styling paragraphs

Styling Paragraphs for Optimum User Experience – A Web Design Essential

Most expert user experience designers have observed that people typically do not read web pages word by word like they do with books and periodicals. Instead, they skim or scan the online pages until they find a word or a phrase which most matches what they are specifically in search of, or their search is diverted by something else there which intrigues them or whets their curiosity.

In addition, we are told, people also are generally not inclined to scroll down below the visible web page they landed on, more often than preferring to proceed elsewhere, unless their attention have been engaged sufficiently.

In web design, how real people behave while on your site should dictate how the paragraphs in your article should be formatted, arranged and otherwise styled. This is usually accomplished through certain tricks or techniques of presentation.

inverted pyramid writing style

First, expert user experience designers advise us to use an inverted pyramid style of writing, which means we begin with the conclusion. We do away with the dramatic intro and the usual fluff at the start and get to the point directly and immediately.

For the article as a whole, as well as for each individual paragraphs, we put the most important content ahead of the rest. This way, online visitors will know early on whether it will be worth their while to stay or not. If they do decide to stay, that is well and good. If not, at least they will do so with no hard feelings towards us for having wasted their time.

Aside from using an inverted pyramid writing style, web design authorities also recommend employing easy-on-the-eyes “scannable layout” and “scannable text” in crafting your article. One of the easiest and most important way to accomplish this is by limiting your paragraphs to 3 to 5 lines as much as possible.

According to a study by leading user experience designer and consultant Nielsen Norman Group (, web visitors typically first sweep their eyes in a horizontal movement across the upper part of the content area, followed by another horizontal movement covering a shorter area than the previous movement, then ending with a fairly slow and systematic vertical scan of the content’s left side, in effect roughly looking like the letter “F”.

Based on the findings, it makes sense to load the meatiest portion of your piece within the first two paragraphs. It also makes sense to keep your headers and links close to the left margin. Additionally, using bulleted or numbered lists to break up content helps in improving scanning and skimming, as does using the occasional highlights, typeface variations, colors and graphics.

Finally, even though your conclusion is already at the start of your piece, it pays to keep in mind that people do tend to remember most what they read last. Thus, it is good web design advice to still keep a “clincher” in the last paragraph.