How a piece of writing is presented will have a big effect on how it is read. If it is placed in the wrong place, it will instantly become more difficult to read, understand and appreciated within the environment it finds itself.
As a writer you need to think what you want to achieve, as well as how the writing should be delivered and in which context. Is the media suitable? How legible is it? How would it attract readers? Does it entice people to read it? Would they manage to get to the end?
Writing needs a purpose: to convey a message, to impart information, to educate or entertain, to encourage reactionary feedback, to get people to take action. Also how will it make the reader’s life better, and put you as the writer into a better light. Therefore its location is imperative to get the best results.
On the printed page
Reading print is a totally different experience than reading online or on a mobile device. Light bounces from an external source back into your eye rather than from the screen, which means that design and typesetting are imperative if the publication is to be legible, readable and therefore an enjoyable experience.
Old fashioned book design may seem boring, but it’s the best because it works! Text should be diverted away from the edges with margins, columns separated with ample gutters, and fonts should be legible – the latest trend can hinder quick reading and sometimes prevent comprehension and focus! And keep to white paper and black text for a good reason – it’s much easier to read!
Column width and quantity also either helps or hinders reading pace. Magazines mainly provide leisurely reading, so the columns should be wide to cope with longer paragraphs. Whereas newspapers are for short and quick fire presentations, as their information doesn’t hang around for long, so narrow columns promote faster moving text and shorter paragraphs.
On the screen
Reading online (computer, Kindle, tablet or whatever) has that light behind the words, making colours brighter and more accessible. Light backgrounds are always better than dark ones, as the same rules apply: black words on a white page is much easier to read (as you can see on this blog’s body text compared to its sidebars).
Good webdesign that follows old fashioned typesetting styles usually fares the best: full margins bring the eye inwards, navigation placed underneath the banner and widgets found in the sidebar, not the footer where they may be missed. Web content needs clearly defined parameters to prevent visitors getting confused: the usual route for a reader’s eyes on a website is in the shape of an F, so place the most important stuff at the top left hand corner going across, and remember a second arm spreading to the right half way down.
Blogs represent online magazines or newspapers and therefore will show varying column widths. When choosing a theme, consider how the content will be read: leisurely perusal of communicative posts requiring a wider body space, or multiple narrower columns presenting information for quick selection. The type and size of font will also have an affect, larger for slower reading, smaller for listings.
Social media varies its column use to accommodate constantly updated content. Facebook and LinkedIn have a wide central column as their content tends to stick around, Google+ and Pinterest use multiple narrower columns to accommodate the rapid inclusion of new material. People read things fast in Twitter (they have to) and applications like Hootsuite and TweetDeck that keep abreast of the many streams use multiple narrow columns that aid faster reading.
How does this affect writing?
Actually this affects how you write and for what medium. Do some research into what you are writing for, and whether it is in magazine or listings mode. Articles are slow, so can afford to be wordy with long paragraphs. Brochures are informative and contain a lot of pictures, so should accommodate both leisurely and scanning reading activities. Blogs tend to be more newsier, and are more frequently scanned before a decision is made to read the remainder. Social media is very fast moving, responding to instantaneous and reactionary information and communication.
Writing style needs to be adapted to ensure easier and faster reading. Social media thrives on conversations, sometimes incomplete as the threads get mixed up. Blogs communicate more thoroughly and can explore a concept or subject over a wider area. Newspapers fling facts at their readers. Brochures spend time to educate their readers with relevant information. Articles ramble on for ages to extend an idea and present references and examples to back up their claims.
You can see how these would benefit from different design to accommodate them. You can’t place an article into Twitter! News wouldn’t work in a brochure. Websites have blogs to showcase their information in a quicker and more accessible form. Pinterest is a social platform that presents multiple images for selection and viewing, and news360.com is a listings website of the latest posts it recommends. Each have their own style of design to present their information in the best possible way.
About the author: Alice Elliott is a Digital Marketer whose award winning Fairy Blog Mother blog provides simple, jargon-free, highly visual WordPress training for beginner and post-beginner bloggers. She specialises in before-and-after screen-shot e-courses that make no assumption of prior knowledge, constructively beginning at Blogging Level 0 to ensure a good foundational training. She is well known for her ability to “explain things really simply”, relating her teaching to each learner according to their lifestyle and ability.