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6:12 Choose Appropriate Line Lengths

Relative Importance:

Relative Importance rating of 2 out of 5

Strength of Evidence:

Strength of Evidence rating of 4 out of 5

Document Type: Guideline


Topic:

Page Structure - General


Guideline:

If reading speed is most important, use longer line lengths (75-100 characters per line). If acceptance of the Web site is most important, use shorter line lengths (fifty characters per line).


Comments:

When designing, first determine if performance or preference is most important. Users read faster when line lengths are long. However, they tend to prefer shorter line lengths, even though reading shorter lines generally slows overall reading speed. One study found that line lengths of about twenty characters reliably slowed reading speed.

When space for text display is limited, display a few longer lines of text rather than many shorter lines of text. Always display continuous text in columns containing at least fifty characters per line.

Research done using a paper-based document found that medium line length was read fastest.


Sources:

  • Bailey, R.W. (2002, December). Optimal line length: Research supporting how line length affects usability. Retrieved November 2005, from http://webusability.com.
  • Duchnicky, R.L., & Kolers, P.A. (1983). Readability of text scrolled on visual display terminals as a function of window size. Human Factors, 25, 683-692.
  • Dyson and Haselgrove, 2001.
  • Dyson, M.C. & Haselgrove, M. (2000). The effects of reading speed and reading patterns on our understanding of text read from screen. Journal of Research in Reading, 23(1), 210-233.
  • Dyson, M.C. & Kipping, G.J. (1998). The effects of line length and method of movement on patterns of reading from screen. Visible Language, 32(2), 150-180.
  • Evans, M. (1998). Web Design: An Empiricist’s Guide. Unpublished master’s thesis. Seattle: University of Washington. Retrieved May 2003, from http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/webmastr/webdesgn.pdf.
  • Paterson, D.G. & Tinker, M.A. (1940b). Influence of line width on eye movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 27, 572-577.
  • Rehe, R.F. (1979). Typography: How to Make It More Legible. Carmel, IN: Design Research International.
  • Smith, S.L. & Mosier, J.N. (1986, August). Guidelines for designing user interface software. The MITRE Corporation Technical Report (ESD-TR-86-278).
  • Tinker, M.A. & Paterson, D.G. (1929). Studies of typographical factors influencing speed of reading: Length of line. Journal of Applied Psychology, 13, 205-219.
  • Tullis, T.S. (1988). Screen design. In M. Helander (Ed.), Handbook of Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 377-411). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Science.
  • Youngman, M. & Scharff, L. (1998). Text width and margin width influences on readability of GUIs. Retrieved November 2005, from http://hubel.sfasu.edu/research/textmargin.html.

Poor Example:

Formatting text into narrow columns with very short line lengths will slow users' reading speeds.

06_12_bad_example

Good Example:

Formatting text like this - roughly 100 characters per line - elicits faster reading speeds.

06_12_good_example

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