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Organize This!

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

Organizing and formatting content plays a role to enhance and support scanning and skimming. It's a balancing act to use bullets, bold text, white space, paragraphs, headers, and links to make content scannable. Too many elements make a messy and distracting site leaving little to get the attention of a scanner's eyes.

We have three basic text formatting options: bold, underline, and italics. This is where we have to trust common sense. Italics are hard to read especially when using smaller font sizes. Play it safe and avoid using it by working around it. Book titles, for example, can be underlined instead of italicized. Underlines and italics are interchangeable. Just remember that the underlined and bold text can be mistaken for links. Color, font, and context make a difference in how the text formatting is perceived.

The Mint (http://www.usmint.gov), aimed at kids, uses simple words explaining a difficult topic and makes the content scannable with bold, table formatting, pop up boxes for definitions, headers, and a good balance of white space.

Figure xxxFigure 1 The Mint

Surfing the Web, you get a feeling there's a war between sites that refuse to use white space and sites that abuse white space. What's the happy medium? News sites want to squeeze everything in the front page to ensure they have something for everyone. But, is it readable? Is it scannable? White space is healthy and facilitates scanning. Too much white space wastes screen estate and increases scrolling. Plus, it gives the impression the site has little to offer. Moderation is key.