Web Writing That Works!

           A Project of
           The Communication Circle

Guidelines Rants Patterns Poems Services Classes Press Blog Resources About Us Site Map

HomeRants > Web Text = Content + Interface > Your words are virtually there. > Your words look fuzzy.



How do people "read" onscreen?

How can people skim onscreen?

Where did my context go?

Using the text before reading it

Your words look fuzzy

Reading text onscreen is harder than reading print, in part because of the lack of resolution.

Where a printout from a laser printer has 600 dots per inch, and a National Geographic page may have 2400 dots per inch, the screen has between 72 and 90-odd dots per inch. Those are big fat dots, and they do not make individual letters very sharp.

Moving closer, a strategy that can clarify words on paper, only works up to a certain distance from the computer screen, after which we begin to be aware of pixels, not meaningful language.

Using the software to zoom in can make the individual words easier to read--but then the proportions of the screen and the small size of the window interfere, limiting us to portions of paragraphs.

We have to resort to kludges like resetting the margins, just to avoid horizontal scrolling. We often cannot see well enough to read quickly, or correctly.


What will the web do to my text? (Full chapter from Hot Text in PDF, 700K, or 12 minutes at 56K)

How do people "read" onscreen?

Because the text is more difficult to read on-screen, people read slower, comprehend less, recall less, and do less in response.

Reasonably enough, whenever you ask people to read on-screen, they resist.

In fact, they duck and weave and bob, just to avoid actual reading. They may use text artifacts such as headings to navigate, but only to make sure that they really, really have to start reading, a job they put off as long as they can.

Result: you have to work harder to shoot your ideas through the glass.

How can people skim onscreen?

Because the resolution on the screen is lousy, skimming a page is harder. Looking at a screen, the eye has trouble picking up the particular word that our mind is looking for, whereas on paper, the word jumps off the page.

Where did my context go?

Context shrinks, too.

  • We cannot see the facing page.
  • We cannot see what lies above or below the passage we are reading.
  • We are wearing blinders, so we lack the sense of our surroundings, an awareness that--on paper--enables faster movement within the page, and from page to page.

There's no such thing as riffling through the pages looking for a particular idea.

For all the miracles of hypertext, a book is still a faster interface for some lookups. The slowness of the Web, even on a fast connection, the likelihood of going to the wrong location, the excess of search results--all of these factors these make the computer a clumsy research tool. As a result, people spend more time navigating and verifying their position online, to make sure they have gotten to the right information, because they are so often led to the wrong location, and they don't want to read anything that's not relevant.

Using the text before reading it

In a book, we use headers, headings, captions, and boldface lead-ins to orient ourselves.

But we quickly move from those to the running text, to "read."

The amount of time we spend online reverses that ratio because we have to spend so much more time "using" text to find out where we are, compared to the time we actually spend "reading" when we arrive at the target.

Next: Your words appear and disappear in a moment

Who is that behind the grid? Remember that the screen blurs your text.


Home | Guidelines | Rants | Patterns | Poems | Services | Classes | Press | Blog |
Resources | About Us | Site Map

Web Writing that Works!
  2003 Jonathan and Lisa Price
The Communication Circle
Discuss at HotText@yahoogroups.com
Email us directly at ThePrices@ThePrices.com
Order Hot Text (the book) from Amazon