Why your online writing should use built-in styles

spacespostA website client of mine created a blog post and manually styled nearly every paragraph differently with formatting like boldface, color, and centering because she wanted her posts to attract attention.

But I cautioned her about using too many different manual formatting techniques and urged  her to use the built-in styles I developed as part of the theme design.

Why use styles?

If you use a WordPress or other blog software, you’ll notice that the menu for the word processing part of your entry screen has styles set up. In mine, the main style is “Paragraph” and there are styles called Heading 1, Heading 2…all the way to Heading 6.

Styles will help you make a post that your readers will comprehend more easily

Why?

From a reader’s perspective all this difference can be a little jarring, even if they don’t consciously notice it.

Their brains wonder, should I pay more attention to the bigger things? And what about the colorful things? And the things that set up in the center of the page?

With consistent styles, readers don’t have to navigate the differences between text pieces. Their familiarity with the web as well as with nonfiction books allows them to comprehend what “headings” are. They understand: biggest headings cover the biggest sections; smaller headings inside of them carve up the different subjects within that big section.

Clear signposts help readers navigate.

Clear signposts draw in readers

Consistent styles also help readers skim. Let’s face it: you have about 7 seconds to persuade a reader to stick around and read your post. Headlines are eminently skimmable because they’re large and (if you’re using styles) really well organized.

A visitor can get a good sense of the article with good, scannable headlines. Even if they don’t read the article word for word (and most don’t), that skim could persuade them to click your Products link or sign up for your mailing list.

They will also reduce your posting time

Let WordPress and your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) do their jobs. As a database system, WordPress houses your words and images, tagging them appropriately. Your CSS uses the tags to display the post to the reader in a pleasing, consistent manner. Why take time to manually boldface, italicize, upsize, or color each piece of your post when these existing technologies can do it?

Using styles will also save you time later. If you recreate your design or choose a new theme, CSS will apply the new style of Heading 3 to all instances of text you have identified as Heading 3. If you have manually applied color or effects, your posts could clash with the new look of your site or you will spend hours going through all of your old posts to update the text applications to reflect your new theme.

Use styles

In this post, for instance, I use Heading 1 to ask the question and answer it three times using Heading 2. The title is its own style, and in some themes it displays large or smaller than your highest heading, Heading 1. Know this about your design. My post titles are larger than my Heading 1, so I’m okay with using that top level heading in the post.

When you’re investigating a new theme, pay attention to the preview provided. On any theme preview, you’ll see all the headings listed and styled. You’ll also see the styles of things like indented quotations, lists, and tables. Although you can alter these by delving into custom CSS, a good theme for you is one that starts with elements that work for you and your writing.