The Beauty of Single-Column, Sequential Text

If you are involved with the print world — in publishing or advertising — you know how important it is to make the text on the page look good.

Making text look its best is the job of both designers and typographers. Of course, since the advent of desktop publishing, the survival rate of typographers is roughly equivalent to that of bugs on a windshield on a warm summer evening. But the few typographers who remain can work wonders on the presentation of text.

In the online world, we appear to care a great deal less about the appearance of the words we write. In large part, this is due to the constraints of the technology. Monitor size, screen resolution, browsers, and font settings all conspire to mangle the appearance of text in horrible ways.

Though your ambitions to endow text with a beautiful, clean appearance may be frustrated, it’s still important that you present key messages in a way that communicates clearly and in the correct sequence.

Welcome to the simple beauty of single-column text.

A single principal column of text makes life easy for the reader and gives you a great deal more control over the sequence in which information is delivered to the reader.

Let’s say you offer some kind of professional service and have three things on your home page you absolutely want your visitors to consider:

  • You want as many people as possible to see that you are partnered with some major players in your industry. You think it’s important that people know you are associated with these companies, as it adds credibility to your name.
  • You want people to try your service on a trial basis, with no obligation.
  • You want people to understand the differences between two similar, but different, levels of the service you provide.

On many home pages, you would find these three elements separated across different columns and presented in different ways. The logos of the partner companies may be off on the right-hand side, while the invitation to take a trial may be in a left-hand column. Descriptions of the services may be in the center.

The trouble is when you do that, you lose control over the sequence in which visitors gather and absorb the information.

On the Web, you can’t ask a typographer to create an overall layout that balances and presents each text element in exactly the right way across the screen. The appearance of that layout will vary considerably, according to things such as individual browser settings.

You can present those key messages, one after the other, in a single column of text:

  • Paragraph one: Our service is the best thing since sliced bread and is used by IBM, Xerox, and Intel.
  • Paragraph two: You can choose between our premium and our small-business packages.
  • Paragraph three: Click here for a one-week free trial of either service.

It sounds too simple to be interesting.

But don’t dismiss the idea too quickly. The delivery of your key messages, in the right sequence, within a single, central column of text can work wonders.

Sure, you can still show links, graphics, and images on other parts of the page.

If you want your visitors to take a particular course of action, use a single, central column of text to drive that action.

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