Reading – part 2.

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In my last post I was writing about literacy and readability. Now I'd like to talk about how people read. Here are some facts about it that you may find interesting. I read about them in Susan M. Weinschenk's book, the "100 Things, Every Designer Needs to Know About People" and now I show them to you along with my thoughts.

Reading is not a fluid thing

Our eyes don't move across the page as smoothly as it seems. We make quick jumps between group of letters, and we rest our eyes on fixation points continuously. During the jumping periods we don't see what's in front of our eyes, but it happens so fast that we don't realize this. Most of the time we look forward (assuming we're reading left to right), but in 10–15 percent of the time we revisit previous letters and words to reinforce the meaning we got.

We use our peripheral vision while reading

We read 7–9 letters between the fixation points our eyes rest on, but we perceive about 15 letters ahead. We only get the meaning of about the first 7 letters and we don't pick up the semantic cues of the upcoming ones despite the fact that we recognize them.

Reading and understanding don't go hand in hand

If you're reading an article about a specific topic, but you're not familiar with the jargon that particular profession/group uses, chances are you won't understand anything (or at least it would take you a long time to "decode" the text).
New information is best absorbed when it connects to an already existing structure of knowledge in the brain.

Talking about the brain...

We use different parts of our brain to process the information. Here's an interesting illustration about which parts are engaged during different activities (it's from the same book I mentioned earlier).

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Well separated and marked sections are important

We don't like long text, but when it's undivided, it's even more difficult to read. Chapter titles and headers are important because of three things: they separate your thoughts into digestible blocks, and if they are meaningful enough, they help the reader to identify and understand the upcoming text below it. They help the reader remember the content as well, though it also depends on the reader's point of view and emotions towards the topic. 

Typeface

If a typeface is difficult to read then the reader will identify it with the content, thinking it’s also difficult to understand. The typeface conveys the style of a writing, and also influences the pace of reading. Simplicity is a good guide in this case too.

I love this word and not just because I adore typography, but also because it illustrates the role of fonts. Typeface is a font family, that gives your text a "face". Without it your content can be clumsy and difficult to read. It's important to choose a typeface for your work, so you can emphasize the essence of what you want to say, and you can help people read. If a typeface is difficult to read then the reader will identify it with the content, thinking it's also difficult to understand. The typeface conveys the style of a writing, and also influences the pace of reading. Simplicity is a good guide in this case too.

Size matters

It's important to choose the right font size, and if we would like to make our text even more appealing to the readers' eyes, we might choose an appropriate line length as well. The font size is good if most of the people can read it without problems. Regarding the length of your lines: longer lines can be read faster, yet we tend to prefer shorter lines. If you ask me, it's because shorter lines break up the text in a nicer way, especially if paragraphs are not too long. And maybe because a long line gives a false feeling that what you read is going to be long and boring. I don't know the answer, but here's a really good article about line length and font size in responsive web design. Worth reading, even if you aren't a web designer.

Paper or screen

Reading on screen is much tiring for the eyes because it doesn't reflect light, but emits it, and because the image is constantly refreshed. I often realize that I prefer paper, or my Kindle (it also reflects light) to read on. I can focus longer, especially because I work with a computer all day long, and my eyes are shouting for some rest.

Ending with this thought I would like to send you to get some sleep, or some natural light outside! Next week (hopefully) there will be an article about the next step of the TARGET method. Stay tuned.