Formatting Techniques for Long-Form Content

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By Omnizant Team
Law Firm Marketing Agency

Long-form content, short attention spans—what to do? Formatting is the unsung hero that keeps readers hooked with dense and lengthy content. 

While this piece covers helpful tips for breaking up lengthy content, we must underscore that formatting is not a substitute for careful planning and editing. Make sure your text is strategically organized and concise before you start formatting.

Here are six practical formatting tips to improve long-form readability without sacrificing substance 

Use descriptive headers

Pretend your reader is an X-ray technician, scanning for the structure of your long-form piece. Headers form the bones of your long-form content. They help your reader with their immediate need to understand how the piece fits together.

To create headers, take the topics directly from your outline and polish them into clear and descriptive titles. 

Headers in long-form content should include keywords. Don’t get too wordy but be specific. It’s okay to get a little clickbaity in your headers, like “best way to X”. Headers should inform and attract.

Leverage bullet points and lists to break up chunks of text 

Bullet points and lists can help break up long content, but there are rules:

  • The length of the phrase next to each bullet point must be relatively short. 
  • Bullet points in a list should be related to the same topic.
  • Numbered lists should be used for steps or hierarchy. 

See what we did there?

Try parallel phrasing for extra memorability. For instance, we could rewrite the above list:

  • List items should be as short as possible.
  • List items should be bullet-pointed if they’re related to the same theme.
  • List items should be numbered if they describe steps or hierarchy.

Incorporate call-outs and sidebars

These are visual structures that attract attention as a reader scans.

⇨ A call-out is a graphic or typographic element that highlights a key point.

You can choose a call-out style that aligns with your brand, like colors and fonts. Use call-outs to highlight contact information, statistics, quotes, or key concepts.

⇨ A sidebar offers extra information beside the main article. 

Whereas call-outs highlight key points concisely in a visually striking way, sidebars usually provide supplementary information off to the side of the main content. This is a common layout technique in magazines, where micro-articles or charts are included alongside the main text of an article.

Formatting call-outs and sidebars in blog posts can be tricky, depending on your platform or CMS. Work with your developer or content team to articulate a style and test it. If you’re working on long-form content for a static whitepaper or lead magnet, ask your designer.

Create engaging summaries

Summaries are actually most helpful at the beginning and in the middle of your article, not the end. 

You can use summaries as a prologue for the entire article, like a table of contents, or as a helpful tool within each section. Summaries give readers a mental model for the article and reinforce key points, building their understanding and retention as they read.

If you’re using a table of contents, include headers and make sure the headers are clickable links so readers can skip ahead to their topic of inquiry. In-page links empower your users to find what they need quickly, ensuring that they don’t get frustrated and click away.

Mid-page summaries should restate key points in simple language. Some people may be skimming, and you need to help these readers hold onto the thread until the end.

Remember to use visually distinct formatting for summaries. You could use italics or format them in call-out boxes so they’re easily identifiable. Effective summaries may be in prose, numbered lists, or bullet points.

Enhance scannability with visuals

Human eyes get bored of blocks of text—and when humans get bored, they click away. Use images, diagrams or charts to break up your long-form text. 

Choosing visuals: Stock photos are fine, but it’s even better to use custom graphics and infographics. Create visuals that add value by giving a new perspective on the textual content.

Placing visuals: Place them strategically to break up high-mental-load content. Include visuals alongside relevant content, but don’t include them gratuitously.

Optimize for accessibility

Ample white space and proper meta tags for your headers will help visitors who use assistive technology to access your content. Alt text should be available for all non-textual media.

We recommend that you work with an accessibility-trained content developer to ensure that your long-form content works for a variety of users. Accessibility goes beyond a few meta tags and formatting tips! 

Sites and content can be remediated after the fact, but it’s much easier to build with accessibility in mind..

Review and next steps

With long-form content, it’s absolutely critical to keep people engaged from start to finish. Good copy is not enough—you need good formatting! 

The two key principles for long-form content formatting are: 1) provide at-a-glance structure and 2) break up large chunks with bullet points and visuals. 

Content marketing can seriously power your firm’s growth. If you’re looking to grow, reach out for a consultation about long-form content and other strategies to expand your reach.

About the Author
Since 2006, Omnizant's team of digital marketing experts, designers, developers and writers has helped over 2,000 law firms develop powerful websites that drive business growth.