Sodom and Gomorrah – volume four of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time – contains a 958-word sentence. Gabriel García Márquez’s The Autumn of the Patriarch, meanwhile, is 200 pages and only six paragraphs long.
These aren’t the most extreme literary examples (see below), but they do suggest that dense blocks of text work… in some circumstances.
If you’ve made it more than halfway through Proust’s epic, you’ll likely forgive him one more long sentence. A Nobel prize in literature goes a long way toward inspiring confidence in a reader too.
In your blogs, though, you’ll want to do all you can to break up unwieldy slabs of text.
Here are a few techniques for doing just that, and some right and wrong ways to use them.
1. Use subheadings to keep your reader on track
Your aim when writing an article is to get your reader from the beginning of your blog to the end.
To do this, you’ll need to understand the fastest route between these two points and have a clear idea of the stop-offs along the way.
First, pull your reader in with a strong headline. Then, keep them on track using clearly marked signposts. These waypoints are your subheadings.
Here’s how to write strong ones:
- Make clear the benefit you intend to expand upon
- Consider starting with an imperative verb to suggest an action
- Avoid asking questions (especially if you don’t intend to answer them)
- Don’t be vague or intentionally ambiguous.
Charlotte recently confirmed that companies that blog get 55% more website visits than those that don’t, and while this is great news, don’t forget that your article is still competing for readers’ attention.
With more than 7.5 million blogs published every day, according to EarthWeb, you need to accept that some people will skim your article.
These skimmers need to take away your key points.
Insightful, benefit-led subheadings will help do that – unanswered questions and unclear messaging will not.
2. Turn lists into snappy bullet points
If you’re selling multiple benefits – like the benefits of bullet points, for example – you might be tempted to build them into the body of your text.
This can have downsides.
Bullet points are a great way to avoid overlong paragraphs while improving readability, compared to placing these benefits within a Proustian sentence (generally a multi-layered and convoluted one, with multiple clauses and parenthetical statements), which could mean your carefully considered ideas – rather than being highlighted and easily accessible, as they would be in a bulleted list – get lost, or at the least, have less impact, for both committed readers and skimmers.
Or, to put it another way, bullet points can:
- Break up dense passages of text
- Make your copy easier to read
- Highlight key points for all readers.
To make sure your bullet points have the maximum impact, you’ll need to think about:
- Keeping each bullet in a set of a similar length
- Ensuring bullet points are thematically linked
- Editing carefully so that they make a clear point quickly.
Keep a close eye on the formatting and grammar of your bullet points too, as bulleted mistakes can be especially jarring.
3. Make use of “listicles” to give your article a clear structure
A “listicle” is an article structured as a list. Most often, these will take the form of:
- 5 reasons why…
- 10 simple ways…
- 15 of the best…
Data shows that readers love this type of article.
When Nick wrote about the reasons why using numbers in article headlines works (because science says so), he looked specifically at increased reader engagement.
But it could also help you to structure your articles, providing the natural signposts you need to break up your text.
Next time you sit down to write a blog, make a note of your start and endpoint, and the waypoints you want to pass along the way, then take a moment to consider if your article wouldn’t work better as a numbered list.
Get in touch
If you fancy yourself as the next Marcel Proust or Gabriel García Márquez, speak to the Yardstick Agency now. Our team of expert copywriters can provide you with engaging and well-structured articles that your clients read to the end.
If you’d like our help, or to find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0115 8965 300.
According to BBC Radio 4, the longest sentence in English literature is to be found in Jonathan Coe’s 2001 novel The Rotter’s Club, at 13,955 words.