A Comprehensive Guide to Formatting Your WordPress Posts and Pages

image of wordpress logo

The WordPress publishing platform makes it incredibly easy to create readable, engaging pages, but only if you use all the editing bar bells and whistles to their fullest.

This post is going to show you how to make the most of the tools on the WordPress post (and page) editing bar.

By then end of it, you’ll understand how to create pages and posts that are interesting to look at, easy to read, and engaging to … even the most jaded web surfer.

Belly on up to the WordPress formatting bar, and let’s take a look at seven ways to polish up your posts and pages.

1. Be bold. And subtle.

image of wordpress formatting bar

Let’s start at the most basic level with the bold and italic formatting options.

When should you use them?

When designing for print, there are strict rules about how these formatting options are used. Bold text is reserved for unfamiliar terms that are subsequently defined. Italics are used for words from foreign languages, book and magazine titles, works of art or music, plays, and television series.

On the web, the rules are a bit more … flexible.

Used with restraint, bold and italic formatting can be a very effective way to break up big, grey blocks of text on your page. How can you use the WordPress B and I for maximum effect?

One way is to bold a first sentence that introduces an important concept in a paragraph of text. This draws your reader’s eyes to the concept you’re introducing, and serves as a visual break from the rest of the text. It’s more subtle than a subhead, but still stands out from the rest of your copy.

And when it comes to italics, you can add shades of meaning to your words by italicizing words within a sentence. This allows your voice to be heard, and helps with reading comprehension.

Again, restraint is key. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll just be annoying.

2. Create signposts with subheads

image of wordpress formatting bar

Whether you’re writing a page or a blog post, subheads are your friend.

Site visitors often skim your subheads before they decide whether or not to dig in to your text. Take your time and craft attention-getting subheads that hint at the content of your page. This will help engage skimmers and draw them into the rest of your copy.

When you’re deciding whether or not to capitalize your subheads, consistency is key. Here on Copyblogger, subheads are capitalized on the first letter only. On my blog, the Big Brand System, I like to Use Initial Caps.

It’s a matter of personal preference, and the most important thing is to be consistent within each page of your site. So don’t use Initial Caps on Some Subheads and not others.

3. Help your reader measure progress with numbers

It’s a proven fact that numbered blog posts do very well. Some people hate them, though, and others say they’re a crutch for lazy writers. The stats show that readers love them, and I have a theory about why they’re so popular.

I think numbered posts are a little like those progress bars you see on web pages when you’re filling out a long form. For every page you complete, the progress bar moves to the right.

On a numbered post, every section the reader consumes moves them to the next number. This is a satisfying way to consume information, and it’s a good reason to use numbered subheads on your posts and pages, especially if they’re long.

4. Break up those concepts with snappy bullets

image of wordpress formatting bar

Much has been written on this very blog about the humble but powerful bullet. I encourage you to explore all the resources here, especially when using bullets on your landing pages.

Bullets are a great way to lay out a series of concepts in a way that’s easy to digest, too.

If you find yourself writing a paragraph with multiple sentences and concepts — and it’s getting longer and longer — break out the bullet points.

  • Explain concept one
  • Move on to concept two
  • Wrap it up with concept three

See, wasn’t that easy to skim?

5. Shrink your paragraphs to web-sized chunks

I’ve been designing for print for 25 years now, and one of the biggest transitions I had to make when I moved to the web was in my approach to paragraphs.

Not everyone is going to like this advice, but here goes …

A long web page is easier to get through if concepts are broken into short paragraphs — much shorter than you see in print. The rule of thumb I use is to stick to one topic per paragraph. If a paragraph approaches three sentences in length, I start looking for a way to start a new one.

On the other hand, a page full of ultra-short, one-sentence paragraphs starts to look like you’re reading stripes. Moderation is key (are you seeing a theme here?).

6. Highlight, emphasize and inspire with block quotes

image of wordpress formatting bar

The blockquote function in WordPress is easy to use and provides a wonderful way to highlight a chunk of text. You can use it to emphasize a famous quotation, a concept, or an important piece of information.

Setting it apart in a block quote helps draw your eyes directly to it. See?

One or two blockquotes per page is usually enough. More than that and they begin to become a distraction.

7. Start strong, finish strong

This isn’t exactly a formatting tip, but it’s an important idea to keep in mind as you put your pages and posts together in WordPress.

In my last year of art school, I took a course in my final semester about preparing my portfolio so I could show it to prospective employers as I looked for my first job. The professor drove one point home to us, and it was

Start strong and end strong.

In addition to editing our pieces relentlessly and only showing our very best work, he asked us to pick our two strongest pieces and place them at the beginning of our portfolio and at the end.

Doing this meant we made a great impression from the very first page, and we left the viewer with a positive impression at the end.

The same rule applies for WordPress pages and posts.

Your first sentence and the paragraph that follows it need to engage and pique the curiosity of your reader. It’s the only way to draw them in and keep them interested in absorbing the rest of your information.

Your last paragraph needs to do the same thing. It should end with a bang, and either:

Make the most of the WordPress formatting bar

Jacok Nielson, the Danish researcher famous for his usability studies, has shown that the magic combination for maximum usability is:

  • Using objective language and avoiding hyped-up marketing copy
  • Writing one-topic, concise paragraphs
  • Making your text scannable with formatting, subheads and bullets

Combining these three elements improves useability by 124%. Test subjects read faster, remembered what they read, and reported enjoying it more, too.

That kind of result is worth spending a little extra time at the (formatting) bar, isn’t it?

Do you have a favorite WordPress formatting tip to share? Cruise on down to the comment section and tell me all about it.

About the Author: Pamela Wilson founded Big Brand System to empower small business owners with marketing and design information that gives their businesses an edge. Want to learn more about using images to communicate? Sign up for the free 12 Days of Visual Buzz series here.

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  1. Great advice, Pamela, and I’ve been making an effort to follow these guidelines for some time on my photography business and marketing blog. The hardest one for me, like you, was keeping paragraphs to no more than 3 sentences.

    The formatting tool that I really would love to see in the standard version would be the ability to turn headings into anchor points. This would allow us to easily create a clickable index list of topic points at the beginning of the article so that readers could jump from there to specific headings. I know we can do that using the HTML editor, but it would be nice to see it in the visual one somehow.

  2. At first, I thought “another WordPress post, with no Blogger love?” (I know, I know, I should be switching off but circumstances make it impractical), but what I love about this guide that it’s general to actually work with every blogging platform that has formatting.

    • You’re right: the formatting tips work on any system that allows you to style your text. These are general tips for making copy readable on the web. We just like WordPress around these parts. ;-)

      When you’re ready to switch, migrating from Blogger to self-hosted WordPress is do-able. Not easy, but it can be done.

      • Migrating will be easy. The issue is whatever I can secure the money until I’m old enough to pay for it myself. I don’t want to suddenly have my parents refuse to pay for either the domain and the hosting, and then potentially lose my blog/search rank/followers in the mess that would come with migrating back to a non-custom host and domain.

  3. Helpful post, Pamela. I use most of these on my blog on a regular basis. Using headings can be a little tricky depending how your template displays them. A little experimentation usually helps. On technique I’ve used for effect has been to vary sentence length…

    Start with a short sentence
    Make it a little longer on the next one
    Then add more content to really emphasize

    Using this type of sentence structure you can visually decorate your post and the sentence length adds a verbal cadence to the writing. I have a sample post here that shows how it can be used.

    http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress/have-an-impossible-dream/

    Given the title of my post, Have an Impossible Dream, readers are drawn into the emotion and build-up of the post as the sentences get shorter, then climax in a one word turn of events. The sentences then grow longer to show a solution to the problem. Just like a good speech, varying sentence length can be very effective.

  4. WordPress has some easy formatting solutions but the editing software is confusing and does not follow the basic word document format that has been around for ages ..everyone I have spoken to online says this is very difficult to work with . Just writing a simple poem with a picture can be a nightmare . I have to write these now in word and them insert them to your text box..double work..not a good idea at all. and sometimes I get extra lines inserted between paragraphs I never inserted..confusing for a novice or a long time word user..good luck I know it’s not easy to please everyone..

    • You’ll have better luck with it if you avoid pasting in text from another program, Steve. Doing that sometimes causes weird formatting to be picked up.

      If you really must write in Word, I recommend copying your text, then pasting it into Notepad (on a PC) or TextEdit (on a Mac). This will remove any stray formatting and clean up the text.

      Then copy the cleaned-up text and paste it into the HTML tab in the WordPress editing window. When you switch back to the Visual editing tab, you’ll be working with nice, clean text and won’t have to worry about strange formatting appearing in the midst of it.

      • Pamela, you’re awesome! This will solve so many of my frustrations.

        I use Word because it’s what I’m most familiar with. What program would you recommend for writing posts? Or, do you just write directly into WordPress?

        Thanks again!

        • Well, I have a weird technique, but FWIW, here’s what I do:

          I start in a mindmapping program. I’m on a Mac and use MindNode, but the program doesn’t matter, as long as it can export to a text file.

          I plan my ideas there, and move them around on the map as needed.

          Then I export what I have to a text file, and open it up in a simple text editor. I use a free one called Bean, but the program doesn’t matter. I stitch together the ideas there and flesh them out.

          Once I’m happy with it, I do what I outlined in the comment above: export it as plain text file and paste it into the HTML tab. Then I spend some time at the “bar,” as outlined in the post.

          Previewing it on an actual WordPress page helps me to see where additional formatting might be needed, too. :-)

          • Awesome. Thanks for the help. What I’ve come to realize is I’m trying to format as I go, which creates the headaches and frustration after I’m happy with the content and ready to publish.
            I’m going to start simple with a plain text file, and format as you suggest.

        • Chad, I’m not Pamela, but write the posts in Notepad or TextEdit and then paste them into WordPress. Then add the formatting and the bullets.

          • Thank you, Jodi. I’m going to follow your plan and keep it simple from the start. As you’ll see in my last reply to Pamela, I’ve been trying to do too much at once.
            I’ll blame it on my impatience…
            Great reminder of hope today on your post. Thanks for the reminder.

        • I’m a fan of drafting guest posts into Evernote since it syncs with all my computers and mobile devices. I can always draft an article no matter where I am.

    • Steve, try writing them in a text editor instead of Word. Cutting and pasting Word into pretty much anything can create odd formatting problems. A text editor gives you clean code that won’t do odd things.

      A little practice and the WP editor will be second nature, honest.

    • If you work on a PC, try using Windows Live Writer. This has the best blog layout tools in the business, is compatible with self hosted WordPress, and is a free download from Microsoft. I haven’t found anything that comes close to it on the Mac (They don’t offer a Mac version, unfortunately).

  5. Very clear and helpful article, as always, Pamela!

  6. Hey Pamela,
    very useful post thanx a lot for it.

    For me the most difficult part is to write short paragraphs. So what I do is I first write the post and then edit it some hours or even days later.

    Basically I try to do it like this:
    1. I write down my ideas, the “content”
    2. I spellcheck the content
    3. I format the content. (and apply what I learned today ;))

    I also really like your ‘start strong and end strong’ trick. Excellent stuff.
    Didn’t thought about that one…
    I will try it and apply it to my posts. And also to my emails…

    Thanx again

  7. I was very unhappy with the formatting of my last post and finally gave up in disgust. I reluctantly it publish hoping that my readers would look past the ugliness of it and the content would be good enough that I would be forgiven.
    The formatting toolbox is simple and straightforward. The application… well, I’m learning there’s a fine line between killer and killed.
    This post is great help, Pamela. I look forward to putting this guied to practice immediately.

  8. I love and use #5 often. Tired eyes read better when paragraphs are shorter and you won’t (usually) have to re-read to get the point.

  9. I like your mention of using block quotes. I never really thought about how important they are until you pointed it out. Thanks!

  10. I think the advice on short paragraphs applies to any kind of writing, on and offline. I rarely write paragraphs longer than two sentences or three or four lines in any of my writing, whether it’s a blog post, a business memo or a print marketing piece.

  11. Thanks for another pithy, useful post in which you demonstrate what you’re discussing, Pamela! I’ve made my living as a freelance writer/sales coach for 40 years, and the shift to very short paragraphs was strange at first. Now I find that it makes my writing tighter, better, and far more readable. Thanks again!

  12. Excellent. I need to get better at using bullet points and incorporating quotes. Love the sequential thought pattern here and yes you are right – numbered posts do tend to draw you into the next. Thanks,

  13. Great advice, but I have a question. There are two formatting bars on WordPress. The first is the one you showed, the second is html.
    I’ve read that it’s easier to use the html one. Does it matter?

    On the html one, where are the bullets?
    All advice greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Mary,

      Good questions. The visual editor formatting bar is the one I showed in the post, and is available when you use the Visual tab. The HTML editor formatting bar shows up when you use the HTML tab.

      I prefer the visual editor because you can see the formatting as it’s being applied to your copy. But you can definitely use the HTML editor if you like it better. It’s a matter of personal preference.

      In the HTML editor, you can apply bullets by using a combination of the ul and li tags. If you want to see how they’re applied, try creating a bulleted list in the visual editor, then switch over to the HTML editor to see how it’s set up.

  14. Great post! But I think it’s important to mention how to display the 2nd row of buttons on the formatting toolbar. Many WordPress users I know don’t know where to find the Kitchen Sink button ;)

    • Excellent point, David. Thank you.

      Folks, if you’re not seeing the formatting tools in the second row, a quick click on the second-to-last icon on the right will reveal them.

  15. This was really helpful. I myself use the formatting bar in WordPress for much of my blog posts. One tip that I want to share is about using the More Tag. This is helpful if you have multiple blog posts and don’t want to display the entire post (especially if it is long) on the page. You may prefer displaying just the introduction to the post and then let the reader click the More tag to read further.

  16. Isn’t there a way to wrap text around images? I would like the post to look like the images are part of it, not just out there. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Eileen

    • Eileen, after you insert an image, hover over it and click on the icon that looks like a picture. In the dialog box that appears, you can set the text wrap: flush left; flush right; center; or none (which pushes text below the image).

      In that same dialog box you can set the amount of space between the image and text using the vertical and horizontal space fields. Try plugging in numbers there and previewing your page to see what you get.

  17. This article is so clear and useful I wish I’d written it, except of course I’ve never fully used the formatting bar.

    Thanks Pamela

  18. This would have nice to see when I was new lol. I had to create video’s on doing this for my employes, how did you come up with the idea to write about this?

  19. Thanks for this most useful copyblogger post ever, for me as a beginner. Now, I’m off to re-write my whole site.

  20. Great post! Love the info on Block quotes!
    Can you tell me a bit more about the Author block at the end of the post? I’ve seen it on a number of blogs but not sure how to create one.

    Thanks,
    Ian

  21. Incredible post, as usual. Love Copyblogger!

    I have truly not been using the WordPress formatting bar enough. But what I really enjoyed were the comments about starting strong and ending strong, sticking to one topic per paragraph, and making your text scannable.

  22. Something I teach my WordPress students, and so will add here is – the incorporation of search engine optimization tactics should also take formatting into consideration.

    For example, while subheadings are good, make sure you don’t use H1 for all of them. Google only wants the first H1. Try H2 for your subheadings. Often when students discover the Heading button on the toolbar, they simply choose the size they like, not understanding how each one affects SEO.

    For bolding, you should really save those for keywords, not “any words.” The closer to the top of your post, the better. One thing I suggest is to create a keyword-rich first sentence so you can bold the whole thing to please Google, while still being relevant and valuable to your reader.

    Finally, I suggest to first write the post, then go back and tweak to made subheadlines, blockquotes, etc. When you have all of your content written, you’ll know that your content is valuable and relevant first and foremost, and then will be able to format the post in an eye-pleasing manner, knowing that you have it all there rather than formatting as you go.

    Ultimately, as long as you have it written, that’s the most important thing and usually the biggest hurdle for those folks who do not feel they are good at, or do not really enjoy, writing.

    Hope this helps,
    Gower

  23. Stinkin’ awesome post! Thanks so much.

  24. I thought I knew all about writing good posts. You just gave me more good stuff to use.
    I will experiment with using block quotes. That is a great idea, if you have something important you want to draw attention to.
    I will also focus more on how to begin and end my posts, especially telling people what I want them to do. (Does this work because we learned in school to follow directions, and are still using it?)
    A very good post! Thank you, Pamela! Keep up the good work!

  25. Great stuff Pamela! You are really a great mentor and I have really loved your advice so far. I think it would be my high time to make an effort to follow these guidelines in my blog marketing and also in my poem writing. Every tip of your write up at least pointed to my area of sorts and I’m more than happy to thank you for such a crucial help. I look forward into getting more from you again. I love this much.

  26. It is the little things that we do in life that makes the difference, thanks for this wonderful tips.

  27. Tremendous results come from little things and the things we consider little are not little in the real sense. Life is simple and everything we do needs to simple, that is the beauty of life.

  28. Jakob Nielsen (http://www.useit.com/), not “Jacok Nielson”.

    That being said, thank you for some great tips on formatting. I think a lot of people know the formatting options but not the best way of using them in our texts.

  29. I love the guidelines. I am going to look into it that I get to follow each detail. Thanks!

  30. Nice post! The info it comes with is a ‘not going to miss out’ one. I loved reading this.

  31. I’m sorry, but when I think of “Comprehensive” as in the title I think of covering it all. I know that would make for a long post but it could have been covered in multiple post. I like what you presented above, but would have liked more so I could share this with clients who are just learning WP.

    Complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something: “a comprehensive list of sources”.

  32. Awesome information. I really loved your guidelines and they really sound so fascinating and helpful! Looking forward to having more of your advice; they are really great and inspiring!

  33. Hey Pamela,

    this is a wonderful post.

    Actually I already got into the habit of making my content scannable and use bold, italic and sub-heads as well as lots of white space and short paragraphs.

    So I was enjoying reading your post (also because it’s well written) as validation for what I was already doing.

    Then I hit the bit about block quotes.

    I can’t believe I didn’t know what these were. I have seen the icon in my WP toolbar and probably even wondered what it was for, but until reading this I have created my own class to do pretty much the same thing.

    I kind of like the formatting of what I created but you’ve taught me something new here and I am definitely going to check out what the block quotes look like on my blog (do they always look the same?) – definitely worth knowing!

    Thanks & take care,
    Alan

  34. Great post. I’ve experimented with bolding text recently as a way to drill home a specific topic or highlight part of a sentence. However I didn’t think of more liberal use (as per your example) and perhaps I could get away with a lot more.

    I also didn’t realise how easy the block quote function was! I’ve seen that used a lot and I like it. It’s definitely going to feature in my posts in future.

  35. Awesome post, Pamela!

    It’s really important to take some time to properly format your post before actually publishing it. People still go online to find information. But at this day and age, people are always on the go, and they want to find the information fast. Formatting your post to make it easy for readers to skim through it and find what they are looking for will cause them to stop and read your post more slowly. It will give your post the attention it so deserves.

  36. This very article explains the reason I like reading copyblogger posts… the way the posts are laid out. Very easy to read and IT GETS TO THE POINT throughout the post. I’m definitely going to employ this method in my writing as of now. Thanks for the outline!

  37. This is a great post, as I have always thought that the formatting of a post has to do with a lot of its readability and how effectively it creates a bond with the reader. I understand that lists and subheaders are great for writing a post that gets a lot of readers because a lot of people like to rush around on the internet and get the most info in the shortest amount of time. My mantra when it comes to writing posts is this: if I can’t skim it, I won’t publish it!

  38. I love that piece of advice about block quotes. I should use them more often :) One thing that’s worth mentioning is that spacing paragraphs using Enter does not work as in a normal Word Editor. Lots of people are used to this and become frustrated. There are ways to overcome this in the HTML editor (not user-friendly) or using an editing plugin.

    Another great tip, and I think someone might have mentioned it in a comment is to write up your post in full screen editor then do all formatting at the end. It really saves time.

    Thanks for the great information, Pamela, really useful!

  39. Pamela, I love this post for the same reason I love Copyblogger in general — well-written, informative, nicely formatted pieces with takeaways I can use immediately. And it looks like your block-quote section was a big hit. I hadn’t known what it was, either. Now I too can say I’ve learned something new today.

  40. Nice writing Pamela. I like the idea of copying it all onto a notepad and then transfer it to wordpress. I am still learning and this type of articles really help. keep the good work!

  41. What Delia said about using Enter to separate paragraphs scared me for a bit. What’s our alternative if we want to just write directly into WP? Does this mean we definitely have to write our posts in something like Notepad and then copy it into WP?

    • Hi Ana,

      You can write directly into WordPress if you’d like. I think some people prefer to write in a pared-down text editor because they find it less distracting. It’s when you write outside of WordPress that you have to be a little careful about copy/pasting.

      But WordPress is made for writing, so if that’s what you prefer, just write and format in the Visual editor. :-)

    • Didn’t mean to scare you, Ana :) What I meant is that if you are trying to press Enter a few times to create more spacing in WordPress, you may find out that the WP editor removes these empty lines when you save it.

      As Pamela said, you can definitely write all your posts in WordPress, format them nicely and publish them. Ever since I discovered the full screen editor I write everything like that, because it lets you focus on your writing only and saves me at least 10 min per post :)

      • Thanks for responding, Delia. So can you find the full screen editor in your WordPress dashboard? And Pamela, you said it’s when writing outside of WordPress that problems occur. So I shouldn’t use Notepad, then? It is outside of WordPress.

        I guess I still prefer to write directly in WordPress, provided I don’t have problems with spacing and such. Thank you both again.

        Ana

        • Notepad’s fine, Ana, since it’s a simple text editor. It’s Word and other word processing programs that are problematic.

        • Hey Ana, to access the full screen editor click on the second icon from the right, it looks like a screen with 4 arrows pointing to the corners and it says “Distraction Free Writing mode” when you hover over it. Have fun blogging :)

  42. Hi,

    I have transferred my blog (which was on bloggers) to WordPress (Selfhosted). It lost ALL previous formatting. Is there a way to bring it back? Also, for future how to keep MS Word formatting on WP editor? When I paste from MS Word to WP Editor, it lose all formatting. Is there a way to fix it? Help please :’(

    • Hina, first of all congrats for moving to WordPress, you did the right move! Yes, you’d have to redo the formatting, but that’s a one time thing and then you’ll be in great shape.

      For the future, either write your posts directly in WordPress and format there, or right them in a clean text editor, like Notepad, then copy/paste in WordPress and format there.

      It is a bit of work right now to make them all look good, but it’s really worthwhile on the long run :)

  43. This was the best layout of how to write effectively in wordpress for viewers. Thanks so much for writing it. I have a site I am building covering all the movies I love to watch. I found it very difficult at first and have struggled a lot with the writing because of so many different things I read about SEO and getting ranked and how to write for that. To me your tips make a lot more sense than most of the sites I have spent time on. I write everything in wordpress because I can access it from anywhere. I don’t see the need for other programs. I use an ipad as well as a laptop to write. I can capture images with my ipad and format them and upload them. I find it very good for blogging about my favorite movies. It is nice when you come across a website like yours that has “real” content and not just rehash for seo purposes. Thanks again and maybe you have some tips some time on the JUSTWRITE plugin that I love using for full screen writing of my articles.

  44. Thanks, this is excellent advice. Just moving over to WP and trying to workout how to actually format the paragraphs, so the text is nice and big and the lines spaced well – like your post here. Is there a plugin I need for line spacing?

    • Hi Charmaine,

      If you use a WordPress theme with design controls, you’ll be able to control line spacing from within those controls.

      If not, most themes allow you to add CSS code to control line spacing.

      Good luck, and welcome to WordPress!