Academic journal article Visible Language

Typographic Cueing on Screen

Academic journal article Visible Language

Typographic Cueing on Screen

Article excerpt

The effects of typographic cues, such as bold, underline, italic, capitals have been studied in print. The indications are that typographic cueing can improve the recall of material and this is most evident if recall immediately follows reading. This study investigates whether cueing on screen facilitates recall and introduces factors that have been explored when cueing content in printed material. A series of documents was read on screen followed by a set of multiple choice questions, which covered a range of question types. Cued material was either a phrase or sentence in red type, and these related to either main facts or incidental details. A control condition contained no red. Instruction regarding cueing was also varied.

We found a difference in overall recall between the cueing conditions, but no significant difference between the experimental conditions and the control. The difference was attributable to better recall of cued phrases than cued sentences. However, this difference was found only for incidental material These results suggest that cueing a whole sentence containing detail can hinder overall recall, but cueing the specific detail is helpful.

Looking at answers to particular questions, we found an interaction between the instruction regarding the use of red and the type of question. For most questions performance was better without instruction regarding red type, but this was not the case for some questions. Telling participants that red highlights the answers to some of the questions helped them locate where an item came within the text, if red was used.

Overall, these findings provide no evidence that cueing is generally useful, despite the close relationship between some cued material and questions and explicit information on this relationship. Mixing questions on cued and non-cued material may remove any possible benefits of cueing.


Typographic cueing provides a non-verbal way of guiding readers and focusing attention. By using typographic techniques (such as bold, underline, italics or color) to cue material, information designers can help readers to focus on material that requires the most attention. Most existing work has looked at the application of cueing to printed material, whereas this study explores typographic cueing on screen.

Glynn (1978) suggests that one of the assumptions underlying typographic cueing is that it works because of an isolation effect; by using cueing to set apart some information, lhe cued information is more likely to be noticed by readers.This is also referred to as making material perceptually more salient (Ausubel, Novak and Hanasian, 1978). But while there is wide agreement on why typographic cueing may be useful for readers, there are few guidelines discussing what cues are appropriate and little research to suggest how cues are best used (Beck, 1991). The general consensus emerging from the literature is that typographic cueing can improve the recall of cued material. Foster (1979), in his overview of the cueing literature, argues that there is considerable evidence that typographic cueing can improve recall. Improved recall is demonstrated most frequently if it is tested immediately after reading (193). Foster's conclusion is echoed by Beck (1984, 1991) who notes that cueing generally helps readers to recall the cued information.

While typographic cueing may generally improve the recall of cued material some research suggests that excessive cueing may reverse any positive effects. Excessive cueing may make it difficult for readers to focus on important information.

Marks (1966) explored the quantity of material that should be cued through a study of children's reading of simple instructions. Marks found that cueing key words (by using bold or larger type) tended to improve performance, but cueing the entire set of instructions (through underlining) was detrimental to performance. Although Marks' study suggests that cueing key words rather than entire passages may improve readers' performance, it is not possible to draw this conclusion from the study because of the different cueing devices used. …

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