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Subject:how many columns? From:Cherlyn B Paul <paulc -at- BATTELLE -dot- ORG> Date:Thu, 8 Jun 1995 13:02:31 -0500
Kathleen Kuvinka asked if a two-column format saved space
over a one-column format.
No, because you sacrifice the space between the columns.
And if the columns are right-justified, you sacrifice more
space justifying two narrower columns than you would
justifying one wider column.
But--and this is a big but--please don't select a number of
columns based on saving space. (To explain: take the
space-saving directive to its logical extreme and you have a
solid page of text...that no one would read!)
In the paper
publishing world--books, from which so many of our
well-tested and reliable rules of thumb derive--the maximum
column width is considered 28 picas, 30 if pressed. A pica
is about 1/6 inch, so this is a bit less than 5 inches. The
reason is that the eye, when moving from the right-end of
one line to the left-start of the next, will start missing
its target after traveling more than about 5 inches. So
readers will find themselves reading the same line twice, or
skipping a line.
As a reader, I find it equally disconcerting to have to jump
a line every few words (i.e., a very narrow column). As a
writer, I do not like to see a thought I put effort into
phrasing, being chopped up into a bunch of short lines...
because I know the reader will have more trouble with it.
By the same token, when writing phrases meant to capture
attention, convey a topic at a glance, etc., I appreciate a
short line, preferably with white space around it or perhaps
some other appropriate design element nearby.
(I don't know what sort of document you're designing,
but...) To help you with the others you mentioned who also
have a part in this decision, I would emphasize that number
of columns is only one part of design. Start with a design
that will convey this particular information best to these
particular users; let the number of columns be whatever they
Cher Paul, paulc -at- battelle -dot- org