It may be a surprise for you, but Internet is a different information medium. It is different how information is presented to you and what kind of information you can find. That's why it is important to know how to prepare the web text to be easily absorbed.
The Web medium is different from the print media (books, magazines, newspapers) in a way that you need to read the information from the screen:
- you may not quickly flip through a site
- you can't mark an interesting post with a marker
- you can't take it with you on the sofa, a dining table or your bed (an exception to this are notebooks, but not everyone has notebooks and laptops are larger than most books anyway)
- your eyes are strained from varying contrasts and constant staring at a single spot
However, you can do the following:
- find anything you want (there are billions and billions of websites with various information)
- find anything quickly (in a matter of a couple of seconds or minutes)
- go right to the spot you are interested in via page search
That is, there is a lot of information anyone can find easily and quickly, but may have trouble reading it, because the monitor screen has its own limitations.
Scan, not read
With that in mind, you would rather want to absorb the maximum amount of information in the minimal possible amount of time. That's why people tend to scan pages, not read them or study them diligently.
That's why the text should be formatted just to accomplish the goal to easily comprehend the website copy. This implies shorter phrases, sentences or chunks of text. Let's go down on this in more detail.
There can be many ways to render a thought in text. But for the Web, thoughts have to be rendered in as short sentences as possible. This gives the human brain and eyes an opportunity to rest and to single out an important piece of information. Humans read words as a whole, and they just decipher shorter sentences as a whole, too. Have you ever read a sentence and ended up thinking, "Boy, when will it end? My head hurts!".
Though headings are commonly used, it is not always possible to decipher what the text is about from them. That's why it is advise to use clear page headings:
- describe the page/article objectively
- in the least amount of words
- use simple language
Naturally, they should be the same as the titles of your pages.
While it is common to use headings, rarely do people use subheadings at all (just the one you see above this paragraph. They are used to determine the general content and idea of an article/page during scanning. Just as with headings, it is important to have short, clear (relevant) subheadings as well.
To easily comprehend ideas, you'd rather prefer shorter, less verbose, paragraphs, right? How many times have you come across a 10+ line paragraph to only think "I am not going through this wrench" and skip it? Then you'd rather use as little words to put your thought in as necessary. It should make your texts easily scannable.
One of the most effective techniques in presenting information is lists. It allows you to put large parts of information in short, scannable extracts. Lists are also easy to read, because they are mostly shorter than a full line of text, too.
If you want to highlight some words in the text flow, you can make the text strong or emphatic. However, you'd rather only highlight those words that you would normally stress when talking to your reader directly. This ensures that the highlighted words coincide with the reading and comprehension intonation and do, in fact, bring your point closer to the reader.
Content formatting is perhaps one of the lesser known areas of web development, but it is one of the most important, nevertheless. Would you read this post if all of it was tucked up in a single paragraph? Then you get the idea whether to spend your time formatting the text or not.