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Grammar Is Sexy

Play with Formatting and Text

In last week’s post, I wrote about the list post, an aspect of larger blog post form.

For this week’s entry, I thought I’d give a few thoughts on formatting. Formatting is an aspect of writing that I never considered until I began writing online. Indeed, for most of my formal education I was taught to avoid “fancy formatting,” since it distracts from the content of my writing.

For this week’s entry, I thought I’d give a few thoughts on formatting. Formatting is an aspect of writing that I never considered until I began writing online. Indeed, for most of my formal education I was taught to avoid “fancy formatting,” since it distracts from the content of my writing.

In academic writing, I agree with that dictum. Aside from the occasional italics, it’s best to stick to standard formatting in your term paper. The same goes for “professional” documents such as resumes, cover letters, and professional emails. Best that your message be foremost in these situations.

Online, though, the rules are different. People online don’t read the same way they do when reading print. Or at least, the way they read is more akin to the way they read the newspaper than the latest Dan Brown novel.

Because of this, you have to provide direction in the form of bold, italics,

Headings,

and the occasional ALL CAPITALS. Even more rarely, you might use different colored text to really call attention to something.

How far formatting has come since the days of the printing press...

How far formatting has come since the days of the printing press…

Of all of these, I tend to use bold and headings the most. Headings are an obvious form of organization, breaking up the main points of your post. Since people tend to skim online, headings give them a way to get the general gist of your post. Even if they read nothing else, they’ll likely glance at your headings. Headings are, therefore, your chance to catch their interest and get them to read further.

From just glancing at this post, you can see I use bold text frequently as well. It’s easy to go overboard with bolding, so I generally use it to emphasize important points at the beginning or end of paragraphs, or if there is an especially important point in the middle.

ALL CAPS GET OBNOXIOUS REALLY FAST AND MAKE IT SEEM LIKE YOU’RE YELLING. LIKE YELLING IN REAL LIFE, IT CAN EFFECTIVE IF EMPLOYED SPARINGLY, BUT IT LOSES ITS EFFECTIVENESS QUICKLY. YOU ALL HAD THE GYM TEACHER WHO ALWAYS YELLED, RIGHT? YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN, THEN.

Different colored text is something you must be careful with. It’s one of the most dangerous kinds of formatting since it can make your text difficult or impossible to read. Nothing turns someone off from an article more quickly than illegibility.

Placed well, however, a different color can be quite striking. I reserve it for disclaimers or extra important messages, and I rarely include in the main body of my posts.

Think of formatting like the different visual tools of a painter. By arranging the lines and colors of her composition in a certain way, the painter can direct the viewer’s eye in a pleasant path around the picture. In the same way, you can direct your reader’s eye with strategic, artful formatting.

If you have any doubts, stick with plain text. Legibility is paramount.

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Photo credit: Eighteenth century type trays by Maggie McCain via Wikimedia Commons and Atelier Imprimerie Plantin-Moretus.jpg by Codex

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Melissa Flaquer

    IT CAN (BE) EFFECTIVE IF EMPLOYED SPARINGLY,