Re: DISCUSSION: Multiple Text Styles on Same Page

Subject: Re: DISCUSSION: Multiple Text Styles on Same Page
From: Sean Fitzpatrick <Sean -dot- Fitzpatrick -at- SMED -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 14:45:31 -0500

A key point is your comment about *visual* clutter. As I know from sour
personal experience, attempts to add precision by typographical variation
quickly outstrip the capabilities of the technique. Distinguishing fonts can
enable the eye to pick out an element as it scans a page. If the reader isn't
likely to need to scan for the element (e.g., file names), you don't need to
make it visually distinct. I'll say flatly that people are able to identify
different classes of entities readily from verbal context and that distinctive
typography adds little or nothing to that ability.

The SGML principle of specifying *document elements* rather than specifying
typography and formatting has some application here, although what we are
talking about is typography. Clearly, headings, body text, and examples are
document elements and are likely to be looked for by scanning. At a second
level are items that do not need to stand out when the page is scanned, but can
usefully be highlighed. E.g., it is conventional to bold text entered by the
user and to italicize variables. Are they document elements? If you say so.
I think the conventions are useful if they are applied so as to increase
readabilty at the sentence level without being distracting at the page level.
(On the other hand, they may just reflect developer and writer anxiety more
than users' needs.)

>I've been using a "downstyle" look for headings where appropriate
>(I was going to say I've been downstyling headings, but I know how
>verbing a noun drives some of you crazy!)

Verbing an adjective crazies some of us, too ;-)

Sean Fitzpatrick
Shared Medical Systems

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