I’m very excited to introduce you to Kayleigh Alexandra who wrote this amazing article below about ways to make your digital writing look fantastic and make it easy-to-read. This is a great post for anyone who blogs or who writes for the web. She also included some great links. One of my favorites is in the last section–alternatives to Canva. I use Canva, and I didn’t know there were alternatives! Anyway, I hope you find this useful.
Take it away, Kayleigh!
Writers usually like to write — the clue is in the name — but the work of a digital writer is a far cry from the tapping-at-a-typewriter demands of yesteryear. It’s great having the option to be a digital nomad, yes, but content for the web (or at least digital publication) requires significantly more polish to meet the demands of readers who are capricious and rich with alternatives.
Now, some enjoy the design element to today’s copywriting, but others find it a significant obstacle that slows their progress and leaves their work looking weak relative to that of comparable writers — something tremendously frustrating to those who’d prefer to be judged by their textual output.
But worry not if you’re in the latter camp: maintaining solid design fundamentals doesn’t need to be so arduous. In this piece, we’re going to cover 7 easy tricks you can start using right away to make your digital writing work much smoother. Here we go!
Draw from your inspirations
Light bulb image credit: Pixabay
As a writer, you’re no doubt used to consuming the written word as fuel for your efforts. You gather up high-quality books, articles, and scripts, then melt them down and use the material to forge something new and different. However, you might not have thought to apply this kind of process to any design elements — you may not have even realized that you do it.
I’m quite certain of this, because I didn’t know when I started writing that I was drawing from my inspirations. The ideas had lingered in my head and jumbled together to the extent that I’d forgotten where they came from; so when I remixed them for my copy, they felt spontaneously drawn from the heavens.
When you find yourself struggling with design elements for your digital writing, do yourself a huge favor and visit some sites that do similar work. How do they structure their pieces? What shapes do they use? See what things you like and dislike; then use that information to reach conclusions about how you can design your content.
Split your content into sections
Start at the start and end at the end — that’s how I wrote to begin with, and it has its advantages, particularly if you like to get into a stream-of-conscious kind of flow. But it doesn’t suit digital writing, for the most part. When you barrel forth with no plan, the text you produce will be lacking, and the design will be incoherent.
Consider the importance of digital writing being digestible. You’re not addressing someone settling down in an armchair to read a novel, after all, but someone probably looking for fast information in a standard format, so they don’t need to put time into parsing anything.
Make this easier by laying out your sections before you get too deep into the writing. Note down where you’ll need headings and subheadings, then establish paragraph themes, and perhaps throw in some elements, such as bullet points or quoted highlights, to mix things up. Splitting your time evenly between sections will ensure that you don’t end up with an opening that’s longer than the rest of the content.
Embrace the space
Negative space is vital for digital content, whether it’s consumed on a mobile device, a laptop, or even an ebook reader. Not only are screens not as comfortable to look at as text on paper, but you also must accommodate for the required interface — the reader can’t physically turn a page, for instance.
If you have a habit of producing dense copy, try going through your first draft and spacing things out. Just split up your paragraphs wherever it makes sense to do so. You might dislike the notion of a one-sentence paragraph or the prospect of having any inconsistency, but long paragraphs are a tough sell in digital formats.
Even in this piece, aimed at writers, I’ve tried to keep the paragraphs under control. Readability isn’t something to be taken lightly!
Question marks image credit: Pixabay
Journalists have long had the five Ws of who, what, when, where, and why. Reducing stories to these essential components allows them to write very quickly while giving the reader what they’re invariably looking for. And though digital writing doesn’t need to stick to that rigid format, it does help greatly to address reader questions as a structuring technique.
If you’re stuck trying to puzzle through a content design, try setting out questions as headings. For an article called “The Beginner’s Guide to Cheese”, for example, you might write down “What is cheese?”, “What types of cheese are there?”, and “Where can I get cheese?” as your opening questions. Having these questions to answer will keep your copy very focused, and leave you with clear segments perfect for piecemeal digital consumption.
Use complementary colors
Even if you don’t believe in the countless color associations designers like to talk about, you can’t deny that color is important for design. Light text against a light background isn’t going to prove very effective, for a start, and using clashing colors throughout your design will likely end up giving the reader a headache and eliminating their interest in reaching the conclusion.
To find some complementary color selections, try sites like Paletton or Coolors — they’ll allow you to pick a color and immediately identify several others that will work well alongside it. Spread those colors throughout your design, and you’ll establish a nice sense of consistency.
Include relevant stock images
We’ve covered the importance of negative space and stylistic features such as bullet points, but you can (and should) also spread things out by including relevant images. Visuals are eye-catching and give the reader brief chances to let their attention slip a little before returning to the relative complexity of the text.
And while you shouldn’t rely on them for important images (because they’ll make your work look very generic), you should absolutely make use of all the free images available online. Note that I’ve distributed some simple images through this piece. Here’s an additional tip: if you use Google Docs, you don’t even need to visit free resource sites, because you can find and insert copyright-free images directly through going to Insert > Image > Search the web.
Use free design tools
Tools image credit: Pxhere
Tasked with creating something more visually rich like a featured image or an infographic, you may find yourself torn between reaching out to a dedicated (but expensive) designer and spending a lot of time trying to manually cobble something together — but this is a false dichotomy, all thanks to the wonders of online tools.
Canva tends to attract the most plaudits, but there are numerous great pieces of design software to be found and used for free. With drag-and-drop functionality, templates and helpful tutorials everywhere you look, there’s really no reason not to give this trick a try, even (or especially) if you have no design-related knowledge whatsoever.
Well, there you have it: 7 easy tricks to make the design work that comes with most digital writing significantly less stressful. Do a lot of research, use all the resources of the web, and build content simple enough to read on a mobile — not too hard!
Kayleigh Alexandra is a content writer for Micro Startups, a site with a goal of giving through growth hacking. Stop by the blog for news and insight about startups and charities from across the world, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @getmicrostarted.