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Web Design / Strategy - 05

Web design strategy articles

Formatting Your Text for the Web

These days, it's so easy for anyone to put up a site on the Internet. That's one of the reasons why the Internet is so wonderful, but it's also one of the reasons why so many sites are horrendous from both a functional and visual aspect. And it's not just the design of the site that looks bad -- it's the text too.
You see, once you're introduced to the freedom of being able to use bright colors, all sorts of sizes, and tons of different kinds of fonts on your site, it's easy to get carried away. There are just so many possibilities, and you've got to try at least some of them, right? Wrong!
The truth is, relatively understated and conservative fonts and font formatting are best for your site, because they're easier to read, and thus more effective. So, here's what you can do to make your text (and therefore your site) look and work well:

Be Consistent

Throughout your site, use the same formatting techniques for certain "types" of text. (For example, you might make all headlines bold and slightly larger than the "normal" text of your site.) Each "type" of text should use only one font. (For example, Arial 2 might be used for all of your body text, and Arial Bold 3 might be used for all you headlines.)

Create a Clear, Strain-Free Contrast

The text of your site should be easily read on the background of your site. The most effective way to accomplish this is to use a light background with dark text. If you don't do this, make sure that reading the text of your site doesn't create eye-strain for the visitor. (In other words, don't put aqua text on a purple background.)

Keep Your Lines Short

Studies have shown time and again that it's hard for people to read long lines of text, especially on a computer screen. (Why do you think newspapers and magazines break articles up into columns?) Because of this, you'll want to limit the number of words per line to around 10-15.
However, don't manually insert line breaks as this can ruin the formatting of the text on different computers and systems, but instead limit the area the text can take up by using an invisible table that's the right width and putting your text in that, or limiting your entire design to an appropriate width.

Use Basic, Standard Fonts

I know it's tempting to use that great new font you just got, but keep in mind that not everyone has that font, so your site won't look the same to them as it does to you if you use it. Furthermore, most downloaded fonts can be hard to read. So, it's best to use one of the following standard fonts on your website for both compatibility and readability:

  • Arial (Helvetica)
  • Times New Roman (Times)
  • Courier New (Courier)
  • Georgia (Times)
  • Verdana (Helvetica)

The fonts on the left are PC versions, while the fonts in parenthesis are their Macintosh equivalents.

Don't Make It Too Big or Too Small

It's easy to forget just how big a font is when you're excited about something you're writing, but the truth is that most people aren't going to be as excited as you are, and that huge font is going to look silly to them. And don't make your fonts too small either. Just keep your fonts to a resonable size.

Bold is for Emphasis, Not Inflection

Keep in mind that bolding text should be done only sparingly, as bold is used for emphasis of only the most important things. If it's overused, it's lost its effectiveness, and you might as well not use it at all. The same thing applies to text that's Italicized or in another color -- use sparingly, because once you use it too much, it just doesn't have any effect on the reader.

Only Links Should Be Underlined

Avoid the temptation to underline anything but hyperlinks, because on the 'Net, underline = link. If you have something underlined, people WILL try to click it, and if it doesn't do anything, they'll be frustrated.

Avoid Using All Caps

On the Internet, USING CAPS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SCREAMING, and you don't want to be screaming at your potential sale. So, avoid caps unless you're using them for emphasis -- and even then, be sparing.

Align Your Text to the Left

Centered text is harder to read and looks worse, while text aligned to the left is easier and quicker to read. So, align your text to left.
There are some other, more detailed rules, but that should be a good start to making the text of your site look pretty darn good. Above all, just remember to keep it simple, and make sure you get some feedback on it from others before putting it online. Best of luck

Copyright © 2000 Micah D. Cranman
About the Author: Need a killer website for your business? Need someone to market it? Micah Cranman designs and markets attractive, compelling, and results-driven websites for small businesses and organizations. For more information on how he can help you develop a powerful web presence, visit his site at www.sybren.net.

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