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.
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?
- In 2013, analytics vendor Chartbeat analyzed Slate and other websites and found that most visitors scroll through about only 50-60% of an article page. What’s more interesting, it seems to be no correlation between sharing and scrolling: people readily share your articles even without reading them – You Won’t Finish This Article
- The scanning and skimming behavior we develop going through a lot of online materials has an effect even on how we read, comprehend novels and other long-format, printed text – Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say
- Jakob Nielsen’s eye-tracking study from 2008 indicated that less than 20% of the text content is actually read on an average web page.
- In another usability test, Nielsen tested different wording styles for a website. Concise, scannable and objective copywriting resulted in 124% better usability.
- In a usability study Gerry McGovern discovered that only 1 out of 15 users could locate a specific piece of information that was not scannably placed on the page.
- Steve Krug claims in Don’t Make Me Think that one of the most important fact about web users is that they don’t read, they scan.
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