Monday, April 26, 2010

Making Text Work

There's a line of thought that claims text should be "invisible" to be most effective. Attention drawn to the text is attention taken away from the message. Here are some basics for making your text easy to read.

Use Upper and Lower Case: Unless you're a beginning reader, you read groups of letters, not just one letter at a time. With upper and lower case, some letters are taller and some extend lower. This variety helps to identify the word (each word has a "shape"). On the other hand, with upper case (all caps), every letter has the same height and every word has the same "shape." All caps are much harder to read, so use them sparingly. Italics, too, are harder to read (and they're nearly impossible to read as all caps).

Color: The high-contrast combination of black type on a white background is the easiest to read for people with normal vision. Red type and yellow backgrounds are a reasonably close second. Black type on a VERY pale background can also be effective. Stick to one color for the body of your text and save other colors for headlines or other areas that have only a few words. Remember, if you use too many colors, one of those colors will call attention to itself, and actually pull attention away from other areas.

Proportion: The space between words should be bigger than the space between letters (that's how we know where the word starts and ends). The space between lines should be bigger than the space between words (this helps our eyes move horizontally across the line and not vertically through the paragraph). An accomplished reader actually reads groups of words, usually 4 to 6, at a time. That's why newspapers (remember them?) use narrow columns. What to do if the space you're using is not ideal? Say it holds a dozen or more words? Adjust the proportion: add space between lines to help the eye in its horizontal motion. And adding extra space between paragraphs works especially well for such longer line lengths.

Spelling: Use a spell checker. Then read your copy. Sure it's a nuisance, but errors make you look sloppy.

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