How to Write Scannable Content: A 6-Step Approach

By Daniel Scocco

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This post is part of the Blog Writing Project Tutorials. There are $300 in cash prizes, so make sure to participate if you have not done so yet!

Despite what some people might think, the Internet is no big book. This means one thing: if you write in large, monotonous blocks of text, people will just ignore you and your message.

Internet users are natural multi-taskers. It is very likely that they will browse your site while editing a document in Word, chatting with some friends via instant messaging software and so on. As a result, they need to be able to filter and scan specific information on your site easily; else they will just go somewhere else.

Whether you are a blogger, Internet marketer or copywriter, therefore, making your content scannable is essential. Below you will find six steps to accomplish that.

1. Use an appropriate line length

If your visitors need to move their eyes and neck to follow the words across your lines, they are probably too long. There are many studies on this topic, and most of them confirm that an ideal line should have between 400 and 600 pixels. You are aiming for 12-16 words per line, so it also depends on the font and spacing used.

2. Break the text into many paragraphs

A friend of mine once said, “when you try to process an unbroken block of text, it’s like trying to eat a whole apple pie in one gulp.” Use paragraphs abundantly if you are writing for an online audience. Apart from improving the flow of the text, it will also add some pleasant white space around your copy.

3. Use headers and subheaders

Headers and sub-headers can greatly improve the user experience. It will help the readers to get an idea of what the content is about before they actually read it, and it will also enable the reader to move back and forth between your ideas easily.

4. Lists and bullet points, please!

You can’t go wrong with breaking down your content into ordered lists and bullet points. Readers will understand your message much more clearly if it’s separated into single elements. Secondly, lists also make very catchy headlines, since people will know exactly what they can expect from the content.

5. Use bold and italics typefaces

Proper usage of the bold and italics typefaces can greatly improve the clarity of your content. Use the bold attribute on words that need to be highlighted or that are delivering important messages. Italicize the title of books, publications, movies and so on.

6. Images are your friends

Apart from grabbing the attention from the readers, images can also help you to structure your content more efficiently. You can use them to divide different segments of the text, or to complement specific parts and elements.




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52 Responses to “How to Write Scannable Content: A 6-Step Approach”

  • Wayne Liew

    A paragraph vertical length should be consistent as well which will mean every points are elaborated equally. I am sure article scanners will not want to get their speed throttled when reaching a long point. 😉

  • Daniel

    Yeah good point Wayne.

  • Tejvan Pettinger

    This article was pretty easy to scan.

    Good css is important – need right % of white space

  • Inge

    Very nice article! A lot of writers still assume that their way of writing copy for offline media suffices for online consuption, which is far from true. Furthermore, not many people are aware of the fact that they are writing for an audience, and not for their own understanding. Making a text scannable is the first step to make a text good for the web and accessible for everyone.

    Some references that might inspire you to lift your article to an even higher level:

    http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl/usabilitynews/91/POF.html
    (font selection is important)

    http://www.virtualhosting.com/blog/2007/scientific-web-design-23-actionable-lessons-from-eye-tracking-studies/
    (23 lessons from eye tracking. They can help to support your claims, extend them, or add new ones)

    Good luck!

  • Tablebread

    What a wonderful point! I blog in the foodie world and I can tell you essays are your enemy! I see so many food bloggers write three pages and post only one photo of the finished product. Remember the old saying – “You eat with your eyes first”.

  • Famous Quotes

    Good post. Unique and easily readable content is the way forward.

  • Shayon

    Another good way to get read is to use different pictures for different bulleted points. Tough, but very effective!

  • Mark@NewSuccessOnline

    Great tips. Almost like a template to follow when writing a blog post.

    @Inge – thanks for link to the article on eye-tracking. Really good stuff!

  • Steven

    Scannable content is so important. Whether readers are using a feed reader or actually visiting the page, they’re more likely to scan than read word-for-word. Thanks for the tips.

  • Sunny Daydreame

    Your article is very timely. Just Friday I actually looked at my blog and realized how un-scannable it is. I do okay with short paragraphs, but I need to include subheadings or bulleted/numbered points.

  • Megan

    Great post. You are so right. I have seen some quality articles and post circulating on the Internet, yet the text left me squinting my eyes just to get through it.

    Great job as always

    Megan Vaillancourt

  • Alex J

    Thanks for tips. Will use on my blog.

  • Jeff

    More great information for a new blogger like myself. I knew many of my posts weren’t exactly ‘right’, but I wasn’t really sure where I was losing it…now I know.

  • A Love for Horses – Joni Solis

    Great article that I wish more people would follow.

    By the way, How are you adding this message/link code at the bottom of the post? With a WordPress Plugin?

    Don’t want to miss a single tip? Subscribe to our RSS Feed!

  • erichansa

    thanks a lot for your share.

  • Sara

    How much bold is too much? Should you just bold keywords and subheaders or full sentences throughout?

  • Matt

    Good post!
    @Sara: If I were reading a site with many sentences bolded, I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as main keywords… 😉

  • BLOGBOOZE

    Nice post!!! I am following these tips from a long time 🙂 beginners must consider do these things regularly.

  • chris

    You should make your point up front.

  • Shannon OD

    I’ve been blogging for eight months now and only slowly came to these conclusions…but now that you have laid out the tips so clearly I know that I can really improve on my blog’s scanability. Truly thanks!

  • nikita

    I like that! Your post inspires me very much. Good Luck to you!

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