Re: Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?

Subject: Re: Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?
From: "Susan W Gallagher" <susanwg -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: "Lorraine Kiewiet" <lkiewiet -at- earthlink -dot- net>
Date: Mon, 6 Aug 2007 17:45:27 -0700

Wow - you're actually printing and distributing books! Haven't done that in
many years!

The smaller book size -- 7.5 x 9 inches or thereabouts -- is generally
preferred because it saves desk space. Precious few cube-dwellers have the
room to keep an open 8.5 x 11 inch book on their desks. Book size has
nothing to do with internationalization, however.

As far as font choice, size, and leading, most of that depends on your page
size. The old rule of thumb to determine optimum line length for reading is
that an alphabet-and-a-half of uppercase letters should fit on a single line
of type. Any more than that and either your page is too big or your font is
too small. But, if you add leading over and above the usual defaults, you
can increase your line length (or use a smaller font or a larger page). It's
all interwoven; it all depends.

As far as the serif/sans serif debate goes, after reading research and
opinions for 25 years or so, I'm firmly convinced that it makes no
difference as long as the font size, line length, and leading are set
appropriately. Conventional wisdom always said that serif was easier to read
because the serifs serve to lead the eye. (And here's a post by Laura Lemay
from 1995 that supports that, but only just )
***But*** - there's always a "but", isn't there! - that's American
conventional wisdom, and here's a post from that same thread that says
there's cultural bias in font readability
that Europeans prefer sans serif. (So if you're concerned about
Internationalization, you might not want to argue for serifs.)

That was 1995, and the battle still rages. And since then, more and more of
us do more and more reading online, where conventional wisdom states that
sans serif is better because it doesn't muddy up in low resolution displays
(not that we have many of those anymore). That means, to me anyway, that the
cultural bias we Americans have always had toward serifs may have
disappeared. I don't know that for sure, mind you, but it seems the logical
conclusion to jump toward, our having read sans serif online for almost 20

As for page numbering, most usability folk say that in a 300 page book, it's
much easier to find page 95 than page 2-17, but given Lauren's post, I'd
wager that many who are used to using computer documentation are also used
to folio page numbering and even prefer it. So there again, I doubt it makes
much difference.

-Sue Gallagher

On 8/6/07, Lorraine Kiewiet <lkiewiet -at- earthlink -dot- net> wrote:
> Background: I recently joined a company with little experience in creating
> user documentation. They are a rapidly growing software firm. There are two
> tech writers and a manager, and there has been a lot of turnover. Before the
> three people who are here today arrived, the technical managers made the
> switch from a 7.5 x 9 inch printed book with consecutive page numbering in
> favor of an 8.5 x 11 printed manual with the 'chapter-level' page
> numbering. Also, paragraph leading and font choices make the long, gray
> blocks of text difficult to read.
> Today's question: Given that they think this looks good, are there any
> studies out there to support the more standard practices that we three on
> the doc team want to move to? Examples: for internationalization, we believe
> that the book should be 7.5 x 9. For readability, the body font should be
> serif, and more than 3 points of line leading are needed between paragraphs.

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Recent User Assistance Studies on Printed Books?: From: Lorraine Kiewiet

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