Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s Easier to Read Multiple Columns with Short Lines

I came across an interesting piece of information on Susan Weinschenk’s website, What Makes Them Click. Research has demonstrated that we read faster with a longer line length (100 characters per line) but prefer multiple columns with short line lengths (45 to 72 characters per line).

I took a look at a monthly newsletter that I prepare, and it is normally laid out with 2 or 3 columns of 36-52 characters per line. I do occasionally use a one-column format with lines that go right the way across the page because it’s easier to fit the text around large images. But overall I’m comfortable that the current layout fits the research recommendations.

On the other hand, the online software documentation that I write has a line length of 75-100 characters. I was already concerned that the Help was not very user friendly as it is long, wordy and detailed. This is just one more argument in favour of trying to find a more user-friendly layout.

What line length do you prefer? Does it depend on what you’re writing?

1 comment:

andrew said...

Another difference is that the printed newsletter has a fixed width but the online help is whatever width the user makes the window. Many people have a bad (IMO) habit of making windows full screen. When the have a wide screen this can make text lines way too long. This is one reason many web sites have gone to a fixed width format. Maybe the online help should do that too?