The importance of formatting

(Image Flickr by Zeno_)

One of the problems that I see many church websites have is their lack of formatting – or when there is formatting, the lack of appropriate formatting. Writing for the web is very different to writing for print, so there’s a few formatting hints that you can use to make your posts (and pages) easier to read.

1. Use Sub-headings

The use of appropriate headings in your post make it easy to scan your post. But you also need to use appropriate levels of headings. If you’re using something like WordPress, your formatting menu should have heading options for heading 1 through to heading 6. Depending on your theme, these will all have different formatting differences.

But, you should make a point to never use Heading 1 in your posts. This produces a tag <h1>
which search engines use. There should only ever be one Heading 1 tag used in your post, and that should be the title of your post. Instead, you should try to use Heading 2 as your highest heading level within a post.

2. Short paragraphs

"So remember, when typing on the internet, don't be afraid of me, Mr Paragraph!" (Image from Flickr by kashlen)

While in books, you might be able to get away with longer paragraphs, on the web you should try to write short paragraphs. These are easier to scan, and easier on the eye on the screen.

It sometimes requires a bit of creative reworking of paragraphs that may have been written for a print publication (such as your newsletter). However, it is very much worth that effort to make it easy to read content on your website.

3. Use lists

You’ll notice that I’ve numbered my headings to create a list. Lists are great on the web, and they’re used for a number of reasons:

  1. Easy to scan.
  2. Flexible – can be long and detailed, or short and to the point.
  3. People can just look to the list to see if the rest of the post is worth reading

That last one might surprise you, but due to the fact that people scan web content, having something like a list will allow them to scan the “take away points” and determine whether it is worth reading the rest of the post.

4. Choose appropriate images

Picture unrelated. This picture has no relevance to my current conversation

Images are great, but you should always choose appropriate images. The image should be related to the post in some way, and not just because you want to use that “cool” image you saw recently.

Also, part of using an appropriate image is ensuring you have appropriate permission to use that image. Not every image on the internet is free for you to use. There are photos that are copyrighted, there are photos that you need to pay for to use, and there are photos that are free to use.

There are many sites around, but my first port of call to find images is sxc.hu. This is a free, user-generated, stock images site which gives you access to many images that you are free to use on your website.

Another place that I’m increasingly heading to is Flickr. Many images on here are free for people to use (often with attribution – a link to the person’s profile is nice), but there are some that are restricted, so make sure you check this before you use it.

5. Align your images

Firstly, align your images. One of my criticisms of WordPress is that its default alignment, “none” is a block element that doesn’t allow text on either side. While I’m sure in some circumstances this may be useful, I have not yet found a reason for it to be used.

Instead, it is far better to use the left and right alignment options. This will allow text on the opposite side of the image (ie. if the image is right aligned, the text will be on the left).

I also choose to alternate my image alignment if I’m using multiple images. I will always start off with a right aligned image, and if I’ve got images after that, I align the next image to the left, and then to the right, and so on. I find this helps the flow of the text.

Conclusion

So there’s 5 points that you can look to in your post writing to improve the formatting to make it easier to read. Spend the time to format your posts, it is worth the time it takes.

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Author: Ben Clapton

I'm an Officer in The Salvation Army, currently appointed with my wife as Corps Officers at the Rochester Corps in country Victoria (20 minutes out of Echuca). I play violin and guitar, amongst many others, and love golf and running.

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