Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Narrow Web Text Columns and Paragraph Breaks

An issue that comes up frequently is the width of text fields for blogs and websites. Many websites and blogs spread the text across the computer screen, forcing your head to swivel from left to right and back again as you read the page.

However, website and blog design admin panels (content management systems) enable you to adjust the width of text columns and sidebars, so there's no reason to present your content in a hard to read format.

There's a reason why newspapers and magazines use narrow columns for articles. Narrow columns, and short paragraphs, are much easier to read. In fact, when text spans too wide across the page, your eyes can get lost when moving from line to line.

It's even more important for online text to be formatted for easy reading. Web users do NOT read web text like they read newspapers, novels, magazines, and other print documents. Web users tend to skim and scan, skipping over things that are not relevant to their specific, immediate need.

A good website helps users ignore most of the content. That's right. Ignore. Why? Isn't every word precious, carved in gold, pure genius? You'd like to think so, but web page text is worthless to the user, if it does not deal with the question on their mind, the exact information that is urgently needed at that moment.

Very rarely do web users wish to consume everything on a website. 

That typically occurs only when a user knows nothing and needs to quickly get up to speed on a topic. Even then, they won't find everything valuable during any given session of reading. They may come back to read more later, but generally they have specific information they need to find on each visit to a website.

You'll notice how Facebook does this. The column of status update text is narrow, approximately 83 characters wide when typing in your post. The published message is about 68 characters wide, which is around 12 to 18 words.

If you write an essay and make it stretch across the computer screen, with no paragraph breaks, just a big dense block of text, very few people will read it. But if you bust that text up into bite-sized chunks, with paragraph breaks and narrow text column, people will read very long articles.

There are many other differences between web text and print text. As you gain an understanding of how reading on the web, and mobile devices, have some unique characteristics, you'll increase web traffic to your site, increase sales and audience interactions, and accomplish more business goals.

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