Journal logo

In Defence of Properly Formatting Your Vocal Articles

by Lindsay Rae Brown 17 days ago in how to

Formatting is your friend

In Defence of Properly Formatting Your Vocal Articles
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

I started my writing career as most preteen wannabe’s do by clattering away on my trusty Royal electric typewriter while putting down any thoughts that came to mind.

Without fail, I would always begin my epic tale by explaining importantly, “My name is Lindsay Sawyer (maiden name), and this is my story.”

Yes, I was always the protagonist. Also, yes, I forever felt the need to introduce myself to make sure everyone knew who I was. For that was the main goal—fame.

Back then, I thought that getting my story out was the objective.

Satisfying my own needs as a writer came before meeting the needs of my readers.

I’ve learned a lot from writing nearly every day of my life, but in these past few years since, I’ve made it my business to write online for tens (full stop) of strangers to enjoy. And while doing so, I've learned concrete ways to make the online reader’s experience more enjoyable.

Mostly, it comes down to formatting.

As readers, we have evolved into a skimming species. Readers want to consume your article in as little time as possible. In the spirit of making things easy for the people who are essentially our clients, we must learn how to make our stories skimmable.

Bonus Info: As much as we love to reread our own work and find our witticisms endlessly fascinating, sadly, most readers will still only skim.

Sure when setting out to write the next great American novel, block writing, or as anyone who went to elementary school calls it, “paragraphs” are the typical go-to. We are taught from a young age that a paragraph is made up of 6-8 sentences on roughly the same idea or theme.

However, the grade-school knowledge of how to craft a paragraph goes out the damn window for the online writer.

The first line indent is now a thing of the past. There isn’t even an option to add it in if you wanted. Which, for me, is the most significant evidence that your standard paragraph formatting should be forgotten as well, at least in blogging formats.

The fact is, when one is reading an article online, with the harsh glare of a screen beaming into their retinas, it is imperative as writers that we try to make the experiences as pleasant as possible.

When we break up our text into smaller paragraphs complete with headers, the reader can skim while still grabbing as much information as possible.

With the advent of YouTube, memes and GIFs, we have become a distracted sort of people.

I’m not saying this to be cruel but simply to prove my point. Give me a GIF of The Rock halfway through your story, with his dreamy brown eyes and hilarious face, and I get that tingling deep down that makes me feel like this world is still worth fighting for.

The Rock GIF reminds me that I’m a happy person, generally. And I can laugh and pretend to love reading this nonsense about how some nurse performed a pap smear on the writer of this article and then came into her sandwich shop later to get lunch.

I said it once, and I'll say it again: Breaking up the text you’re writing allows the reader to breathe a bit.

By supplying a visual, you’re saying, “Here you are, friend, I’ve supplied you with a virtual break with which you can gaze into the face of the greatest WWF performer of all time.”

If you’re not into the idea of GIFs, that’s okay too. There are plenty of additional visual options for your story to give the reader a break.

Canva is a great program to create visuals if you’d prefer to include something from the genius of your own hand.

I made this visual a few years ago for my blog. It is an excerpt from the article it was embedded in. It provided variety within the text while still getting the point across to the readers. As a bonus, I've used this photo on my social media pages for added value when promoting my work.

Another visual I created with Canva. I used this within several blog posts. Honestly, I just added this one as an example because I think it's hilarious.

The greatest argument for line breaks in an article is the overuse of the ellipsis...

Look, I like a good pause in a story as much as the next gal, but if you are placing more than one ellipsis in your article at a time, I would recommend you reconsider.

A few years back, I had a fellow writer ruthlessly make fun of me publicly about the number of ellipses I was using in my blog posts. It stuck with me, man. So maybe I'm just projecting some deep dark subconscious shit right now, but looking back, I see their point.

Overusing the ellipsis is distracting to a reader.

One of the humour publications I write for expressly forbids the use of the ellipsis. The editors reckon that as writers, we can use our brilliant brains to develop more clever ways to display the break or pause we are trying to convey.

I fall somewhere in the middle and find that every once in a while, only the dot-dot-dot can give me what I want when showing the situation I’m portraying to the reader. However, I use this technique sparingly.

Unlike my references to The Rock.

If you are relying too heavily on the ellipsis, the reader will notice and it will distract from your story.

This brings me back to formatting.

As previously mentioned, a great way to get around your ellipsis epidemic is to use line breaks. If you are trying to convey humour with a pause, rather than using those famous three dots for the tenth time in the last 200 words, try punchy short sentences combined with line breaks.

See for yourself—what is the cleaner set-up?

The meme of The Rock took me by surprise...His incredible good looks swept me away...Into a world of pure imagination...How was I ever going to stop looking at this picture of perfection? I was helpless...The tingling was strong with this one.

Or

The meme of The Rock took me by surprise. His incredible good looks swept me away into a world of pure imagination, and I wondered how was I ever going to stop looking at this picture of perfection?

I was helpless. The tingling was strong with this one.

By combining line breaks and online formatting rules such as headers and bold print, we can avoid using too many of the same punctuation marks in one article.

Still not convinced about formatting?

The following large block of text is this entire article without the beauty of line breaks and headers. You tell me, as an online reader, which is more pleasing to the eye. Which allows you to skim more easily?

I don’t expect you to reread all of this, so you’ll know when to stop scrolling when you see the beautiful (and sexy) Rock GIF.

***

I started my writing career as most preteen wannabe’s do by clacking away on my trusty IBM electric typewriter while putting down any thoughts that came to mind. Without fail, I would always begin my epic tale by explaining, “My name is Lindsay Sawyer (maiden name), and this is my story.” Yes, I was always the protagonist of my story, and also, I forever felt the need to introduce myself to make sure everyone knew who I was. For that was the main goal--fame. Back then, I thought that getting my story out was the main objective. Satisfying my own needs as a writer came before meeting the needs of my readers. I’ve learned a lot from writing nearly every day of my life, but in these past few years since, I’ve made it my business to write online for tens of strangers to enjoy my works. I’ve noticed that there are concrete ways to make the online reader’s reading experience more enjoyable.

Mostly, it comes down to formatting. When it comes down to it, we as readers have evolved into a skimming species. Readers want to read your article in as little time as possible. In the spirit of making things easy for our readers, we must learn how to make our stories skimmable. When setting out to write the next great American novel, block writing, or as anyone who went to elementary school calls it, “paragraphs” are the typical go-to. We are taught from a young age that a paragraph is made up of 6-7 sentences on roughly the same idea or theme.

However, the grade-school knowledge of how to craft a paragraph goes out the damn window for the online writer. The first line indent is now a thing of the past. There isn’t even an option to add it in if you wanted. Which, for me, is the most significant evidence that your standard paragraph formatting should be forgotten as well. If you can’t even add the indent, why would you be concerned about everything you learned as a middle schooler about paragraph formation?

The fact is, when one is reading an article online, with the harsh glare of a screen beaming into their retinas, it is imperative as writers that we try to make the experiences as pleasant as possible. When we break up our text into smaller paragraphs complete with headers, the reader can skim while still grabbing as much information as possible. With the advent of YouTube, memes and GIFs, we have become a distracted people. I’m not saying this to be cruel but simply to prove my point. Give me a GIF of The Rock halfway through your story, with his dreamy brown eyes and hilarious face, and I get that tingling deep down that makes me feel like this world is still worth fighting for.

The Rock GIF reminds me that I’m a happy person, generally. And I can laugh and pretend to love reading this nonsense about how some nurse did a pap smear on the writer and then came into her sandwich shop later to get lunch. By breaking up the text you’re writing, it allows the reader to breathe a bit. By supplying a visual, you’re saying, “here you are, friend, I’ve supplied you with a virtual break with which you can gaze into the face of the greatest WWF performer of all time.” If you’re not into the idea of GIFs, that’s okay too. You can add plenty of visual options to your story to give the reader a break from the words. Canva is a great program to use to make your visuals if you’d prefer to include something from the genius of your own hand.

The ellipsis...Look, I like a good pause in a story as much as the next gal, but if you are placing more than one ellipsis in your article at a time, I would recommend you reconsider. A few years back, I had a fellow writer ruthlessly make fun of me publicly about the number of ellipses I was using in my blog posts, and it stuck with me, man. So maybe this is some deep dark subconscious shit going on with me right now, but looking back, I see their point. Overusing the ellipses is distracting to a reader. One of the humour publications I write for expressly forbids the use of ellipses. They reckon as writers, we can use our brainstem to develop more clever ways to display the break or pause we are trying to convey.

I fall somewhere in the middle and find that every once in a while, only the ellipses can give me what I want when explaining the awkward situation I’m portraying to the reader. However, I use them sparingly. If you are relying too heavily on your ellipses, the reader will notice. Even in novel form, it is not often you see an author using ellipses more than once on the page. This brings me back to formatting. A great way to get around your ellipses epidemic is to use line breaks. If you are trying to convey humour with a pause, rather than using those famous three dots for the tenth time in the last 200 words, try the line break.

Of course, maybe you don’t feel that it was more challenging to read the second example.

Perhaps you are such a voracious reader that taking in large blocks of text on a screen seems natural to you.

The thing is, we don’t write to please ourselves.

Sure, I think I’m pretty much the funniest person when I continue to make callbacks about my imaginary lover, The Rock. But in the end, I’m writing for you, dear reader.

I want to make you smile. I want to provide some sort of take-away with my words. If I can do that in a convenient and entertaining way, why wouldn’t I? I want to make the experience of reading my work as pleasant as possible.

That is my job as a writer. And truthfully, I want you, the reader, to keep coming back for more.

how to
Lindsay Rae Brown
Lindsay Rae Brown
Read next: Why Denny's Is the Perfect Starter Job for a Cook
Lindsay Rae Brown

Lindsay Brown is a freelance writer who loves to give people a chuckle with relatable stories about everyday life.

See all posts by Lindsay Rae Brown

Find us on socal media

Miscellaneous links