Academic journal article Visible Language

Optimal Line Length in Reading - A Literature Review

Academic journal article Visible Language

Optimal Line Length in Reading - A Literature Review

Article excerpt

Abstract

One of the most important, and most studied, aspects of human perception is the act of reading. Reading has received much attention from researchers, both from a human information processing (HIP) approach and as a common, practical act that needs to be optimized, especially in the realm of human-computer interaction (HCI). One of the text variables that has been studied for over 100 years is line length, at times referred as line width. Psychologists, typographers and others working in the field of reading and advertising have demonstrated the effects of line length on readability of text. Two of the questions addressed in past studies include, How long should a column of text be, to optimize readability of the text?, and Which view is more preferred by readers ? multiple narrow columns or one wide column with the same amount of information content? Research has led to recommendations that line length should not exceed about 70 characters per line. The reason behind this finding is that both very short and very long lines slow down reading by interrupting the normal pattern of eye movements and movements throughout the text. In a world of personal digital devices (PDAs), one-inch cell phone displays and of wide-screen TVs and full-wall computer displays, the question of line length has renewed timeliness. Studies reviewed here show that different aspects of reading performance such as comprehension, reading speed, method of movement (e.g., paging and scrolling) and eye movements are affected by changes in line length. In addition to that, various typographic factors such as font type and size, line and character spacing as well as different screen structures such as varying number of columns and screen sizes also affect readability. These factors have an effect on optimal line length for the text read from printed or on-screen material.

Introduction

One of the most important, and most studied, aspects of human perception is the act of reading. Reading has received much attention from researchers, both from a human information processing (HIP) approach (see Gough, 1972) and as a common, practical act that needs to be optimized, especially in the realm of human-computer interaction (HCI) (see Gould et al., 1987).

From both the HIP approach and the HCI-optimization approach, it has been interesting to examine what variables in the reading act lead to enhanced or inhibited reading performance. These variables can be divided into the following types:

* Variables within the reader (e.g., visual acuity, education level, reading experience, familiarity with the reading material).

* Typographic variables in the text itself, such as font type and size, line and character spacing, line length and column structure.

* Variables within the environment (e.g., ambient lighting, visual angle, tailorability of the reading material and medium of the text, i.e., printed or on-screen reading material).

* And within the on-screen text, display characteristics such as contrast, flicker, aspect ratio and image polarity (Gould et al., 1987; Dillon, 1992).

The advent and evolution of computer technology, including computer terminals, the personal computer, selectable fonts and variable-width fonts, has spawned a wealth of studies design to identify the settings-controllable through typographic and environment variables-that will optimize reading performance and enjoyment.

One of the text variables that has been studied for over 100 years is line length, at times referred as line width. The effects of line length upon readability of text have been demonstrated by psychologists, typographers and others working in the field of reading and advertising. Two of the questions addressed in past studies include, How long should a column of text be, to optimize readability of the text? and Which view is more preferred by readers-multiple narrow columns or one wide column with the same amount of information content? …

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