The Use of White Space in Blogging

Posted July 4, 2013 by Amanda Shofner in Blogging / 10 Comments

white-space

White space is both a blogger’s best friend and worst enemy.

But this isn’t the time to worry about enemies.

It’s time to talk about white space being your best friend. Because it is.

White space and, by extension, short paragraphs are the keys to readability. Readability on a visual level, anyway.

Here are four reasons why white space is important:

1. People have short attention spans

Let’s face it: as a society, we’re used to consuming information in small bites (bytes). We have 140 characters on Twitter. We watch 30 second commercials. If we’re not entertained within the first few minutes (or sentences), we’re gone.

Short paragraphs feed into this.

Paragraph breaks pull your eyes down the page as you chase the words.

Like a roller coaster of sentences.

Whee!

2. Short paragraphs are pleasing to the eye

I forgot to remove divs from a guest post once. It rendered the entire post unreadable because it was one big block of text. A friend said it made her eyes bleed. (Not literally, in case you were worried.)

Big paragraphs hurt.

They are daunting.

You might get lost in the maze of words and sentences and lines and lines of endless words and sentences.

Short paragraphs can make a short post seem longer or it can make a long post seem scalable—like a mountain with long, sloping inclines rather than steep, jutting cliffs.

We feel safer with short paragraphs.

3. Reading posts on cell phones is common

If you’re signed up to receive notifications of new posts, you probably know I use MailChimp. And MailChimp tells me that 80 percent of my subscribers use mobile devices to read my newsletter.

EIGHTY. PERCENT.

You don’t mess with 80 percent.

Try reading a blog post on a phone. It’s eye opening. Or maybe you’re already reading this from your phone. Mind. Blown.

We can do just about anything from our phones—and that includes reading our favorite blogs. Short paragraphs and lots of white space make the reading experience for everyone, no matter what they’re reading on, the best it can be.

4. Your blog is not an essay

Remember that guideline about the “proper length” of paragraphs? Yeah, the one that says a paragraph should be four to six sentences long. Burn it.

Burn it to the ground.

And I say that as someone who’s taught essay writing. Because your blog? It’s not an essay. Or a newspaper article. Or any of those other boring things.

It’s you.

Your post won’t be graded and marked up. But it will be read. By actual people. And you’re not writing to get an A, you’re writing to spread your message and connect with others.

Quality content doesn’t have to be delivered in essay format. But it does have to be powerful and make an impact. And you know what makes an impact?

Short paragraphs and lots of white space.

Talk to me about white space. Is this something you pay attention to? Why or why not?

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10 responses to “The Use of White Space in Blogging

  1. Thank you! I am TERRIBLE about this and I really need to be better. I tend to have long sentences and longer paragraphs – I think my next blog post I’ll break up a bit more and see how it goes.

    • I’ve looked through some of my old On a Book Bender posts and I cringe at how long my paragraphs are. It was all, “BIG PARAGRAPHS, YEAH.” And now I’m the opposite.

  2. This is the best ever:

    “Paragraph breaks pull your eyes down the page as you chase the words.

    Like a roller coaster of sentences.

    Whee!”

    Anyways. I do find that I’m using more white space after reading your posts. Even more fun is that that’s starting to bleed over into my fiction and I kinda like it 😀

    • Ha. I may have gone a little over board with that part, but it still makes me laugh because it’s true.

      I never gave one thought to white space until I was asked to edit for it. Now I see it everywhere and wow, it makes a difference. It’s versatile, too, allowing you to use line breaks to add emphasis.

  3. Andrea

    I AM READING THIS ON MY PHONE. Mind blown. You’re right, I always try to make my paragraphs “substantial,” even if that means making them longer than I like. I think I’m getting better at shortening them, but it’s a hard habit to break.

    • Any habit is hard to break–I think it took me a month of daily typing to break myself of using two spaces between sentences, for example. But I’ve been editing posts FOR white space since the beginning of March, so it’s become second nature to me.

      One thing that helps? Address paragraph length after you finish writing. It’s easier to see where you can break something up once you’ve got it all written out. (And I still do this, especially with On a Book Bender posts. If there’s a big chunk of text when I preview it, I try to find a natural breaking point so I can separate it out and make it shorter.)

  4. Totally agree – but I also think there is such a things as too much white space. If a blog post is short – say 10 sentences. It breakes up the flow to see 5 2-sentence paragraphs.

    • What if your 10 sentence post was a list?

      While I understand your point, I’m only advocating using white space to break up long paragraphs by finding a natural breaking point. If all ten sentences were in a paragraph, that would be too long. But you could easily have three paragraphs, and that would work perfectly.

      It’s less about putting sentence numbers on paragraph length and more about finding balance. My preference? About three to four lines of text, however many sentences that may be. But if I can’t find a natural breaking point, I leave it.

  5. Ruffin

    Worth saying I initially read about half of the post, as the quick fire-and-forget paragraphs invited serious skimming.

    That’s fine if you don’t mind what 50% of a post someone encounters, but I’d remember a lot more — and would remember the the parts *you* wanted me to — with thicker writing that immediately engaged me, earning my attention.

    Twitter works b/c there’s 140 terse characters that stay on topic. Twenty tweet-compositions stitched together as a post invites skipping — not engagement (which can be okay, it’s just not the single, best way to write, even on a blog).

    • Fifty percent of an entire online article is quite good, actually. Few people read an article all the way through, regardless of paragraph length—I write assuming people *will* skim my posts, which is why you can get the gist of the article by reading the subheads.

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