I receive a lot of guest submissions for another of my blogs. Many of these guest posts require extensive reformatting before I can publish them. Even when I’ve finished––and even for posts I write myself, WordPress does strange things.
Here are some thoughts that should help you whether you’re submitting guest posts or writing for your own blog.
The developers of WordPress seem to prefer that everyone compose directly in their editor. And now with WordPress 5.0 they’ve introduced a completely new editor called Gutenberg.
“New, improved” is one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. In my experience, it usually means that something I used to like has been changed to something I like less.
The new Gutenberg editor puts each heading, each paragraph, each illustration, etc. in its own block. It gives bloggers more control over the formatting of each block, but it takes away some features of the Classic editor.
For example, when you assign tags in the Classic editor, it will show you a tag cloud of the tags you have used most frequently before. It seems it should be simple enough to build the same capability into the Gutenberg editor, but they haven’t.
I can only hope that WordPress restores it before they finally pull the plug on the Classic editor.
This post assumes an article written on a word processor and copy/pasted into WordPress. Some plugins may help solve some of the resulting formatting problems. But here’s how to do it without them.
Formatting in a word processor
If you are writing a guest post for someone else’s blog, you will need to send a document for the owner to publish. That is, unless you find one where the owner gives you your own login so you can post directly.
Microsoft Word has become the industry standard. Copying and pasting Google Docs into WordPress works less well. I used to use Open Office, and to the best of my recollection, it works in a way to similar Word. Both Open Office and WordPress have changed since then. I haven’t found Apple’s Pages ready for prime time.
I prefer to receive guest post submissions in Word. Otherwise, I copy and paste Google Docs submissions into Word. No one has offered me anything else but those two formats.
WordPress expects a hierarchy of headings. The title is called h1, although both editors have a special block for the title. The heading “Formatting in a word processor” is h2, and everything until the next h2 heading is h3. Word easily produces the various headings.
Using some combination of bold, underlining, and a larger font gives the appearance of a heading. In a printed document it has the same function. But it isn’t a heading. It doesn’t work like a heading in an online document. WordPress will treat it like ordinary text. If you submit a guest blog post without proper headings, the human editor will have to take time to reformat it
It is possible to insert images directly into a Word document. But it is not possible to copy and paste them from Word to WordPress. If you’re submitting a guest post, submit illustrations as separate attachments. If you like, indicate where in your manuscript the images should appear.
Visually, our eyes need some separation between paragraphs. The most obvious way to accomplish it is to hit return twice after the end of a paragraph. That is, you insert a blank line manually.
In the Classic editor, WordPress automatically inserts a blank line after each paragraph. So if the manuscript already has a blank line, it will have two blank lines between paragraphs in WordPress. So the human editor has to delete them manually.
The Gutenberg editor does not have this problem. It puts each paragraph in its own block and doesn’t include the added blank lines.
But here’s an easier idea, which saves a keystroke at the end of each paragraph: Use Microsoft’s paragraph formatting to add some space between paragraphs. On a Mac, the keystroke is Command/Shift/M. You can choose to add space either before or after each paragraph in multiples of six pixels.
For guest bloggers, I suggest you let Word make the space between paragraphs. That way the human editor won’t have to go to extra work no matter which WordPress editor he uses.
Word doesn’t make a blank line after a heading. And annoyingly, it erases your formatting for the following paragraph. You either need to type your heading in normal format, hit the return key, and then go back to make the heading, or else select the format all over again.
I might as well pass on some of the same advice you’ll find all over the place about formatting for the Web, even though it’s not exactly my topic. Our eyes can’t respond to text online the same as the printed page. Since we read differently online, writers must write differently for online reading.
- You should have no more than about 300 words between headings. My SEO plugin scolds me if I have 301. I’m not that much of a stickler, but a wall of text online is much harder to read than the same format would be in print.
- You should seldom have more than five or six lines of text in a paragraph. One-line paragraphs look silly in print, but they work well online. Don’t overdo them, however. A whole page of one-line paragraphs looks like a wall of text, double-spaced.
- Use bullet points more online than you would in print. It breaks up that dreaded wall.
- In print, narrow columns are easier to read. Most printed books, magazines, etc. have two or more columns per page. Online, it just makes readers scroll. So have only one column. The short paragraphs make up for the greater difficulty in reading it.
For guest bloggers, this point doesn’t strictly relate to formatting, but always remember to submit an author bio. Always study the blog’s writer guidelines and adhere to them strictly. The editor will make your work conform to them anyway and will appreciate not having to go to the effort.
Also, give some thought to what keywords people will search to find your post.
Fixing formatting after pasting to WordPress
If you’re submitting a guest blog post, none of the following will matter to you. But if you’re preparing a post for publication on WordPress, beware.
When I edit a guest post, Word can track changes. I like to use that feature in case I change my mind about an edit. Then I set it to “no markup.” I can copy/paste in the Classic editor without problems.
Last week I used Gutenberg in preparation for this post. It displayed all the markup and I had to correct everything by hand. Once WordPress forces me to use Gutenberg, I’ll have to remember to accept all the changes in Word. Then all the tracking disappears.
If the Word document has hyperlinks or formatted text (bold, italics, underlined), WordPress will delete the space before and after. It doesn’t matter which editor you use. You have to proofread all over again in WordPress to correct this hard-coded formatting error.
Disappearing blank lines
If you have a bulleted list, WordPress will not put a blank line between it and the next paragraph. If you hit the return key to add a blank line, WordPress will delete it when you view the document. In the Classic editor, I switch to the text editor and add a comment after the list: <!—blank line–>.
Notice the format: opening angle bracket, exclamation point, two hyphens, comment, two hyphens, closing angle bracket. So the format has four hyphens with text between the second and third.
This format allows a programmer to insert a comment that others looking at the code can see but that does not appear in the public view. What text appears in the code doesn’t matter for dealing with this problem. But if it occupies its own line in the code, WordPress will put a blank line in its place—the same one it deletes if you simply use the return key to add it.
In the Gutenberg editor, add a paragraph block after the list. Tap the space bar once. That space will create a blank line. Of course, that makes it look in the editor like you have two blank lines after the list.
What you see is not what you get. If it looks right in the Gutenberg editor, there will be no line between the list and the following paragraph once you publish it. If it looks odd in the editor, it will look right online.
Captions with links
I hope everyone realizes that you can’t just find any picture online and use it on your blog. If you use one under copyright, you may get a nasty letter from a lawyer. If you use one that has a Creative Commons license, you are required to insert a link back to where you found the picture. I usually list all the photo credits at the end of the post, but sometimes it makes more sense to put them in the caption.
In the Classic editor, you can’t copy and paste text with a link into the caption. You must enter HTML code. Here’s the HTML for the caption for the picture (of a book a dog chewed up) at the right:
<a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow noopener”>Some rights reserved</a> by <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/silvermarquis/476944044/” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow” “noopener”>Erica Cherup</a>
The code for a link begins with <a and ends with </a> Notice that a closing angle bracket appears immediately before the text that will appear as a link. The “href=” introduces the URL. Note that it is in quotation marks with no space after the equal sign. That’s all you need.
Use target=”_blank” when you want the linked material to open in a new tab. When I link to Flickr or Wikimedia Commons, I make no-follow links. WordPress adds the noopener for reasons I looked up years ago and don’t remember. Don’t worry about it. Just follow all the spacing, quotation marks, and the underscore in the target attribute, if you use it, exactly. If the code is absolutely correct, the link will magically appear. Otherwise . . .
In the Gutenberg editor, you can’t enter HTML code and expect WordPress to create the link. Copy and paste text with the link into the caption.
Gutenberg, in other words, handles links in captions better than the Classic editor. You just need to keep track of which one you’re using.
Word and WordPress both dominate their industries. Unfortunately, they’re both like broken tools. If you find something about them that annoys you and look for how to solve it online, good luck.
Chances are you will find forums where other users complained about them years ago. And many new versions of the tool have come and gone since then without fixing the problem. I hope you’ll find these workarounds useful.