Academic journal article Visible Language

Typographic Features of Text: Outcomes from Research and Practice

Academic journal article Visible Language

Typographic Features of Text: Outcomes from Research and Practice

Article excerpt


This paper presents a comprehensive review of literature on the legibility of printed text in order to provide informed guidance on the design and preparation of typographic materials. To this end, experimental findings are taken into account, as well as the perspective of typographers, graphic designers, and authors. First, the typographic features of text are reviewed and illustrated individually to identify all the features that specifically characterise text layouts. It is emphasized, however, that the various typographic features should be selected in relation to each other, and that it is the combination and manipulation of all these typographic features as a group that makes the text legible. Studies are then reviewed and illustrated on the typographic structure of text as a whole. This information will prove useful to anyone involved in the development of typographic materials, including typographic and graphic designers, teachers and students.


typographic features of text, text structure, legibility, typography, reading performance


A comprehensive review of studies on the legibility of text Is extremely useful to practitioners, researchers, and scholars, particularly when users' reading performance is the primary concern. A literature review of this nature will confirm (or dismiss) many established conventions regarding the typographic design of text. It will also help practitioners to make educated choices and produce user-orientated design outcomes. Moreover, It will give practitioners solid evidence to justify their design decisions.

Therefore, the purpose of the present paper is to draw attention specifically to the legibility of printed text. Legibility is here Interpreted as the speed and accuracy with which text on a page can be read. This interpretation Is In agreement with Pyke's (1926) own definition, as well as Zachrisson (1965, 36) and Reynolds'(1978,197) opinions.

It has been argued that many typographic practic- es impair rather than help legibility. For example, Flartley and Burnhill (1976) have analysed and pointed out several poor typographical practices.

Amongst these are: the centring of headings and other textual components; the practice of changing arbitrarily the internal spacing of the material in order to force the text to fill out a fixed width and depth ("justification"); inconsistency In the se- quencing and the grouping of parts; excessive use of indenta- tion In texts which do not consist simply of pages of informa- tion arranged in paragraph form; and excessive variety of sizes, styles and weights of typeface chosen to code heading levels. (Flartley and Burnhill, 1976, 100)

They go even further by arguing that these prac- tices could "justifiably be termed "illiterate" clearly, parts of a text are not mere objects of varying shapes and sizes to be arranged like ornaments on a mantelshelf or pictures on a wall." (1976, 100). After illustrating these poor typographic practices through examples of British Psychological Society Pub- lications, Flartley and Burnhill (1976) propose that fundamental re-thinking is required. This observation, therefore, leads to the hypothesis that the speed and accuracy of reading text may be affected by various typographic features (from the typeface used to the treatment of paragraphs, etc.).

Unfortunately, there are only a few studies on the structure and articulation of information on the page as a whole, i.e. studies that test the effects of combined typographic features on reading. For this reason, this paper starts by reviewing the typographic features of text individually. Referring to each typographic feature individually allows us to identify all of the features that specifically characterise text layouts and which one may have a bigger effect on performance. The few studies on the typographic structure of text as a whole are then reviewed.

This review also takes Into account experimental findings as well as the perspective of typographers, graphic designers, and other authors. …

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