Five Themes for Writers and Readers

Five elegant themes for a smooth writing and reading experience.

In the past, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite themes for longform enthusiasts and bloggers who just want to write. Today, let’s take a look at five free themes, launched in the past several months, that offer a distraction-free writing and reading experience.


radcliffe readability

Radcliffe combines bold typography with a clutter-free post layout, as shown above. Ideal for longform writing, the theme works blissfully out of the box for those focused on lots of text. The default headline font Abril Fatface is strong but not overbearing, while the Crimson font for your body text completes this pleasurable reading experience.

Calling out text in various ways also looks fantastic — for example, the blockquote styling is simple but sophisticated:

Radcliffe blockquote

But don’t be fooled by Radcliffe‘s simple design. Your photography has a place here, too: full-width featured images give your posts visual flair, while galleries also look lovely, as seen on Sage and Clare.

Go on, give Radcliffe a spin.


cols theme

Standard posts on the Cols theme are laid out in newspaper-style format, which is great for essays, articles, and book excerpts. The number of columns changes depending on your device: three columns on large monitors, two columns on medium-sized screens (as shown above), and a one-column layout on small screens like phones.

Whether you add headings, blockquotes, or preformatted text, Cols displays your writing beautifully, providing your readers with an uninterrupted experience. See it in action at Cancer Made Me Do It, or explore more features on its demo site.


Fresh and clean, Penscratch truly gets out of the way and lets your words speak for themselves. It’s a solid choice if you want a no-fuss design, but there are options to personalize and brand your site easily, like uploading your site logo at the top.

We also love the treatment of left and right pullquotes, which adds visual variety and is a nice touch for longer pieces of journalism and narrative nonfiction.

penscratch pullquotes

Penscratch works especially well for an intimate blogging space, from experimental writing to thinkpieces to personal essays. But it’s versatile enough for anyone! If you’re curious how Penscratch looks with images, see how Felicia Sullivan uses it on her blog, which is a tasteful mix of words and images.


Like the themes above, Capoverso is minimal, and its post layout allows your writing to shine. The default background — a faint grey with diagonal lines — adds a subtle visual layer to your blog, though you can change the background by using the Customizer.

capoverso readability

A notable feature of Capoverso is the Front Page Template, which is handy for writers and authors who want more than just a space for blogging, but a landing page with essential links. You just need to create a static front page (and assign the Front Page Template to it). Voilà:

capoverso front page

Interested in Capoverso? See how it looks on its demo site.


minnow theme

Clean and straightforward, Minnow is a one-column theme that puts your writing front and center — even your widgets and custom menu are hidden, in a slide-out bar on the right. Despite its pared-down look, Minnow allows writers to promote themselves across all their networks — it prominently displays your social links at the top, just under your site title.

For bloggers who just want to write, Minnow does the job. Take a closer look on its demo site.

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Comments are closed.

  1. margber

    Speaking of writing, Im so sad that the Weekly Writing Challenges are on hiatus. It was such a great way to get more exposure, find a community of writers whom have the same interests as your own and also a great chance to possibly get freshly pressed. Can’t wait for it to come back!!! Until then, love this post of yours with themes featuring distraction-free writing and reading. A feature I enjoy and utilize often.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. J. W. Willard

    I really struggle with the theme. I am never sure exactly which direction to lean. I am using a very basic design now, but I am not sure it is the best I could use. Sometimes I feel like I need to find a smart 12 year old to tell me what to do technology wise and I will focus just on the writing…

    Liked by 11 people

  3. thesciencegeek

    Great article, 5 great free themes. Although I sometimes feel that there are too many themes to choose from.

    The Science Geek

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cheri Lucas Rowlands

      Yes! The wealth of options can sometimes be paralyzing. In my years on, I think I’ve changed my theme five times. I feel like I could’ve switched a lot more because I get excited seeing new themes each week. It helps to test themes out using the Customizer. I also have a private test blog to experiment with themes as well.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. ayietim1

    No matter the theme picked, one will always get the best end product with WordPress. So, picking a theme should not be a struggle but an enjoyable experience. Let’s continue having fun.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. fearlesskurt

    Very awesome!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. jabrush1213

    Great post on themes!


  7. Kavita Panyam

    Very informative post to a beginner like me, who is less than a month old here. Thank you for a great post!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Suzanne Ong

    I’ve been using my theme for about 2 years now and somehow it’s hard letting it go. Is that weird? Radcliffe looks awesome but I don’t know. Heh.


  9. Victor Ordu

    These look nice, but to be honest I get confused by the multiplicity of themes you guys have. All the same, great work!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thiago

    I still prefer twenty eleven for writing and reading (but with a bigger font).

    Liked by 1 person

  11. thehappyhugger

    I am also very disappointed that the Weekly Writing Challenge seems to have stopped. Will it be starting again anytime soon?


  12. penshift

    While the themes you have listed are all excellent to read from, I’d say they are only good for those who write longer sections of prose without images, quotes or other extras. I write flash fiction that often incorporates images, none of these themes was nice to read off once you veered from pure text. They are also themes that lack easy navigation. Just my two cents. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheri Lucas Rowlands

      Yep, I chose these themes specifically because they work well for longform writing and reading. (Although I personally think Radcliffe is especially great for writer-photographers or posts mixing text with images.)

      We’ve shared roundups specifically for photobloggers or people who publish with images (here, here, and here). Not sure if those options are quite what you’re looking for, though. If you’re publishing flash fiction with images, themes with distinct post formats might work well, as well as tumblelog-like themes. But all themes are different, and you can ultimately mold any theme — even these five listed — to fit your specific needs.

      Liked by 3 people

  13. kotatebingtinggi

    Penscratch is great. I like it. Thanks for the info.

    Liked by 2 people

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