Line Length Revised: After Research

Marie Dyson has done very interesting research on the long-accepted notion that the length of a short line is more understandable than the length of a long line. Studies show that short lines do not necessarily lead to faster reading. If you’re looking for a definitive answer to use in your next design review discussion, however, no dice. The big finding is that long lines don’t slow things down as much as previously thought, not that they are better or worse.

But there is a lot of meat here that I find very interesting, mostly because I am more ignorant of the subject and have gained a lot of context in terms of writing, rationality, and behavior.

Things like;

Is a term used to describe the transition between lines of text.

it is Sweep back. You know, like your eye strikes. Return Key at the end of the line and sweep at the beginning of the next line. Then, there they are The lower branches. The idea is that the eyes cannot blink at the very beginning of the next line, instead of pausing a little.

In each line leading to the end of the line the eye shows four silent lines of the test with the jump arrow, after which the dashed arrow moves to the next line.  The red arrows highlight the area where the eye can touch a new line and lose content.

That small movement of the eye between words and phrases? They are called. saccades. I had to see it.

The effect of the under shots is what is being challenged.

The last research we’ve relied on for years is from 1940 (!), A time when we were more concerned with paper pages than with clear digital displays. It states that long lines increase the likelihood that the eyes will go down during the return sweep, and that under-shooting results in regression resulting in a delay of 130ms to 250ms where the brain. Needs to get its bearings. This is cited in the report. Underswap fixation.

We can also process words during underswap fixation.

The report cites a 2019 study that attempted to correct undershoots by bolding the first word at the beginning of each new line, such as an anchor that naturally moves the eye closer to the left margin. Goes

A 2019 study found that bold words reduced undershot return sweeps but did not improve reading speed. This is a stimulus to challenge the long-held assumption that the smaller the better.

Mary further explains:

In order to understand why the length of a long line cannot slow down the reading on the screen but do so while reading the print, I outlined some differences, such as visual angles, spending time in scrolling. But while there is still a physical difference between screen reading and print reading, we now have direct evidence to explain why long lines are read at least as fast as short lines. Readers can process words during a short fixation at the beginning of a new line. This saves time in subsequent processing. Now we can also recognize that there is more consistency between the maximum line length for print and screen.

Where does it leave us today?

Well, the clear answer is nowhere near what we can use in our daily work. But it is good to get rid of the combination of our best design and copywriting practices and realize that the length of the line is probably less of an obstacle.

Again, none of this tells us that long or short lines are better. Mary concludes her report by stating that she certainly cannot recommend the use of long lines of text because it is clear that there are still some factors at play, including:

  • Short lines are more effective for people with dyslexia.
  • More questions about return swaps and under-shooting need to be answered.
  • Many other studies show that users prefer shorter lines and find longer lines more difficult to read.

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