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DePaul University HCI 450 Joanie Ritchie Fall, 2013
!
The Effects of Font and Formatting
on the
Readability of Text on the Web
- A review of current research -
!
!
Abstract
Text on websites serves the purpose of displaying information and
it is optimal for this text to be quickly and easily readable for users.
In this review we will be investigating two aspects of readability,
font and formatting. Research by Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman
and Hayes (2005) suggests that the font Verdana is more readable
than Arial, Georgia, and Times New Roman. This research also
suggests that the use of thicker strokes increases readability and
italics decrease readability. Research on the use of serifs and
aliasing, on the other hand, have shown conflicting results.
Research on formatting has suggested that medium line length,
large line spacing, left-aligned text, and paging instead of scrolling
all increased readability (Wästlund, Norlander, and Archer, 2008.
Dyson and Haselgrove, 2001. Ling and Steak, 2007). Based on
these results, it is recommended that designers choose fonts that
increase readability (Verdana), use heavier weighted strokes, and
avoid italics. In terms of formatting it is recommended that
designers choose text that fits on a single page without the need for
scrolling, use a line length of roughly 55 characters per line, align
paragraphs to the left, and use 1.5 or 2-line spacing.
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1. Introduction
As of 2012 an estimated 81.03% of people in the United States use the internet
(International Telecommunication Union, 2013). With this increasing number of people
interacting with websites, usability becomes increasingly more important. Whether browsing
the web or searching for information users have a vast amount of information to sort through
This makes readability are vital to keeping a user on your page. Text is one of many vital
aspect of user interface design and in this review we will take a closer look at certain
attributes of text in hopes to find ways to increase readability, and thus increase usability.

!1
Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting
on the Readability of Text on the Web
There are many different ways text can be displayed on a computer screen, with some forms
of text being easier and more pleasurable to read than others. If text is difficult to read, or
takes too much effort to read, users may pass it by and miss the essential information being
expressed. Two aspects of text will be discussed in this review, fonts and formatting.
Fonts are important to interface design because they are the small scale details that together
make up the overall look and feel of the text itself. In this review we will try to understand if
some aspects of fonts can increase the readability of text on a small scale. Formatting, on the
other hand, is essential to interface design because it physically shapes the body of text and
thus the eye movements of the user. In this review we will also try to understand if there is a
way to increase readability by adjusting the formatting of text.
2. Review
2.1 Fonts
In 2005 Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes conducted a series of four experiments
investigating the readability of various fonts and font attributes. In each experiment 20-30
participants from Ohio State University were given tests of visual acuity in an effort to find
the smallest size at which each passage of text (depending on the experiment) is readable.
These acuity scores were then translated into standardized readability ratings before being
analyzed. The first of these experiment was to determine which of four fonts was most
readable, and which was least readable. The results showed that Verdana had the best
readability and Times New Roman had the worst, with the other two fonts (Arial and
Georgia) in between (Sheedy et al., 2005).
In another of these four experiments (Sheedy et al., 2005) the readability of font weight and
italics were investigated. This experiment found that the thicker stroke font (Franklin Gothic
Book) was more readable than its thinner stroke versions (Franklin Gothic Medium, Demi,
and Heavy), and that italics decreased readability (Sheedy et al., 2005).
A third experiment performed by Sheedy et al. (2005) looked at the readability of serif vs
sans-serif fonts. In this experiment Sheedy et al. (2005) found that in general the sans-serif
fonts were more legible than the serif fonts. Though, in contrast, an experiment conducted by
Gasser, Boeke, Haffernnan, and Tan (2005) suggested that information was recalled
significantly better when reading a serif font as opposed to a sans-serif font. In the
experiment by Gasser et. al. (2005), 149 students enrolled in a psychology class at Mid-
Western Public University each read a passage and were then asked to recall information
from the text. Each passage was written in one of four fonts: Courier (mono-spaced serif),
Helvetica (proportional sans-serif), Palatino (proportional serif), and Monaco (mono-spaced
sans-serif). Of these four conditions, the participants whose passages were written in the serif
fonts were better able to recall facts than the participants whose passages were written in the
sans-serif fonts (Gasser et al., 2005).
Another font attribute that may affect the user experience is aliasing. “Anti-Aliasing creates the
appearance of smooth curves on screen by changing the brightness of the pixels or sub-pixels
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Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting
on the Readability of Text on the Web
along the edges of each letterform” (Lupton, 2010, p. 73). In the last of the four experiments
conducted by Sheedy et al. (2005), ClearType text (a type of antialiasing) was more legible
than aliased text. In contrast, an experiment conducted by Bernard, Chapter, Mills, and
Halcomb (2003) found somewhat conflicting results. In this experiment 35 graduate and
undergraduate student volunteers from a city in the mid-western USA were given passages to
read in 8 different formats, various combinations of the following: Arial, Times, aliased, anti-
aliased, 10-point, and 12-point. The participants were timed for readability. No significant
difference was found overall, but there was one interaction, 10-point anti-aliased Arial text
took longer to read than all other combinations (Bernard et al., 2003). Because of this lack of
main effect, and the presence of only one interaction, these results may not present enough
evidence against anti-aliasing. Further research will need to be done on the effect of aliasing.
In conclusion, we can see from the above research that fonts can significantly impact usability,
such as Verdana and bold text being most readable, while italics are harder to read (Sheedy et
al., 2005). Though, some other research had mixed, such as the effect of serif fonts being
easier to recall (Sheedy et al., 2005) but sans-serif fonts being more legible (Gasser et al.,
2005), and some research found anti-aliased text to be more legible (Sheedy et al., 2005) but
other research found that when small enough anti-aliased text may be more difficult to read
(Bernard et al., 2003).
2.2 Formatting
In 2008 Wästlund, Norlander, and Archer conducted an experiment in Sweden on the effects
of page formatting on mental workload. Their study involved 48 university students divided
into two groups. The students were either instructed to read and page through a multi-page
document formatted to the size of the screen (screen condition), or read and scroll through a
single page document of the same size (scroll condition). While reading, both groups of
participants were interrupted 10 times and asked to respond to a small popup window, this
reaction time was timed and used as an indicator of mental workload. The results of this
study indicated that the reaction times were faster for the screen condition, suggesting a
lighter mental workload (Wästlund et al., 2008).
In terms of line length, a study done by Dyson and Haselgrove (2001) found that 55
characters per line seems to be optimal overall. Participants in this study were asked to read
multiple documents, each with line lengths of either 25, 55, or 100 characters per line. Each
participant was timed while reading and then asked a series of comprehension questions
regarding that passage. The results indicated that when the characters per line were increased
from 25 to 55 a significant increase in speed was found (though not when increased from 55
to 100), but reading comprehension was significantly better when the pages per line were
decreased from 100 to 55 (though static from 55 to 25) (Dyson et al., 2001). These results
suggest an optimal overall line length of 55 characters per line.
In 2007 Ling and Steak conducted a study investigating line spacing and paragraph
alignment. This study involved 65 undergraduate students and had both a within- and
between-subjects design. The within-subjects design measured line spacing (single spacing,
!3
Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting
on the Readability of Text on the Web
line and a half spacing, and double spacing). The between-subjects design measured text
alignment (left-aligned and justified). The speed and accuracy of hits was measured by having
the participant find a target hyperlinked word (hits) and by counting the number of times a
participant said a target word was present when it actually was not (correct rejections). The
results Ling’s and Steak’s study found that, regardless of alignment, the participants
performed better when more line spacing was used, and when measuring correct rejections
participants performed better with left-aligned text (but the effect of spacing was not
significant)(2007). Overall when a difference was significant, performance with left-aligned
text was better, and performance with more line spacing was better (Ling and Steak, 2007).
In conclusion, as seen in the above research it does appear that formatting has a significant
impact on usability. This includes page formatting, paragraph formatting, and line
formatting, all of which had statistically significant results.
3. Discussion
3.1 Fonts
Based on the research reviewed, it is recommended that designers take font attributes into
account while designing interfaces involving the use of text. When looking at font types,
Verdana is recommended while Times New Roman is to be avoided. Italics should be used
sparingly as it decreases readability, and bolder font weights should be used to increase
readability. Sans-serif fonts are preferred overall for improved legibility, though there is slight
evidence that serif fonts may increase recall. Thus, when making a decision on the use of
serifs the intent and content of the text should be taken into account. Lastly, while in most
situations anti-aliasing improves the readability of text and the use of it recommended, it is
important to note that one of the above experiment found it took longer to read 10-point
aliased Arial text.
3.2 Formatting
When designing a page with a large amount of text, it is recommended that the document be
sized to fit the computer scree, as scrolling through text has been found to increase mental
workload. Overall, line length should be kept to roughly 55 characters per line, much less
may reduce reading speed, while much more might reduce comprehension. Lastly, when
formatting paragraphs, left-aligned text and 1.5 or 2 line spacing should be used for increased
readability.
3.3 Limitations
All of the research reviewed has been conducted on average sized computer screens. No large
displays, mobile phones or tablets were used. This research was also conducted on adults,
nobody under 18 was used. Due to these limitations caution should be used when
generalizing these findings to other devices or age groups.
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References
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Bernard, M. L., Chapter, B. S., Mills, M. M., & Halcomb, C. G. (2003). Comparing the
effects of text size and format on the readability of computer-displayed Times New
Roman and Arial text. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. 59,
823-835.
Dyson, M. C., & Haselgrove, M. (2001). The influence of reading speed and line length
on the effectiveness of reading from screen. International Journal of Human-
Computer Studies. 54, 585-612.
Gasser, M., Boeke, J., Haffernnan, M., & Tan, R. (2005). The influence of font type on
information recall. North American Journal of Psychology, 7(2), 181-188.
International Telecommunication Union (ITC). (2013). Percentage of individuals using the
internet [Excel document]. URL http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/
Documents/statistics/2013/Individuals_Internet_2000-2012.xls
Ling, J., & Steak, P. V. (2007). The influence of line spacing and text alignment on visual
search of web pages. Displays, 28, 60-67.
Lupton, E. (2010). Thinking with type: A critical guide for designers, writers, editors, & students. New
York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.
Sheedy, J. E., Subbaram, M. V., Zimmerman, A. B., & Hayes, J. R. (2005). Text legibility
and the letter superiority effect. Human Factors, 47(4), 797-815.
Wästlund, E., Norlander, T., & Archer, T. (2008). The effect of page layout on mental
workload: A dual-task experiment. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1229-1245.
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!5
Guidelines
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Purpose Context Recommendation Evidence/
Rationale
Citation
1 Decrease mental
workload
Text read
from a
computer
screen
Use paging as
opposed to scrolling
when displaying large
bodies of text.
Scrolling through
text increases
mental workload.
Wästlund,
Norlander,
and Archer,
2008
2 Increase
readability
Text read
from a
computer
screen
Use the font Verdana
and avoid Times New
Roman
Verdana has the
highest score of
readability
Sheedy,
Subbaram,
Zimmerman
and Hayes,
2005
3 Increase
readability
Text read
from a
computer
screen
Avoid italics Italics decreases
readability
Sheedy,
Subbaram,
Zimmerman
and Hayes,
2005
4 Increase
readability
Text read
from a
computer
screen
Use semibold or bold
fonts
Thicker line
strokes provide
increased
readability.
Sheedy,
Subbaram,
Zimmerman
and Hayes,
2005
5 Increase speed
and accuracy of
reading text
Text read
from a
computer
screen
Keep the characters
per line at roughly 55
When cpl is much
lower than 55
speed of reading is
reduced. When col
is much higher
than 55
comprehension is
reduced.
Dyson, and
Haselgrove,
2001
6 Increase
accuracy of
reading text
Documents
read on a
computer
screen
Use left-aligned text Accuracy of
reading text is
higher when using
left-aligned text
rather than
justified text
Ling and
Steak, 2007
!6
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7 Increase speed
of reading text
Documents
read on a
computer
screen
Use 2-line spacing
text
Reading speed is
higher at line
spacing of 1.5 and
2 than it is at 1
Ling and
Steak, 2007
8 Increase speed
of reading text
Web pages,
read from
computer
screen.
If using anti-aliased
Arial text, keep font
sizes at 12-point or
above
It took participants
significantly longer
to read 10-point
anti-aliased Arial
text, than it did to
read 12-point
Arial and 10- or
12-point Times
(regardless of
aliasing)
Bernard,
Chapter, Mills,
and Halcomb,
2003
Purpose Context Recommendation Evidence/
Rationale
Citation
!7

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Research review - the effects of font and formating on the readability of text on the web

  • 1. DePaul University HCI 450 Joanie Ritchie Fall, 2013 ! The Effects of Font and Formatting on the Readability of Text on the Web - A review of current research - ! ! Abstract Text on websites serves the purpose of displaying information and it is optimal for this text to be quickly and easily readable for users. In this review we will be investigating two aspects of readability, font and formatting. Research by Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes (2005) suggests that the font Verdana is more readable than Arial, Georgia, and Times New Roman. This research also suggests that the use of thicker strokes increases readability and italics decrease readability. Research on the use of serifs and aliasing, on the other hand, have shown conflicting results. Research on formatting has suggested that medium line length, large line spacing, left-aligned text, and paging instead of scrolling all increased readability (Wästlund, Norlander, and Archer, 2008. Dyson and Haselgrove, 2001. Ling and Steak, 2007). Based on these results, it is recommended that designers choose fonts that increase readability (Verdana), use heavier weighted strokes, and avoid italics. In terms of formatting it is recommended that designers choose text that fits on a single page without the need for scrolling, use a line length of roughly 55 characters per line, align paragraphs to the left, and use 1.5 or 2-line spacing. ! ! 1. Introduction As of 2012 an estimated 81.03% of people in the United States use the internet (International Telecommunication Union, 2013). With this increasing number of people interacting with websites, usability becomes increasingly more important. Whether browsing the web or searching for information users have a vast amount of information to sort through This makes readability are vital to keeping a user on your page. Text is one of many vital aspect of user interface design and in this review we will take a closer look at certain attributes of text in hopes to find ways to increase readability, and thus increase usability.
 !1
  • 2. Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting on the Readability of Text on the Web There are many different ways text can be displayed on a computer screen, with some forms of text being easier and more pleasurable to read than others. If text is difficult to read, or takes too much effort to read, users may pass it by and miss the essential information being expressed. Two aspects of text will be discussed in this review, fonts and formatting. Fonts are important to interface design because they are the small scale details that together make up the overall look and feel of the text itself. In this review we will try to understand if some aspects of fonts can increase the readability of text on a small scale. Formatting, on the other hand, is essential to interface design because it physically shapes the body of text and thus the eye movements of the user. In this review we will also try to understand if there is a way to increase readability by adjusting the formatting of text. 2. Review 2.1 Fonts In 2005 Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes conducted a series of four experiments investigating the readability of various fonts and font attributes. In each experiment 20-30 participants from Ohio State University were given tests of visual acuity in an effort to find the smallest size at which each passage of text (depending on the experiment) is readable. These acuity scores were then translated into standardized readability ratings before being analyzed. The first of these experiment was to determine which of four fonts was most readable, and which was least readable. The results showed that Verdana had the best readability and Times New Roman had the worst, with the other two fonts (Arial and Georgia) in between (Sheedy et al., 2005). In another of these four experiments (Sheedy et al., 2005) the readability of font weight and italics were investigated. This experiment found that the thicker stroke font (Franklin Gothic Book) was more readable than its thinner stroke versions (Franklin Gothic Medium, Demi, and Heavy), and that italics decreased readability (Sheedy et al., 2005). A third experiment performed by Sheedy et al. (2005) looked at the readability of serif vs sans-serif fonts. In this experiment Sheedy et al. (2005) found that in general the sans-serif fonts were more legible than the serif fonts. Though, in contrast, an experiment conducted by Gasser, Boeke, Haffernnan, and Tan (2005) suggested that information was recalled significantly better when reading a serif font as opposed to a sans-serif font. In the experiment by Gasser et. al. (2005), 149 students enrolled in a psychology class at Mid- Western Public University each read a passage and were then asked to recall information from the text. Each passage was written in one of four fonts: Courier (mono-spaced serif), Helvetica (proportional sans-serif), Palatino (proportional serif), and Monaco (mono-spaced sans-serif). Of these four conditions, the participants whose passages were written in the serif fonts were better able to recall facts than the participants whose passages were written in the sans-serif fonts (Gasser et al., 2005). Another font attribute that may affect the user experience is aliasing. “Anti-Aliasing creates the appearance of smooth curves on screen by changing the brightness of the pixels or sub-pixels !2
  • 3. Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting on the Readability of Text on the Web along the edges of each letterform” (Lupton, 2010, p. 73). In the last of the four experiments conducted by Sheedy et al. (2005), ClearType text (a type of antialiasing) was more legible than aliased text. In contrast, an experiment conducted by Bernard, Chapter, Mills, and Halcomb (2003) found somewhat conflicting results. In this experiment 35 graduate and undergraduate student volunteers from a city in the mid-western USA were given passages to read in 8 different formats, various combinations of the following: Arial, Times, aliased, anti- aliased, 10-point, and 12-point. The participants were timed for readability. No significant difference was found overall, but there was one interaction, 10-point anti-aliased Arial text took longer to read than all other combinations (Bernard et al., 2003). Because of this lack of main effect, and the presence of only one interaction, these results may not present enough evidence against anti-aliasing. Further research will need to be done on the effect of aliasing. In conclusion, we can see from the above research that fonts can significantly impact usability, such as Verdana and bold text being most readable, while italics are harder to read (Sheedy et al., 2005). Though, some other research had mixed, such as the effect of serif fonts being easier to recall (Sheedy et al., 2005) but sans-serif fonts being more legible (Gasser et al., 2005), and some research found anti-aliased text to be more legible (Sheedy et al., 2005) but other research found that when small enough anti-aliased text may be more difficult to read (Bernard et al., 2003). 2.2 Formatting In 2008 Wästlund, Norlander, and Archer conducted an experiment in Sweden on the effects of page formatting on mental workload. Their study involved 48 university students divided into two groups. The students were either instructed to read and page through a multi-page document formatted to the size of the screen (screen condition), or read and scroll through a single page document of the same size (scroll condition). While reading, both groups of participants were interrupted 10 times and asked to respond to a small popup window, this reaction time was timed and used as an indicator of mental workload. The results of this study indicated that the reaction times were faster for the screen condition, suggesting a lighter mental workload (Wästlund et al., 2008). In terms of line length, a study done by Dyson and Haselgrove (2001) found that 55 characters per line seems to be optimal overall. Participants in this study were asked to read multiple documents, each with line lengths of either 25, 55, or 100 characters per line. Each participant was timed while reading and then asked a series of comprehension questions regarding that passage. The results indicated that when the characters per line were increased from 25 to 55 a significant increase in speed was found (though not when increased from 55 to 100), but reading comprehension was significantly better when the pages per line were decreased from 100 to 55 (though static from 55 to 25) (Dyson et al., 2001). These results suggest an optimal overall line length of 55 characters per line. In 2007 Ling and Steak conducted a study investigating line spacing and paragraph alignment. This study involved 65 undergraduate students and had both a within- and between-subjects design. The within-subjects design measured line spacing (single spacing, !3
  • 4. Joanie Ritchie The Effects of Font and Formatting on the Readability of Text on the Web line and a half spacing, and double spacing). The between-subjects design measured text alignment (left-aligned and justified). The speed and accuracy of hits was measured by having the participant find a target hyperlinked word (hits) and by counting the number of times a participant said a target word was present when it actually was not (correct rejections). The results Ling’s and Steak’s study found that, regardless of alignment, the participants performed better when more line spacing was used, and when measuring correct rejections participants performed better with left-aligned text (but the effect of spacing was not significant)(2007). Overall when a difference was significant, performance with left-aligned text was better, and performance with more line spacing was better (Ling and Steak, 2007). In conclusion, as seen in the above research it does appear that formatting has a significant impact on usability. This includes page formatting, paragraph formatting, and line formatting, all of which had statistically significant results. 3. Discussion 3.1 Fonts Based on the research reviewed, it is recommended that designers take font attributes into account while designing interfaces involving the use of text. When looking at font types, Verdana is recommended while Times New Roman is to be avoided. Italics should be used sparingly as it decreases readability, and bolder font weights should be used to increase readability. Sans-serif fonts are preferred overall for improved legibility, though there is slight evidence that serif fonts may increase recall. Thus, when making a decision on the use of serifs the intent and content of the text should be taken into account. Lastly, while in most situations anti-aliasing improves the readability of text and the use of it recommended, it is important to note that one of the above experiment found it took longer to read 10-point aliased Arial text. 3.2 Formatting When designing a page with a large amount of text, it is recommended that the document be sized to fit the computer scree, as scrolling through text has been found to increase mental workload. Overall, line length should be kept to roughly 55 characters per line, much less may reduce reading speed, while much more might reduce comprehension. Lastly, when formatting paragraphs, left-aligned text and 1.5 or 2 line spacing should be used for increased readability. 3.3 Limitations All of the research reviewed has been conducted on average sized computer screens. No large displays, mobile phones or tablets were used. This research was also conducted on adults, nobody under 18 was used. Due to these limitations caution should be used when generalizing these findings to other devices or age groups. ! ! !4
  • 5. References ! Bernard, M. L., Chapter, B. S., Mills, M. M., & Halcomb, C. G. (2003). Comparing the effects of text size and format on the readability of computer-displayed Times New Roman and Arial text. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. 59, 823-835. Dyson, M. C., & Haselgrove, M. (2001). The influence of reading speed and line length on the effectiveness of reading from screen. International Journal of Human- Computer Studies. 54, 585-612. Gasser, M., Boeke, J., Haffernnan, M., & Tan, R. (2005). The influence of font type on information recall. North American Journal of Psychology, 7(2), 181-188. International Telecommunication Union (ITC). (2013). Percentage of individuals using the internet [Excel document]. URL http://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/ Documents/statistics/2013/Individuals_Internet_2000-2012.xls Ling, J., & Steak, P. V. (2007). The influence of line spacing and text alignment on visual search of web pages. Displays, 28, 60-67. Lupton, E. (2010). Thinking with type: A critical guide for designers, writers, editors, & students. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. Sheedy, J. E., Subbaram, M. V., Zimmerman, A. B., & Hayes, J. R. (2005). Text legibility and the letter superiority effect. Human Factors, 47(4), 797-815. Wästlund, E., Norlander, T., & Archer, T. (2008). The effect of page layout on mental workload: A dual-task experiment. Computers in Human Behavior, 24, 1229-1245. ! ! ! ! ! !5
  • 6. Guidelines ! Purpose Context Recommendation Evidence/ Rationale Citation 1 Decrease mental workload Text read from a computer screen Use paging as opposed to scrolling when displaying large bodies of text. Scrolling through text increases mental workload. Wästlund, Norlander, and Archer, 2008 2 Increase readability Text read from a computer screen Use the font Verdana and avoid Times New Roman Verdana has the highest score of readability Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes, 2005 3 Increase readability Text read from a computer screen Avoid italics Italics decreases readability Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes, 2005 4 Increase readability Text read from a computer screen Use semibold or bold fonts Thicker line strokes provide increased readability. Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman and Hayes, 2005 5 Increase speed and accuracy of reading text Text read from a computer screen Keep the characters per line at roughly 55 When cpl is much lower than 55 speed of reading is reduced. When col is much higher than 55 comprehension is reduced. Dyson, and Haselgrove, 2001 6 Increase accuracy of reading text Documents read on a computer screen Use left-aligned text Accuracy of reading text is higher when using left-aligned text rather than justified text Ling and Steak, 2007 !6
  • 7. ! ! ! ! ! 7 Increase speed of reading text Documents read on a computer screen Use 2-line spacing text Reading speed is higher at line spacing of 1.5 and 2 than it is at 1 Ling and Steak, 2007 8 Increase speed of reading text Web pages, read from computer screen. If using anti-aliased Arial text, keep font sizes at 12-point or above It took participants significantly longer to read 10-point anti-aliased Arial text, than it did to read 12-point Arial and 10- or 12-point Times (regardless of aliasing) Bernard, Chapter, Mills, and Halcomb, 2003 Purpose Context Recommendation Evidence/ Rationale Citation !7