Readability and legibility

Legibility and Readability

Legibility and readability both relate to the ease and clarity with which one reads any particular setting of type, but they actually refer to two different concepts. When most people look at a page, they don’t see typefaces and they don’t see type. They see words. They’re not admiring the page—they’re reading it, and reading is all about rhythm.


Type is a kind of metronome for readers , and they can be helped or hindered by how it appears on the page. Bad typesetting can stymie a reader almost as much as bad writing.


Legibility and readability are commonly used words in the world of type.


Legibility refers to a reader’s ability to easily recognize letterforms and the word forms built from them. (We don’t read by recognizing one letter at atime, but by recognizing the shapes of whole words and phrases.)



Readability refers to the facility and comfort with which text can be comprehended. Text with good readability must also be legible, but mere legibility doesn’t make text readable. A book is much more likely to be a “page turner” if its type is pleasantly readable—badly set type wears a reader out. Design—in the form of page size, type size, and line length—also has a lot to do with legibility and readability. We’ve all opened books to find huge gray slabs of small, tightly spaced type and thought, “I can’t read this!”.

Whether this is a problem of legibility or readability is a moot point. Paperback editions of hardbound books often suffer from this problem because cheapskate publishers simply reduce the larger hardbound pages photographically and print them in a smaller paperback format. Ultimately, though, most poorly set type isn’t illegible or even unreadable; it’s just carelessly set.

Some basic rules for better typography.


Legibility and Readability on the Web

People only read word-by-word on the web when they are really interested in the content. They usually skim the pages looking for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs and scannable list. Since they’re in a hurry to find the very piece of information they’re looking for, they’ll skip what’s irrelevant for them.

So don’t expect people to read content that seems neither easily scannable nor relevant for them, therefore long text blocks, unnecessary instructions, promotional writing and “smalltalk” should be avoided on the web.

How little do users read?

When people read word-by-word:

  • If people find the very piece of information they are interested in, they are likely to read the related content word-by-word.
  • Research shows that if people read a piece of content for pleasure, they read more thoroughly and find reading effortless even on a computer screen.
  • Studies show that there are methodical web readers who usually don’t scan but read from top to bottom.
  • Well structured pages that are designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read



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