Formatting is Distracting

When your content is textual, it is better to focus on words, sentences, and paragraphs and leave practically all formatting aspects aside. 

Whether you write an email, a social post, or an article, it is easy to be drawn to the numerous options in the formatting toolbar and use them to make your point. Different font styles, colors, highlights, and emojis all seem effective ways to capture attention and point the reader to your key message. But using them comes at a cost both for you, the author, and the reader.

Writing is thinking, and the flow of writing is essential for making your text coherent and maintaining its logical flow. Playing with formatting options as you write breaks that flow. Instead of thinking about the next word and your following statement, you are now focusing on colors and graphical decorations. Every time you make such a context switch, the flow of your writing is impacted. 

You might argue that this is a cost worth paying because adding formatting helps the reader focus on the most important parts of your text, but in practice, formatting also ruins the reader’s experience. When pieces of the text are highlighted, the reader’s attention is drawn to these parts. And while this seems like the desired outcome, it isn’t because it comes at the expense of profoundly reading the rest of your text. By focusing only on the highlighted parts, the reader will likely skip everything that leads to the bottom line. Reading just the bottom line is far less impactful than building it gradually with arguments, stories, and data. 

Using formatting to make a point makes your writing lazy. It makes reading even lazier. When your content is textual, you must be able to make your point with words, without the graphical decorations, just like you can do so when speaking (assuming you are not shouting important sentences to highlight them). 

Don’t confuse formatting with compelling visuals. Visuals, when done right, can be a great way to convey a message with fewer or no words. A good visual is often more memorable, so if you can capture an idea with an image or a drawing — do it. Formatting, on the other hand, is never meant to replace your text, but in practice, it makes the reader skip most of it. 

Plain text makes both the writing and reading of your text more profound and generative.

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