Line Length and Readability
A colleague asked for justification of why I favour unlimited proportionate fluid layouts. This entry is an HTML version of what I sent back.
I collected and commented on a few research papers in Text/paragraph width on Accessify Forums. In summary:
- User preference is considered too unreliable to draw conclusions from in some studies.
- Other studies find medium lines are preferred.
- Longer lines are measured as having the fastest reading speeds in studies which use computer screens.
- Reading speed for each individual changes smoothly as line length changes. There is no sudden increase due to an “optimal” line length.
Research in journals is referenced by online articles. These studies rarely appear on the web.
You can sometimes get these via your local library. I remember finding some as PDFs from Google searches. I don’t have bookmarks for them.
Abled People Differ
There are variations between individuals. Screen Fonts & Speed Reading shows how participants vary from each other in 2 different tasks.
Disabled People Differ
There was a discussion about line length and dyslexia at Accessify Forum. Phil Teare confirmed there are different “compensations strategies” for different types of dyslexia. This includes very long lines for some (such as my dad) and very short lines for others.
A small survey of autistic people mentioned shorter lines are better for this group.
More literate people being more effective with longer line lengths. I didn’t bookmark the research I read on that, though.
Screen & Browser Setups
Also relevant is the survey of 1,385 setups which showed users running displays with lots of pixels are less likely to maximise their browser (the Maximisers per screen width section). This means super-wide browsers are rare, deliberate setups.
This is supported by data gathered by Thomas Baekdal from one technical site and 4 mainstream fashion sites. There are other breakdowns of the Baekdal research figures, such as the range of screen sizes in use.