Q's Quest for World Building: Formatting

Formatting is an important part of constructing a compelling article on World Anvil. A well formatted article flows well and it is easy to read, which can turn a casual reader into a follower. On the other hand, a poorly formatted article will create a resistance in the reader and make it feel like they're slogging through the text.   Beneath are some of the elements I've found useful, how I approach formatting and some tricks to make articles look and read better. I can't claim to be an expert or have any schooling in the matter, but it's worked pretty well so far!
   

Flow

 
Formatting helps the reader absorb the information we are trying to give them while keeping them engaged. Walls of text can quickly get tiring, because it's a repetitive pattern. By breaking the pattern, providing a rest for the eyes and alternating what the reader is looking at, we can (hopefully!) keep them engaged. There are several different ways to do this, but this flow is the "why".
 
Quotes are a great way of doing this. They come with their own container and often font, making them stand out from the regular blocks of text. Keep your quote blocks visually distinct to help with this.
 
If you are using a quote in the middle of a piece like that, be careful with the word-count. If that bloats, the quote block can dominate the piece and hurt more than it helps. If you are ending or beginning an article (or paragraph) with a quote, this can be less of an issue:
  Example: Quote    
Here, the quote is at the end of the article. If this piece had been in the middle of the paragraphs above, it would've split important information too far apart and created an obstacle.
At the end, it stands out as a more narrative piece. In that particular piece, you can also see how it alternates on the main panel and the side panel. This can both help divide pieces into easily digested parts and look visually pleasing.
    Example: Table     Example: Containers   Here, each page of the journal (and the missing pages) have their own container. It makes each piece stand on its own and easy to read.     Compared to:  
Show spoiler
8 Amir 5709
A letter came today. A new ship has been chartered for its maiden voyage, and they have requested a Cleric from within the Cloister. The Illegible is to leave in less than a month's time, and to be gone a full year.
Priestess Aubrie has decided that I shall be the one to accompany them... But oh! I do not want to- and I would throw a fit could I do as much; I yearn to kick about like a kinderling- all loathsome and angry wailing. For surely my skills would be so much more useful here. And yet I Illegible Illegible have a choice... What the High Priestess orders, I am oathbound to obey. And where the High Priestess decides I go, is where I am oathbound to travel.

26 Amir 5709
We leave port in just a few days, and I sit here writing from a sailor's Hostel. It is dirty, and filthy, and smells of fish, Illegible half sentence; I know that I fought it viciously against such an appointment at first... As much is true as the sun rises each day- and yet I cannot explain it... But despite such reservations, I feel as if Anheara herself is telling me to go. And I know it in my bones just as surely that this voyage will be an important one.
28 Amir 5709
Away the anchor has come, and we are off Illegible. But an hour ago the land of Olienn- and that pungent Hostel- faded from our view, and now there is nothing left but salt and water and sky in all directions; I admit that I am nervous and terrified of what awaits us within this endless expanse of blue... I have never Illegible so far from home before- let alone gone without the sight and feel of land. Anheara's hand rests itself upon my shoulder, though, and I know that we will be well.
  Source (Courtesy of Hummingbird)  
Both are perfectly serviceable, but the first looks more distinct and has a more clear divide between each piece. The missing page container is a nice touch too, adding to the story of this torn and sundered journal.   Paragraphs, headers, images, quotes and tables can all serve this purpose. In general, keep them small to avoid the divider becoming the main focus of the piece.
   
Here, the piece has above has gotten a little long and I would like to give the reader a pause before the next piece. I could use an image, but since I have that on the side panel at the same place, it'd be a little samey. If you can get images that line up completely however, that'd be perfect!   In this case, I decided to use a quote. I put it here instead of in the side panel because the quote got too long on the side panel, and the quote box colors don't contrast enough.
   

The Stars Are Right

  Here are a few things you can do to format your article to look better.   Columns   Try to align the size of each column to match. You can use a quote, image or even a table to expand one column if you need. Matching columns not only looks better, but it avoids creating a gap of white space.  

Example

  Columns can be useful because they allow you to condense shorter pieces of writing that might otherwise look sparse. How you want to organize the content is up to personal preference, but I prefer to have each column be independent of the other, instead of continuing the same text.

Like This

  Rather than continuing uninterrupted, this piece would contain its own information. Maybe an image!
  Versus  

Example

  Columns can be useful because they allow you to condense shorter pieces of writing that might otherwise look sparse.   How you want to organize the content is up to personal preference, but I prefer to have each column be independent of the other, instead of continuing the same text.

Like This

  Rather than continuing uninterrupted, this piece would contain its own information. Maybe an image!  
Title Content
A thing The things description
Another thing Awesome stuff goes here
          Widows  
A Widow is when a single word in a paragraph is on its own after a line break, like this.   Try to end your paragraphs on a full sentence when possible. If not, at least try to avoid Widows. They add a lot of white space to your paragraph and look weird. As an added bonus, accounting for them will often help you trim the fat off of your writing and remove superfluous words.
Other solutions include adding manual line breaks or putting short paragraphs into columns.
   
Now, grab your hammer and go worldbuild!
Welcome!   Q's Quest for World Building will be where I explore various topics of world building and provide guides to its various aspects. These guides are intended primarily for users who may be new to world building.
If you've ever read an article on World Anvil and wondered how about X, Y or Z, this might be for you!   I'll be taking votes on what to work on next - so stay tuned!
Placeholder
This is an image. It helps create an additional visual separation between the different pieces of text.  

Size Matters

  There's a sweet spot between too short and too long. The longer your article is, the less likely it is that a reader (particularly a casual one) will see it through to the end.
World Anvil makes it easy to create new articles on the fly and block links not only look good but serve a good formatting purpose. If a section you are working on is turning out too long, consider breaking it out into its own article and link it instead.   Exactly how long is too long is largely preference. Too short, and you don't have enough space to say what you need to say. Too many links can leave an article feeling fragmented. I think between 1500-2500 words is a good length for a big article and if you find yourself consistently going over that, find a honest friend and ask them if they read all that.        
Placeholder
I also moved the image down, so the top of the image aligns with the top of the quote box.    

Alignment and Sidepanels

 
Try to align the content of the sidepanel to whatever's being read on the main panel. If you are talking about a city in the main panel, have something about the city in specific on the side panel. It helps you provide additional information without getting bogged down too much in the overall flow of things.   When you can, try to end the main and side panel at the same time at the end of the article. It will help your article look more solid and reduce white space on the side. If you have to pick one, it is always better for the main panel to be longer.   If you are a Guild member, you could also turn your side panel "sticky" so that it'll just float along side the main panel.
  Read about it here!    

On CSS

  CSS can be tremendously helpful to perfect all these various techniques, but it is by no means required to create a solid looking article. Everything here (besides that sticky panel!) can be accomplished with BBCode and existing themes.   So don't feel discouraged if you don't have CSS.  

 
Formatting Checklist
Check Paragraph Lengths
Check Use of Commas
Check for Widows
Does your columns align?
Are there too many breaks in your flow? (too many headers, commas, etc)
Are there not enough breaks? (Consider adding quotes, images, etc)
Would some part of the article work better as a separate article?
   
If you found this article useful and want to support more work like this, why not head over to any of my other worlds and give them a read? You'll see these techniques in action. Out of all of them, it's the word-count one that gets me every time!   Additionally, tell me what you'd like to see next! Leave a comment with your vote!

Comments

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6 Jun, 2019 00:53

This is such a great idea! I'm a big big fan of it. Showing examples of "bad" formatting, followed up with "good" formatting is so incredibly useful. Formatting is always one of those things where it's easy to see when it's good or bad, but hard to figure out what to do to get it from one to the other. And now there's a guide to help you get from one to the other!   I think more guides like this will be supremely useful! I'm definitely going to bookmark this for future article writing endeavors :)


Cathedris, the world of God-husks and New Magic, welcomes you.
6 Jun, 2019 00:58

Ah right! And as far as votes go...   I think doing some of these broad overview guides, and a few deep dives into specific article types would be great! Why not a deep dive into what makes a good character article, or something like that?


Cathedris, the world of God-husks and New Magic, welcomes you.
19 Jun, 2019 10:54

I like both ideas! Definitely going to be on the list. :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
6 Jun, 2019 19:35

I love the idea of doing a (mini-)series on how to worldbuild or even just writing in general. Thanks for the investments you make in other people's writing and success! :D

19 Jun, 2019 10:55

Oh, a mini-series or two like that could be grand! Definitely!


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
7 Jun, 2019 21:18

Very good and informative article! I'll will use this a lot in the future, that, you can be sure of ^-^   As for a vote, it would be very nice to have an World Introduction article, that can help people write captivating and good articles that can make a good entry point into ones world. ^^

Visit Miand'Mésvéstell.
"Look upon the stars, and you will see the light of the past."
19 Jun, 2019 10:55

That's a good idea! I always tell people they need to write one of those, anyway. :D


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
11 Jun, 2019 16:42

Finally finished reading this. I can use a lot of the tips here to reformat that article you reviewed for me.

10 Dec, 2019 16:26

Thank you for linking to BBCode info on these. Very helpful.

- Hello from Valayo! Featured work: How to Write Great Competition Articles
10 Dec, 2019 17:18

You are welcome :)


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.
13 Mar, 2021 01:43

This is really helpful, thanks! I consistently struggle with article length. I find that I have way too much to say about some things. If I find things getting too long, it's a good idea for me to split it or reformat it myself, thank you. I also struggle with formatting, so this is definitely staying as a favorite.

Lilliana Casper   I don't comment much, but I love reading your articles! Come check out my world, Jerde.
14 Mar, 2021 11:15

Length is very tricky, and it also comes down to relevant information. Don't be afraid to make an article long if all of the information is important and interesting to read. :) If things go off on a tangent, or you want to dig deep into a particular aspect, then it can be a great idea to split it into another formatting.   I'm glad to hear it was useful :D Thank you for reading and commenting


Creator of Araea, Megacorpolis, and many others.