Chapter 5: Writing for the Web

Formatting for Online Reading

Readers consume information differently when they’re reading on a screen. In fact, they don’t really read at all. They skim.

  • Some of the earliest research on reading online still holds true: only about 16% of people read online writing word-for-word.
  • On the average web page, users read 28% of words at most (likely closer to 20%), Nielsen Norman Group research shows.
  • Eye-tracking studies show that skimmers read in an F pattern, starting from the top left.

Dig more into how communication and marketing professionals are using visual content with this list of 50 visual content marketing statistics that came out of Hubspot research.

Good writing + strong formatting + solid information = great online writing





Formatting matters, so it’s crucial to cater online writing for readers who skim. These tips will help make your online content scanner-friendly:


  • Use bulleted lists when the content fits that format
    Articles with one or more lists drives two times more traffic according to SEMrush.
  • Use images or other visual content liberally
    Visual also go beyond just photos. The Content Marketing Institute gives a nice overview of 12 types of visual content you can use in blog posts.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short
    Try to stay under 12 words per sentences and limit paragraphs to one to three sentences to allow scanners to digest smaller pieces of information.
  • Separate paragraphs with a space rather than indenting
    Spaces between short paragraphs creates visual breathing room. Larger blocks of text look overwhelming to online readers who may be tempted to skim right by.
  • Write strong headlines
    A strong headline may hook a reader and encourage a more thorough read. A headline also may appear on a homepage and require a click before the reader can even access your article.
  • Look for link opportunities
    Including links helps keep your online writing short. Links allow readers to choose when they want to learn more and have more control over their experience. But don’t include so many links that your reader feels overwhelmed with a constant choice of whether to click or keep reading.
  • Use headings to lead scanners through the content
    Scanners reading in an F pattern read the headline and the subheads. Using strategic headings and making them meaningful ensures scanners get a good overview of the available content and can jump around in the text. Headings also impact search engine optimization. This Yoast article gives more details on how to use headings strategically.
  • Avoid distracting backgrounds and difficult-to-read font colors and types


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