A Comprehensive Guide to Formatting Your WordPress Posts and Pages

A Comprehensive Guide to Formatting Your WordPress Posts and Pages

Reader Comments (101)

  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.


    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.

          • 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.

    • 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. 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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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,

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.


  16. 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.

  17. 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,

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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”.

  22. 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!

  23. 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,

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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!

  27. 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!

  28. 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!

  29. 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.

  30. 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!

  31. 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.


        • 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 🙂

  32. 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 🙂

  33. 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.

    • Hey William, I am not familiar with the JUSTWRITE plugin? How is it different and what does it offer more than the full screen mode that comes by default with WordPress? Thanks!

  34. 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!

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