responses to questions and comments

Subject: responses to questions and comments
From: Michael Lairson <michael -dot- lairson -at- CCMAIL -dot- BSIS -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 10 Apr 1995 12:31:54 -0500

Subject: Font readability?

Karen Davis asked for information about serif vs. sans serif.

Many people have already addressed this, and maybe even covered this ground
already, but there are usability studies concerning this. I wish I still
had the studies, but unfortunately, I don't even remember who did them.
Apparently, common practice in the U.S. and Canada is to use serif fonts in
most public media, so readers tested much better for speed and
comprehension when they read serif fonts. Europeans, on the other hand,
usually see sans serif fonts in public media, so they tested much better
for speed and comprehension when they read sans serif fonts.

On-line, all groups tested much better with sans serif because monitor
resolution muddies the tails of serif fonts.

gary zinter
gary -dot- zinter -at- bsis -dot- com

Subject: Re: Contractions

David Demyan wrote:

>Easier to read? I have a real problem with this one.<

First of all, the argument for foreign readers holds up in studies, so I
wouldn't use contractions in any document that was going to be read
untranslated by non-English speaking people. (If you have a translator,
and they don't know how to translate contractions, maybe they're

That said, I'd just like to point out that usability studies show that SOME
use of contractions, especially in situations where it makes the language
less awkward and stilted, increases reading speed and comprehension.
Common usage dictates comprehension, so ambiguity in interpretation isn't
always an issue.

Apparently, (I wish I still had the studies...) the findings indicate that
occasional use of contractions can remove a lot of the formal tone of a
document. Many times, you want formality; other times, you don't. David's
example of 'homey' contraction usage included more than a contraction - it
included language that was extremely casual for a serious warning (or any
technical material, for that matter). Of course, this is inappropriate, but
the conclusion that any use of contractions renders writing completely
informal is faulty in its logic. (Of course, it's obvious that the example
was meant to make a point, which it did!)

"Forced familiarity" is obnoxious and, like it does for David, it puts me
off. Unnecessarily formal writing can be just as difficult for readers,
though. I believe audience and material analysis should rule the day in
any situation like this. Sticking to a rule or tradition for its own sake
is poor, just as changing for the sake of change is poor. Wisdom calls for
something in between, doesn't it?

gary zinter
gary -dot- zinter -at- bsis -dot- com

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