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Writing for the Web #5: Paragraphs

This is the fifth post in my series on Writing for the Web. In this post, I'll talk about how to write a good paragraph for the web.

Paragraphs on the Web

Writing for the web is different than writing letters or books and journal articles. As I've mentioned, on the web people scan for information and text needs to work on all different kinds of devices. Using easy to scan formats like lists and headings is really important. 

But sometimes we really just need to write a paragraph. And this is one format we use all the time, so we really don't need to worry about it, right? Actually, paragraphs on the web are a bit different from printed paragraphs in one critical way. They have to be much, much shorter!

Here's a great quote from A List Apart (http://alistapart.com/article/writing-for-the-web):

Most of the time, an acceptable print paragraph is too long for the web.

It’s a retinal thing. We can stare at a well-designed book for hours without eye fatigue. Staring at a monitor is different. The eye needs to move, to fight that fatigue. So we break longer paragraphs into shorter ones. It’s the same content, spaced differently.

Even writers who are not designers must be mindful of this.

Quick Paragraph Guidelines

Here are a few really easy things to keep in mind:

  • break up paragraphs to a few sentences, or a handful of very short sentences
  • keep your sentences clear and simply structured

Remember, it's your job as a content creator to help people find the information they're looking for. So make it easy on them with easy to read paragraphs.

Other Formats to Consider

While working with your content, make sure to also make use of formats like headings and lists to structure and break up your content. You can see my blog posts on those topics here:

Comments

We've employed design techniques for many years to avoid the issue of eye fatigue, but always thought of the issue as more of a left-to-right problem rather than top-to-bottom. The thought of breaking paragraphs into smaller chunks makes perfect sense. Thanks for crystallizing the thought!