Re: underlining

Subject: Re: underlining
From: "Chuck Martin" <twriter -at- sonic -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 2 Apr 2001 12:18:24 -0700

"Walters, Christian (CCI-Atlanta)" <Christian -dot- Walters -at- cox -dot- com> wrote in
message news:99035 -at- techwr-l -dot- -dot- -dot-
> Do any of you use underlining for anything in in printed documentation?
> any documentation at all, except for hyperlinks? It's usage seems almost
> completely usurped by italics, and I guess a lot of folks are worried that
> underlined text = clickable link to users these days.
> We're working on some style issues here, and this question came up.
> Personally, I can't think of a reason I'd use it except for hyperlinks,
> I am quite capable of overlooking things.

No, no, and no.

As someone pointed out, underlined used to be used when we used mechanical
machines that could not provide other means of emphasis. (And how many of us
tried to create bold text on a typewriter by typing the same characters
several times to keep adding ink to each character?)

There is another important issue here: people read by comprehending word
shapes. (This is why all caps is also a Bad Thing.) Cognitively, when you
read, you're actually scanning. And you're also moving your eyes to descrete
spots on the page. (I forget what those stopping points are called; I'm
almaost tempted to call up my old instructor, Tom Williams, because he would
know this right off the top of his head. Watch someone read sometime. watch
what their eyes do. It's very interesting.)

Anyway, we don't read the letters in the words. We see the shapes of the
words. The word shapes help up "see" the word. If you add underlining, you
destroy a lot of the word shape, especially any descenders, makin reading
more difficult.

An interesting side note, if you take a word and trace its outline, then
show that outline to someone, often the word can be recognized. Such is the
importantce of word shape.

"I don't entirely understand it but it is true: Highly skilled
carpenters don't get insulted when told they are not architects,
but highly skilled programmers do get insulted when told
they are not UI designers."
- anonymous programmer quoted in "GUI Bloopers"

Chuck Martin
User Assistance & Experience Engineer
twriter "at" sonic "dot" net


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