Re. Justification, columns and emphasis

Subject: Re. Justification, columns and emphasis
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Wed, 22 May 1996 09:36:40 -0500

Joyce Flaherty responded to my postings on various typographic
details:

<<I recall that studies (scientific approach, controlled environment)
show left-justified enhances readability. This has to do with giving
the eye an anchor.>>
Some studies do, some don't. The only problem with full justification
that has been reported in all studies I've seen involves inconsistent
word spacing (rivers) and poor or excessive hyphenation. If you have
other studies that contradict this assertion, I'd love to see them.
(Not being snide... I'm really interested in this subject.) Please
copy your response to me as well as the list... I'm leaving for two
weeks vacation and will unsubscribe today.

<<I recall that studies (scientific approach, controlled environment)
show maximum line length is 5 1/2" and is not related to number of
characters. This has to do with eye movement and scanning a page from
top to bottom, grasping a line at a time, with little or no
left-to-right movement.>>
That's simply incorrect. Trivial example: a line length of 5.5 inches
is completely inappropriate for posters, slide presentations, and so
on. You're correct that there is a certain maximum visual arc that the
eyes can comfortably absorb in a single glance, and this does impose a
maximum; more important still is eye movement, and this depends on
number of saccadic leaps, not on an arbitrary maximum size.

<<Ornamental fonts always retard reading.>>
We agree on this. But I made a clear distinction between ornamental
fonts and the general italics variation of a typeface, which is rarely
significantly different from the roman variant. Yes, studies have show
that even slight italics retard reading slightly; I'm unaware of
studies that have demonstrated that this has any significant (to the
reader, not statistically) effect on reading. Problem: at what point
does an italics font become ornamental? I agree that this part is
subjective and harder to pin down.

<<If we begin to think in terms of content rather than format
(SGML/HTML), the font decisions become less cumbersome. A string
tagged "variable" or "foreign" or "emphasis" lends itself to
translation and conversion more readily than a string tagged "bold" or
"italic" or "font-specific.">>
Agreed. but we weren't talking about how to tag text, but rather about
how it appears in final form.

Again, I'm not trying to sound critical of Joyce. I truly am
interested in this area, and I've formed my opinions based on fairly
extensive reading in this area. The problem with all studies that I've
seen is that they were extremely contextual (limited audience and
purpose of the communication), and thus don't lend well to
generalisations.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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