when does style turn into vile? (Yeah, I have a rhyming problem too!)

    1. So when does style turn into vile?

      Great question!

      The blog excerpted above is mine, and if you poke around more you’ll see I have a thing for the em dash, just as my fellow Daily Post editor Michelle has a love for the semi-colon, and also Ben for the hyphen. But I might have an unhealthy relationship with the em dash, so I’ll suggest to use it as much as you’d like, but take my advice lightly.

      Really, it’s a matter of style — and perhaps comfort — though you shouldn’t use more than one em dash in a single sentence. I like pauses in my sentences. I like breathing space in my prose. But placing too many em dashes in one sentence can become confusing. I recall Ben Yagoda’s NYTimes piece, “Mad Dash”

      Like hitting the right combination of buttons in a computer game, typing two hyphens on the keyboard — and thereby making a dash — can give your prose a burst of energy, as if by magic.

      ‘Tis a lovely read on this mark of punctuation, and might provide more information and inspiration.

    2. Dashes, in my eyes, are the more grown up ellipses. I read plenty of books with dashes, but rarely any with ellipses. I only use them with spaces in between, as I learned in many college classes, mainly to omit a section of a quote. For some reason they remind me of a teenager writing in a journal, or a friendly chat you have on Facebook, than professional writing, which I consider most blogs to be.

  5. A big thank you, Cheri! I was aware of all the points you made except number 1, about linking text. I’ve seen it, wondered how to do it, but being the technophobe I am, never found out how to. I’ll be using this going forward – thanks.

  6. ugh lumping into one giant post with no breathing space, biggest pet peeve I have and often the type of blog I avoid, how’s the mind supposed to absorb it all if you don’t give it a chance to process eh

  7. Moi c’est simple, j’écris tout ce qui me passe par la tête sur un sujet, puis lorsque j’ais fini je relis et alors seulement, je mets mes points et virgules tout en mettant en gras ou surlignés tout ce qui me semble important.
    Vu que j’aime écrire, j’écris sans arrêter puis seulement à la fin je peaufine. Voilà mon truc à moi.

  8. Also watch for lettering that is too pale against a dark background. Us older folks can’t read them – and that makes me sad.

    1. Agree Pat. Dark backgrounds are bad. Pale grey on white is another one. Also some themes have a very small font size in the comment section. I find that very difficult and I have good eyesight for reading.

      1. I agree on this as well. Although, how do you change the font size or color? I feel like my blog is too monochromatic and the words do not stand out well on such a light page. Do you recommend darkening the background? Thank you

      2. The only way I know without buying a theme, is to either try a different free theme, or change the font size in HTML. WP have good articles on this. I don’t know how you can change the size in the comments! I just have to enlarge the text in my web browser ;-)

      3. Thank you for the advice. I feel like I will soon have a PHD in social media after the many articles I have read. I appreciate your comment and will continue to search. I changed my background to be slightly darker to create more contrast. Hopefully it’s not too difficult for others to see.
        Jennifer Price

  9. All good tips. But regarding #3, font size, wouldn’t it be nice if WordPress provided a font size drop down in the Edit Post visual mode rather than having to go the HTML in the text editor. I’ve worked on several other blog hosting sites that permit changing font size via such a drop down. Consider this a request to add that feature to the visual editor.

    1. I agree that a drop down allowing us to change font size would be one of the most awesome things WordPress could offer. Please consider it!

  10. Good tips, however I would suggest to – sometimes – remind people that the colored word in the text is a link they can click on. Because I cama accross too many blogs with many people emphasizing words with bold or color BUT without any link to click on – which annoys me quite a bit :-)

  11. One of the things I’ve never understood about WordPress is why you have to pay to edit the color palette/blog design when other platforms will let you do this for free.

  12. Personally I find reading anything against a dark background hard on my middle-aged eyes. Good old fashioned black text on a white background is far preferable.

  13. Great tips and I agree! I had to go back and change my layout completely because it was like a violent act on the eyes when trying to read the font against the background. Great tips

  14. Of course this would be the day I’d use exclamation points and all caps in my post. These are perfect tips, though, and I’m glad you compiled them. Fist bump for the fifth one – my granny eyes water trying to read that yellow on black. I’ve clicked away from many blogs because the glare of the text contrast hurts my eyes.

  15. Great tips. Maybe I’m guilty of one(?) of them. Chunky text is a big pet peeve of mine. I actually follow someone who always posts that way, and while I read the post, I tend to rush through it because it makes for very uncomfortable reading.

  16. This is great! I was on the Yearbook Committee for my high school’s yearbook, and a lot of these tips are very similar to what we learned. Along the lines of using the white space, we were told to write in short paragraphs so people got a “break” so to speak and didn’t get overwhelmed by the amount of words they saw. I use these little tips in my blog posts for sure!

  17. I like all your suggestions, but I especially agree with number 5. As I grow older reading colored text on a colored background becomes more difficult. In some cases I don’t even try.

    Thank you for pointing these thing out.

  18. Great tips. I use a greenish color (against a dark background) for my links. I love that hue, but sometimes I wonder if it may be off-putting to some readers.

  19. About inserting links – please pardon the long question. The question is about the quickest way to find the link to insert: I’ve pre-written about 100 posts [working on finding the voice and point-of-view of my work]. The posts contain references to books, mags, etc. I type the post into my blog, get to a book reference, open a new tab to google the book or author, then tinyURL it, and enter that at the blog ‘link’ tool. It takes so much time and seems an archaic way to insert a link. Is that the quickest way to find/copy/insert a link?

      1. you’re right, after posting to U, I realized I don’t tinyURL it, I put in the entire URL. But still, a new tab, a google search for the reference, click the reference, then take the URL back…? I assumed, being a beginner, that others knew a faster better way. Isn’t there a faster way? thanks for answering so quickly. I feel a glimmer of hope :)

    1. Like @Cheri, I’m not clear on why you might be using tinyurl, as that seems unnecessary. I love tinyUrl, but I only use it for the longest, gargley types of urls, or when I’m sharing a link with someone via email or the like and want to make it easier on them. With the blog link tool, the length of the url doesn’t matter much.

      1. you’re right, after posting this, I realized I don’t tinyURL it, I put in the entire URL. But still, a new tab, a google search for the reference, click the reference, then take the URL back…? I assumed, being a beginner, that others knew a faster better way. Isn’t there a faster way?

    1. Colors, title font, and body font size look fine. The site is clean, minimal, and easy on the eyes.

      I did notice a recent post’s title: http://evabowman.com/2014/06/06/watch-my-tedx-talk-httptinyurl-comn2na44g/

      You might want to avoid inserting links in your titles — just keep the titles succinct.

      And also, for instance, instead of…

      My TEDx Talk starts with Drew’s awesome introduction at minute 2:54:13. Watch us all on livestream.com. Watch the Livestream at http://tinyurl.com/n2na44g or http://new.livestream.com/tedxcc/events/2984573

      …do this:

      My TEDx Talk starts with Drew’s awesome introduction at minute 2:54:13. Watch us all on livestream.com.

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed this article – like I did Ben Yagoda’s. The use of links in articles was very welcomed too. As a novice I have lots to learn and to explore. As an example, I still struggle with the question of how to use a tag. Any articles on that subject that you could refer me to please?

    1. If you’re referring to HTML tags like the heading ones, those two posts I linked to are helpful:

      http://en.support.wordpress.com/editors/styling-individual-posts-and-pages/#changing-the-default-font-size-and-color

      This page shows the heading tags “in action”:

      http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tryit.asp?filename=tryhtml_headers

      You can try it yourself in a new post or page — switch over to the Text Editor view and try inserting opening and closing tags and place text in between them, ie:

      https://cloudup.com/c2N1sR2jMar

      Save the draft, preview it, and see the difference — this text should be bigger than your normal body text.