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Editorial Note to Crotonblog Readers:

November 21, 2007

We are experimenting with typefaces that will make the text of Crotonblog more easily readable by readers. Please bear with us while we decide on the proper combination that will assure greater legibility.

On November 24, 2007 7:53 PM, TeaDrinker said:

In its editorial note Crotonblog seems to be melding the terms readability and legibility. They are not interchangeable. Readability describes the ease with which written language can be read and understood. It is concerned with the difficulty of the language itself, not its appearance. Among the factors that affect readability are the length of sentences and words, and the frequency of occurrences of uncommon words. Readability has nothing to do with typography.

On the other hand, legibility describes how easily a text set in type can be read. It has nothing to do with content or language. Rather it is concerned with the size and appearance of the printed or displayed text. Legibility is affected by a wide range of factors, including type size and type design. Among the choices open to a designer are serif vs. sans serif type, italic type vs. roman type, line length, line spacing, contrast with the background, the look of the right-hand edge—whether it is justified (straight right-hand edge) vs. ragged, and whether or not words at the right-hand edge are hyphenated.

Studies of serifed vs. sans serif type seem to indicate that serifed type is preferred as more legible. Serifs are the small cross-strokes at the end of letters in fonts such as Times Roman. Also called modern faces, sans serif fonts like Arial lack these cross strokes. With their uniform thickness, they tend to be monotonous and unexciting. The Internet, designed by engineers wearing plastic pocket protectors, has chosen sans serif fonts as standard probably because engineers favor cleanliness of line over legibility.

Some other commonly agreed findings of legibility research are:

  1. contrast is important to legibility, with black on yellow being most effective;
  2. text set in lower case is more legible than text set all in upper case (capitals), presumably because lower case letter structures and word shapes are more distinctive because of the presence of extenders (ascenders, descenders and other projecting parts);
  3. regular upright type (roman) is more legible than italics;
  4. positive images (black on white) are easier to read than negative or reversed (white on black) images;
  5. the upper portions of letters play a stronger role than the lower portions in the recognition process.
  6. Generous line spacing that separates lines of text makes it easier for the eye to distinguish one line from the line above or below.
  7. Poorly designed fonts and characters that are too tight or too loose can also result in poor legibility.

On November 21, 2007 1:53 PM, Leo Wiegman said:

Dear CrotonBlog:

Serifs are good! Serifs are the little tails that start and end of a letter stroke in some font families. A serif font that is slightly smaller would be more beneficial in allowing your readers to view more of an article on their computer screen, before having to make a decision to scroll down. As long as the “Small, Medium, Large” font options remain, those of us who need it bigger or smaller can always choose that.

Many news sites now have shifted away from the thicker sans-serif fonts (like Verdana with very wide letters) to thinner fonts with serifs that help the eye travel easily from letter to letter (like Times New Roman). These serif fonts are usually more compact (the letter ‘m’ in 12 point size is less wide in Times than in Verdana). This compactness allows an eye to scan more words with less eye movement. New York Times website blogs, such as dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com (one of my favorites run by Andy Revkin) is a site that is graphically quite pleasing and easy to read, even without my reading glasses on.

Have fun with the redesign.

Leo Wiegman



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