1. Cut your total copy in half
Unless you’re writing a dissertation or something, there’s absolutely no need for your article to be thousands and thousands of words long. Remember, you’re writing for mere mortals with average to short attention spans.
There are so many articles I’ve read where I get through what seems like the “meat” of the writing — only to keep scrolling and realize there’s twenty-seven more paragraphs. Don’t do that. Take as many words as you need to initially get the idea out in a draft, but give it another pass or two and refine the thinking.
Editing while writing will certainly lead to frustration, so make sure to only do it secondarily — but don’t overlook the impact that ruthless editing can have in your work.
2. Format for readability
The most optimized width for any line of text is between 50-75 characters. Before you check, yes — this post is about what that looks like (on a laptop or desktop). Nice, right? Any less and the type becomes too compressed for a good reading rhythm — any more, and your eyes can’t properly scan sentences (which is how we tend to read).
The solution is in the design of your document.
By constraining the layout to a narrower column, you’re creating a more pleasing viewing experience. While it may seem strange to leave so much “empty space” on the sides of your writing, I guarantee it’s better for the reader’s experience.
Paragraphs are also often a design challenge for articles. You may have a killer insight on sentence three of a seven sentence paragraph, but… it’s likely to be missed if it’s tucked inside a massive wall of text. A simple fix is to cut your sentence lengths. Let your phrasing breathe a bit. Write as if you’re speaking to someone with actual breath involved.
3. Think responsively
These days, the vast majority of people are using their phones for internet-browsing, article reading, and content consuming. You’re fooling yourself if you think mobile readability won’t affect someone’s choice to read your work.
It’s true that people have autonomy over their mobile viewing choices — many browsers can adjust text size, auto-format the page for easy reading, or even read it out loud. But, they shouldn’t have to. Proper mobile formatting usually comes down to getting two things right: Font choice, and size.
While it sounds silly to even mention, it needs to be said: Nobody can read your calligraphic, custom hand-drawn fonts. At least, nobody wants to read a full article-worth of it.
A simple rule of thumb for choosing article fonts: Boring is better. Using serif or sans-serif, it doesn’t matter—Just make sure it’s legible and clear, no matter how you look at it.
If you’re writing on your own website (not Medium, Substack, etc.) and are able to fully adjust font settings, consider using the “em” font size measurement instead of the usual “px” or “pt”. To put it simply… this font measurement is essentially dependent on the size of the screen rather than any single fixed amount.
This means that your writing will look relatively the same size on your iPhone as your MacBook, even though technically it may be a different pixel size. By using a responsive measurement, your writing will look great on both large and small screens, thus increasing the readability and retention of your audience.
Consider using three font sizes and two weights:
A large bold style for headlines
A medium bold for quotes or impactful sub-points
A healthily-sized regular font for the bulk of your writing
4. Headlines > paragraphs
Our brains have seemingly developed a threshold for what’s worth the effort, and what’s not — we see a wall of text and don’t even bother skimming because it’s so insanely dense. That’s why thinking in headlines works so well. When you’re writing to deliver thoughtfully crafted one-liners, you’re setting the reader up for ease.
Here’s a helpful test: Can a reader tell what the core idea of an article is with nothing more than the headlines?
There’s an insane amount of content on the internet, and only so much time and attention to consume it. We subconsciously ask ourselves, “why should I care?” as a short-hand means of attention triage. In a pinch, clear headlines and differentiated section sizes give us the quick answers we need to decide.
If you’re able to condense your thinking into meaningful headlines that establish the basis of your idea, you’re saving your readers (and yourself) time, which is inherently valuable.
5. Share opinions, not summaries
This last point is more about the writing than the formatting, but it lends greatly to the previous points. More than likely, someone is coming to read your article because they value your specific, personal opinion (or because Google does). Therefore, don’t try to explain concepts in their entirety in any single piece of writing — that’s a surefire way to get overwhelmed in the process, over-write, and bore your readers.
For example: This post isn’t trying to introduce or explain the entire concept of writing, rather how to do it well on the internet, in an article format. This universal truth lies at the core of how I share online: Nobody will care about your work nearly as much as you will… so let yourself off the hook a bit!
Instead of something broad like “Why Apple is better than Microsoft”, consider a much more specific, helpful fragment of that main idea, such as “How an iPad helped me take better notes in college.” All ideas have frameworks that can be deconstructed, and it’s your job as the writer to do this emotional work for your readers.
In the digital age, an article’s formatting has the potential to make or break a reader’s experience, no matter how good the writing may be. To put it simply: Write about what feels natural and authentic, do a great job at articulating your specific, atomized thoughts, then format it as a killer reading experience by being mindful of line width, font choices, and mobile readability.