- 1 WHAT IS READER-FRIENDLY WRITING?
- 2 ELEMENTS OF BLOG POST FORMAT
- 3 WRITING FOR READABILITY
- 4 MAKE YOUR MESSAGE EASY TO SKIM
- 5 RHETORICAL STRATEGIES USED HERE
WHAT IS READER-FRIENDLY WRITING?
While you’re in school, most of your writing is directed towards a teacher who is obligated to read it. But after college, most of your writing will need to entice readers to invest the effort, given that they won’t otherwise be obligated to read it.
The principles of reader-friendly formatting have always applied to print-based documents, even though you may not have learned them in school. But they apply even more so to messages you share on the web, given that readers have many other messages to turn to if yours is too hard to process.
RELEVANCE TO COURSE GOALS
A major learning goal for my classes is for students to develop rhetorical awareness, which refers to a writer’s ability to write in a way that’s appealing to readers, particularly for those readers who aren’t obligated to read the writer’s message.
One way you can develop your rhetorical awareness is by paying attention to how readers interact with what you write. This is true for any type of writing, but given that we’re writing in a digital environment, I want to focus on how this applies to what you post to the class blog.
Consider that every component of a blog post has a rhetorical purpose. By “rhetorical purpose” I mean that it conveys a message that has an impact on your audience.
That means that every component of a blog post contributes to the message you’re sending out to your readers, not just the words you put in the body of the post. And every component plays a role in how your audience interacts with your writing. So if you want your writing to be successful, meaning that your intended audience is able to find your message and understand it, you’ll need to give this idea some careful consideration.
ELEMENTS OF BLOG POST FORMAT
Let’s start with the Subject Line. This is the first thing a reader sees and is often the only thing the reader has to go on when deciding whether or not to read your post.
If the subject line is helpful, in that it accurately prepares readers for the content of the post, readers will be inclined to think good thoughts about you. They may even feel inclined to read other posts by you.
But if the subject line is not helpful, meaning that it’s too broad or vague or otherwise fails in the job of preparing readers for the content of the post, then readers will be inclined to feel annoyed at you, which might make them less likely to read other posts by you.
Next, think about Categories. Categories help readers determine which of the broad topics under discussion on a site your post fits into.
Readers can see which category each post is in when they browse the most recent posts on the blog main page, and they might use that information to help them decide which posts to read. Readers can also view only the posts in a particular category by following the appropriate link in the Categories sidebar.
You might not currently be using either of these methods to explore posts on the class blog, but consider how helpful categories might be later on, when you want to return to a particular conversation.
More importantly, consider how categories impact the way people find your posts — or whether they can find them at all. When I want to take note of whether students have completed certain posts, I may sort by category, but if your post doesn’t show up in the list of posts in that category, then I will assume you never submitted it.
If you forget to specify a category for a post, it will be given the default, which is “I forgot to specify a category,” and those posts never appear on the blog. And some categories have restricted access, meaning that posts in that category are viewable only by members of the class blog who are logged into their accounts, as is the case with the Member Profiles category.
So selecting the right category for your posts is actually a significant part of the process of using writing to communicate with other people.
Now let’s consider Tags. Readers can always use the site search box to search an entire site for particular words of interest, so tags aren’t necessary for the purpose of searching. But tags serve other rhetorical purposes. For example:
- they give readers a sense for what the writer of an individual post felt were his or her key ideas
- they allow readers to easily visualize which topics are being discussed most often, given that the most often used tags grow larger in the Tag Cloud
- they give readers another way of sorting through information on the site: by clicking on a particular tag
So before you assign a tag to a blog post, ask yourself whether the tag will serve a useful rhetorical purpose. For example, in the context of our class blog, it’s not all that useful to use the tag “gender,” given that the entire class is about gender. But more narrow tags like these might be useful: gender norms, gender identity, gender expression, and so on.
The Date of a post also has a rhetorical purpose. Although that purpose might seem fairly obvious, you might also want to consider the impact of changing the date of your posts or of not submitting them when due.
When your classmates want to read posts from the previous class day in order to respond to them, they most likely click on the link to the relevant date in the Daily Archives calendar on the sidebar. And when I want to check to see which students have or have not submitted an activity, I also click on the relevant date.
If your post doesn’t show up under the list of posts on that date, both your classmates and I might miss it.
The last (but no means least) thing to consider is the Body of the blog post itself. Obviously your words have a rhetorical purpose, to convey your ideas to your readers, but be sure to take into account what is conveyed by the format and layout of those words.
Consider what formatting elements make your words easy and inviting to read, and what formatting elements might make readers avoid your posts. For example, text that is smaller than the default, or that uses the kind of formatting typically reserved for titles and subheaders (like centering or ALL CAPS) is not very inviting to read, which will reduce the number of people who take the time to read what you have to say.
Also consider the impact of paragraph length. No one wants to read giant paragraphs! And on the web, paragraphs look a lot longer than they do in print, so you’ll want to get into the habit of breaking your ideas into smaller paragraphs than you would use for print. See the section paragraphs, below, for more advice.
“READ MORE” BUTTON
You may have noticed that some students put the full text of their blog posts behind a “continue reading” button, which means that you have to click on the button to see the full entry.
This too has a rhetorical purpose. Think about how it impacts you as a reader. If you browse the blog front page and notice one post that is super long, you might get kind of annoyed, given that the super long post makes it hard to easily see where other posts begin and end. You might wish that the writer of the post had been more considerate of readers and used a “more” tag.
On the other hand, if you see an entry that requires you to click on the “Follow this link to read full entry” button, only to find that the post you open is only a few paragraphs in length, you might get kind of annoyed that you had to go to the trouble of an extra click to read the post. So only use the “more” tag in your posts when it makes good rhetorical sense (as in the case of this post, for example!)
This handout shows you what to click on in order to insert a “read more” button: Use the ‘read more’ option for long posts.
RHETORICAL PURPOSE OF “PUBLISH”
One last piece of advice: none of the elements above will have any rhetorical purpose at all if you forget to actually publish your post!
I can see on the Posts page of the Dashboard that a few people have posts that are still in “Draft” status, which means that no one will ever see them. If that applies to you, or if you need to change the Category for a post or add some tags, review this handout: Editing a blog post.
Using the QuickEdit method, it will take you approximately two and a half seconds to make these changes, so they’re no trouble on your part, but they make all the difference when it comes to whether and how other people read your writing!
Also keep in mind that if I browse the Posts page and notice that a post has been in “draft” status for a few days, I may switch it to “Published” without actually viewing the content, so don’t leave any drafts up that you don’t intend to be seen by the whole class!
WRITING FOR READABILITY
Write Like a Reader
Research shows that most readers simply will not read long paragraphs all the way through, particularly on the web. (You’re probably guilty of this yourself!)
Often the only time readers will read long paragraphs is when they (a) have reason to trust that the writer is good enough to keep each paragraph concise, focused, and interesting, thus making the effort of reading worthwhile; or (b) are required to do so for an assignment.
So if you want people to read your paragraphs, make them like the paragraphs you prefer to read: very short and focused on one idea each.
Not Just for Grade School
Remember the concept of the “topic sentence”? Research shows that readers often skim the first sentence or two of a paragraph to find out what it will be about and then use that to interpret the rest of the paragraph. If the paragraph strays off topic, they start to lose trust in the writer.
Although the phrase “topic sentence” might give you flashbacks to 11th grade English, the concept behind it is based on how real readers process paragraphs. So make sure your own paragraphs don’t lead readers astray by opening with ideas that you don’t go on to develop in the rest of the paragraph.
MAKE YOUR MESSAGE EASY TO SKIM
Most readers skim pages for two reasons: (a) to help them decide if they want to invest the effort into reading the details; and (b) to take in the “big picture” of your message before they read each section more closely.
If your message isn’t easy to skim, readers may simply ignore it. To make your message more appealing, follow these tips:
Use Headers and Sub-Headers
Use formatting to reflect the hierarchy, moving from big, bold, and ALL CAPS for first level headers to bold and sentence case for third or fourth level headers. Study how it’s done on other web sites (like this one!)
Use Bullet Lists
Cut out all the unnecessary explanatory material and get straight to the point with bullet lists.
Use Readable Text Formatting
The easiest text to read is made up of:
- black letters
- in regular case (not upper case)
- in a san-serif font (plain, not fancy)
- on a white background
Use formatting elements, like bold, all caps, and colored text, only to create a more skimmable layout, through headers and sub-headers. If you do use color, choose something fairly dark, in case the color shows up as too light to be readable on some screens.
To emphasize a word or phrase, use italics, but don’t apply italics to more than a few words, as they’ll become hard to read. Also italicize the titles of books, magazines, and other print publications
RHETORICAL STRATEGIES USED HERE
Just to give you some insight into the relationship between the content of a message and its format, as I wrote this handout, I kept adding new elements to the formatting to try and make it more inviting to read.
As the handout grew longer, I realized that no one wants to read lots of paragraphs in a row, so I added section sub-headers. Just something to keep in mind with regard to your own writing!