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Scientists Offer New Way to Read Online Text 404

An anonymous reader writes "Scientists at a small startup called Walker Reading Technologies in Minnesota have determined that the human brain is not wired properly to read block text. They have found that our eyes view text as if they're peering through a straw. Not only does your brain see the text on the line you're reading, but it's also uploading superfluous information from the two lines above and the two lines below. This causes your brain to engage in a tug of war as it fights to filter and ignore the noise. The result is slower reading speeds and decreased comprehension. The company has developed a product that automatically re-formats text in a way that your brain can more easily comprehend."
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Scientists Offer New Way to Read Online Text

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  • Dr. Seuss (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nimey ( 114278 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:45AM (#19082943) Homepage Journal
    It's certainly very easy to read, and the formatting reminds me of Dr. Seuss books.

    The only downside I can see (if this gets used in print) is the waste of paper compared to current methods.
    • by smittyman ( 466522 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:51AM (#19083081)
      You mean that we can use paper for printing letters and stuff? Does that come with many fonts and all?
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      According to TALFTFS:

      It breaks complex syntax into simpler syntax, which makes it easier for the brain to absorb the material.
      The example shown (about cells) doesn't change the syntax at all. It just changes the formatting.

      What might help with reading long lines - and be much simpler - is to print the alternate lines on a slightly different shaded background. But that would never catch on.
    • by StCredZero ( 169093 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:08AM (#19083433)
      They just went and put an indenter on the English Language!

      Now someone needs to invent a variant of English that requires indentation as a part of the syntax. It would be the Python of natural languages. Pyglish?

      • by thehickcoder ( 620326 ) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:21AM (#19083669) Homepage
        No, that would be Pyg Latin!
      • by mblase ( 200735 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @12:12PM (#19084637)
        Well, it's not just indenting -- you can see from the highlights that they're breaking lines according to where the verbs are, kinda like those sentence diagrams you hated doing in junior high, and indenting according to the role that verb plays.

        (On the flip side, this seems to suggest that the engine needs to work entirely differently based on what language you're reading.)

        I'm kind of impressed, actually, in that the engine makes any kind of text look and read like non-rhyming poetry, implying that poets figured this technique out centuries before anyone actually codified it.
      • Exactly! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Colin Smith ( 2679 )
        Why do you think we format code this way?

    • Re:Dr. Seuss (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cyphercell ( 843398 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:14AM (#19083539) Homepage Journal beforeafter1.jpg []

      I noticed several things that make it difficult for me to actually evaluate the difference. First each uses a different font, then the one that is supposed to be inferior ends with an incomplete sentance "A cell is" - making it gramatically inferior, if you zoom in you'll notice that the inferior sample didn't compress well in the jpg, the fonts are different sizes, and finally live link labeling the new sample as "Section 1:" provides more contextual information making it in fact more informative. While these changes are subtle each by themselves they are all time tested methods for improving text. Don't blur the text, add contextual info, complete your sentances and use standardized grammar. If this is the standard output from their software then this is truly not impressive. Aside from these issues, haven't people used collumns for a long time too?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GreyPoopon ( 411036 )
        Somebody mod the parent comment up. I was going to say exactly the same thing. Folks, when you're going to announce a "breakthrough", you need to let it stand on its own without any "helpers". Maybe this wasn't done on purpose, but then it ought to be a lesson that one needs to be EXTREMELY careful how they inform the world of their discoveries. This particular group of researchers has lost my trust.
      • Re:Dr. Seuss (Score:5, Interesting)

        by smallfries ( 601545 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @01:27PM (#19086359) Homepage
        Maybe I'm bucking the trend so far, but I found the reformatted versions harder to read than normal text. You're right about their bad comparison - but comparing their "poetic" formatting against normal text on a webpage (not their example) makes me think that ther technique makes it harder to read.

        Their "revelation" about how the eyes scan a page is well known and understood in page design and layout. Also, the idea that the brain has to remove "clutter" from the surrounding words is false. The brain uses the pattern of the text above and below to help the eye scan back to the beginning of the line quickly. Also the brain interprets the surrounding text to get an earlier chance to parse what is coming. The line underneath is processed before it is consciously read, kind of a warm-up run.

        Sadly I can't remember where I read this, or find a reference to it...
    • by ArsonSmith ( 13997 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:53AM (#19084251) Journal
      This has to work. I know I can read a page twice as fast if it is double spaced.
  • Scrolling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by athloi ( 1075845 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:46AM (#19082959) Homepage Journal
    The screenshot
        looks good.

    It breaks the text down
      into phrases
      like poetry.

    (It looks sort of
        like code.)

    But, for anything
        other than a short document,
          you will be scrolling a long time,

    Just up the css line-height to 2, and call it a day.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hawks5999 ( 588198 )
      Yeah Lots of scrolling so the time saved from reading will be lost to scrolling I'll stick to block text.
      • ah but the
        phrases are
        so small you
        can just wait
        a second
        or two and have
        the page
        down like
        pressing the
        down arrow button.
    • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:05AM (#19083381)
      You forgot the final line: "Burma Shave!"
    • Re:Scrolling (Score:4, Insightful)

      by LurkerXXX ( 667952 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:08AM (#19083441)
      And did you notice how blurry the image was of the 'standard' text. Nice job there. "look how much easier the text on the right is to read compared to the old stuff on the left!". This is a SERIOUSLY flawed example.

      Did they do such a shoddy job in the study? Why is there no link to a peer-reviewed study?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by nine-times ( 778537 )

        Did they do such a shoddy job in the study? Why is there no link to a peer-reviewed study?

        They do link to an actual journal article [], and you'll find the same link on Live Ink's website. I don't know how respectable "ReadingOnline" is, but why are you assuming that this magazine article is the total of Live Ink's "research"? The example image you're talking was generated by Venture Beat, and not by Live Ink, and the example is only meant to give an idea of what Live Ink does.

    • by Zaatxe ( 939368 )
      More than that...
      I read the text
      looking for rhymes!!!

      Looks like a haiku.
    • Re:Scrolling (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jez9999 ( 618189 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @12:15PM (#19084705) Homepage Journal
      It's weird, but as I read text formatted like that, I mentally insert a pause after each line. My mental voice says "Itbreaksthetextdown.... intophrases..... likepoetry............."

      It's actually quite annoying, and I prefer block text. :-)
  • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:47AM (#19082985) Homepage Journal
    We could all
            just start typing
                  all our messages
    just like this!

    Nah, that might
          be too annoying...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      No it won't.
          Because if you didn't
              type it this way
                    I might have
                        skipped over
                            your post.
    • by frisket ( 149522 )
      Nothing like a shortage of research funding to spur a little novelty-hunting. Or possibly the low educational level of the scientists means they need simpler texts.
    • by byjove ( 567441 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:59AM (#19083253) Homepage
      I think you're missing the part about how the positioning of the words are determined. The algorithms used were inspired by spoken syntax: "The prosodic cues in spoken language are more complex than simple pauses at phrase boundaries; subtle variations in pitch, volume, and the duration of word pronunciation have been shown to convey hierarchical structures in syntax (Ferreira & Anes, 1994). When these prosodic-syntactic cues of speech are experimentally stripped away from audiorecordings of sentences, listeners' comprehension drops (Cutler, Dahan, & van Donselaar, 1997). This finding has important implications for reading because, when language is written down, many of these same syntactic cues are similarly stripped away" Also, according to the supporting paper, parsing sentences along these lines help support the goals of the semantic web, helping online readers to parse complex expository writing.
      • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:34AM (#19083911)
        The algorithms used were inspired by spoken syntax:

        Which may not be all that relevant to the comprehension of written language [].

        One aspect the linked article emphasizes is that spoken language is ephemeral, whereas written language is permanent. This is a large difference, as anyone who can read a second language with relative fluency but understand the spoken form hardly at all knows.

        For this and many other reasons (no one speaks like a textbook or scientific paper for a reason--writing is far more effective at conveying certain types of information) it is problematic to claim without proof that "making writing more like speech is a good thing." In some cases it is probably true. In lots of other cases it may well be false. It will depend on the nature of the information being conveyed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by 0xABADC0DA ( 867955 )
        And when it is written down we call this punctuation.

        The problem I have with the examples are that they are really easy to read aloud, either in one's head or vocally, but very difficult to read fast without actually verbalizing the script. Some of the research notes support this view:

        After several students requested to read the syntactically formatted textbooks aloud in a low voice, and were permitted to do so, a majority of students elected, at least from time to time, to read these texts aloud. Although poorer readers in the VSTF group would read aloud regularly, one-fourth of the students in the VSTF group preferred to read silently and alone. This request to read aloud never emerged from the control groups , who, by contrast, generally resisted or declined reading aloud.

        In other words, the VSTF format seems to be geared toward verbalizing the sentence, either in one's head or vocally. That makes it good for 'slow' reading for facts in complext texts, like all of their tests were (college a

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ballpoint ( 192660 )
        Now how does this explain that we're able to read text more than 20 times as fast as it can be uttered ?

        Some people who have trouble reading speedily might be trying to "silently speak out" what they're reading, acting like a narrator and a listener in one, instead of just absorbing and processing the incoming stream of 2-3 lines at a time (and a line or two during the backscan, if you're into boustrophedonic reading).

        For them this layout may help. For experienced readers, not so much.
    • I want a program to do the formatting for me so that I don't have to worry about it.
    • Newspapers (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kludge ( 13653 )
      Newspapers already do this
      to some degree.

      They use narrow columns when
      formatting their text so
      people can read it faster.

      Your fovias don't have
      to bounce back and forth
      as much.
  • Low tech workaround (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SlayerofGods ( 682938 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:47AM (#19082995)
    I personally just highlight the text with my mouse as I read through an article seems to help me keep my place and read faster.
    Of course it drives anyone reading over my shoulder nuts....
    • I do the same thing in any dense text that I read. Especially helps the eyes find the right spot after scrolling.

      I also select and de-select icons or lines of text (double- and triple-clicking over and over) any time that I'm not actively working on something, like if I pause to think or to look at a picture. Annoys the crap out of people :)

      Actually, I just caught myself doing that last thing as I was proofreading my post (blasphemy, I know). Heh.
    • I personally just highlight the text with my mouse as I read through an article
      That's wierd! Still I suppose it's better than putting smudgy fingerprints all over the screen.

      P.S. are you blonde, by any chance?
  • This:
                                        is now
                                    well formatted
  • ...someone would have already invented this "new" method. Unfortunately, it's not better. The text is certainly easier to follow (which proves the research), but that's only half the battle. The formatting implies certain cues such as tone, volume, and emphasis. By reformatting the text, the software loses the original cues and accidentally adds new ones. The new cues may change the overall meaning of the text resulting in a failure to communicate.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by flynt ( 248848 )
      If it was really better someone would have already invented this "new" method.

      What a bizarre claim! You're implying that there has been no progress ever, and furthermore, there can be no progress ever!
      • No. I'm saying that we have thousands of years of printed text to fall back upon. We have over 500 years of typography to rely upon. In that time, we've experimented with nearly every form of text, style, formatting, spelling, and artwork that can be imagined. Typography is practically its own branch of science at this point. Yet in all that time, no one has grasped hold of this method of formatting.


        If you look carefully at the text we produce today, there are actually many similar examples. Poetry regu
        • by dharbee ( 1076687 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @12:07PM (#19084531)

          Because paper costs money and space is limited. Both of these explanations are superior to yours.

          "Poetry regularly follows such patterns, using them to express a certain spoken "tone" within the meter."

          Poetry is not a legitimate comparison. Poetry is frequently formatted with no regard whatsoever to how easy it is to read. Often, the formatting is done to preserve tings which actually make it harder to read, on purpose.

          "So why can't we transfer it to regular text? There must be an overriding reason?"

          Because paper costs money and space is limited. Both of these explanations are superior to yours.

          "When you introduce a solution to a problem, you need to make sure that it's easily adoptable."

          No actually you don't.

          "Is the new solution truly superior if the supposedly superior solution is more difficult to use than the solution it replaces?"

          Did you really say this? How many things did you learn as a child that you found a better way to do later, but had to learn first? If it's difficult at first, but then becomes more efficient after learning, then yes it is better.

          It seems that ultimately your only real objection is that this is "inelegant", which has caused you to manufacture other spurious objections in order to justify your dislike of this methods aesthetics.

    • by Himring ( 646324 )

      Besides, poets have been doing this for 100s of years. Hopkins anyone?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by n3demonic ( 1078953 )
      But what if the online text is mindless boring text, say an online history book. It's monotonous text which wouldn't be misconstrued if written in a different formatting. Wouldn't that help readers? Oh wait... they'd probably be sleeping anyways.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      The new cues may change the overall meaning of the text resulting in a failure to communicate.

      I think this might be my only objection to the idea. I went to their site and started reading Moby Dick, and it immediately occurred to me that, by changing the formating, it changed the way I was reading the text. I think it does make reading the text easier, but it made me read the text more like poetry, and in poetry, line breaks often have a sort of significance. A line break tends to change the timing, alm

  • by MontyApollo ( 849862 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:52AM (#19083115)
    Years ago I saw a shareware program that was supposed to help you read text faster. I think they were basing it upon a different principle involving eye movement speed, but it would be a compatible idea to this approach. You would just look at a certain fixed point on a blank page and it would feed you one word at time at whatever speed you select. The words always showed up at the same position, so in terms of this article your "straw" would be in a fixed position.

    I was able to read quite a bit faster, but I did not have the money to spend on it at the time. I also wasn't sure how useful it would be outside of novels.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SQLGuru ( 980662 )
      I've been reading through straws (tubes?) since the early days of the Internet......I get most of my "news" online now (I use the term loosely because, well, I read /. afterall).

    • by bmo ( 77928 )
      Before the invention of desktop computers, this is the exact way I boosted my reading speed in elementary school.

      There were these little projectors you could take with you to a corner or wherever. The film strip had words on it and there was a dial you could turn. It displayed one word at a time. You set the dial to where you could barely keep up, and as you got more comfortable at higher speeds, you turned the dial up more.

      Very effective.

  • by UncleTogie ( 1004853 ) * on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:52AM (#19083119) Homepage Journal

    ... uploading superfluous information from the two lines above and the two lines below...The result is slower reading speeds and decreased comprehension.

    WTF? This is how I've always done speed-reading...
    • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:05AM (#19083389)

      WTF? This is how I've always done speed-reading...
      I always do my speed reading by skipping the article and just posting on /.
    • by t0rkm3 ( 666910 )
      That was my first response.

      However they seem to have done a fair job of arranging the data in a manner that emulates word span.
      Though, their formatting forces you into a 2-3word span, which would be frustrating if you were used to a more liberal 6 to 7 word span.

      Oh well, I don't think this will go anywhere due to printing arrangement problems and broken page down keys.
    • Quite - speed reading techniques rely on you being able to read multiple lines at a time.

      The example image in the article is incredibly poor. Personally I could read the "before live ink" at least twice as fast (if not for our five) as the "after live ink" version, and with a higher level of comprehension. I found the coloured text in the "after" image to be confusing, since it drew my eye to those words, and they seemed to be fairly randomly selected. Indeed since colouring implies emphasis, this made t
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Peganthyrus ( 713645 )
        Yes! All that randomly placed red text slowed me way down. It's like comic book dialogue with the emphasis placed even more randomly.

        I have also wired myself to read quickly for years; I probably do somewhat parallellize the processing of the sentences.
    • Exactly - I found this absolutely /horrible/ to read and very much slower.

      But then I speed read, so I'm taking in almost complete paragraphs at a time anyway - having the eye process several lines simultaneously is what enables me to do that.

      This is like training wheels for readers...perhaps that's why children's books have traditionally used lots of indentation and numerous line-breaks?
    • by Bamafan77 ( 565893 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @12:57PM (#19085641)

      WTF? This is how I've always done speed-reading...
      Everyone claiming to speed read is probably just scanning text. True speed reading (1000 words per minute with high comprehension) is basically a myth [].
  • by UCRowerG ( 523510 ) <UCRowerG@yahoo. c o m> on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:53AM (#19083127) Homepage Journal
    Does anyone else see the similarity between the formatted text and what many advertisers and graphic designers have been doing for years?
  • Less confusing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:53AM (#19083143)
    That's supposed to be LESS confusing? My eye jumps to the colored words first, which appear to be picked almost randomly. (It looks like they are actually the verbs of the sentences.) Then I have to force my eye back to the beginning of the sentence and try to ignore the different colors. Then, because there's a break between that sentence and the next, I have to do the same thing all over again.

    And what's the difference if my eyes are pulling words from the previous and next sentence or the pieces of the current one? It's still giving me information that I don't need -right now- in the sentence.

    And the additional poem-like formatting is also confusing, as special formatting usually -means- something.

    Training myself to read this, which is only used online and only if licensed by this company, would be a hassle. And used very little.
    • by pla ( 258480 )
      That's supposed to be LESS confusing? My eye jumps to the colored words first, which appear to be picked almost randomly. (It looks like they are actually the verbs of the sentences.)

      Yes, the verbs have the colors - I presume they do this because our brains tend to prefer actions over concepts, so by making "action" words more pronounced, we can more quickly grasp the meaning of the text.

      Personally, I normally hate ideas like this (and I've tried a few, and found they all either caused massive eye stra
  • When looking at their example [] on how to "best" format text for comprehension, I was amazed at how much space it took up. Clearly a cabal of paper and timber industries are behind this study, hoping to produce widely space-inefficient books.

    To add insult to injury, I found the new version to look like evil dada poetry, essentially incomprehensible. The bright red bold words made my brain hurt even more.
  • Summary (Score:5, Funny)

    by norminator ( 784674 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:54AM (#19083161)
    I couldn't understand the summary... there is too much text there in one big block. Could someone please explain it to me... maybe reformat it so it's easier to read?
  • Wow. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:55AM (#19083179) Homepage Journal
    I guess there really is something to be said for haphazard scrawling of random broken sentences which trail annoyingly around the page.

    It looks like there are quite a few Vogon-poetry hopefuls in sororities and coffeehouses to whom I owe an apology!
  • FAQs (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Therlin ( 126989 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:55AM (#19083195)
    Of course their FAQs [] are not posted in that format.
  • I wonder if this really does help us in the long run. We're so used to reading blocks of text that any other form of text may well confuse us. After all if you're left handed for 20 years using your right hand to do the same task is very disorientating.

    The example picture is also manipulated unfairly. It has colour changes in the text, which unfairly breaks the smaller blocks of text up, where as the single block is confusing because it is clearly not ment to be read in such a way. It is written like a chil
  • by pointbeing ( 701902 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @10:58AM (#19083233)

    The company has developed a product that automatically re-formats text in a way that your brain can more easily comprehend.
    Pictures of Japanese schoolgirls?
  • by sconeu ( 64226 )
    This sounds like my (abandoned) Masters thesis.


    I was working in the realm of CHI, and had come up with the concept that whatever you're looking at *now* is most important, so I had come up with the concept of "bifocal text windows", where you had a bifocal effect, making a part of the text larger.
    • This sounds like my (abandoned) Masters thesis.

      That's a shame.


      Had you stuck with it you could have been on /.
  • by adamjaskie ( 310474 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:01AM (#19083285) Homepage
    I try to forrmat my writing In a way that is easy to read. But Slashdot has Lameness filtering That makes it difficult indeed.
  • Ever read poetry? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hoplite3 ( 671379 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:02AM (#19083299)
    In poetry, this sort of formatting is common. But the formatting implies emphasis, inflection, and so on. All of the readers know this, consciously or not. So their perception of what the text says will be different. Block text adds little emphasis (although short paragraphs convey faster action).

    Also, while it is true that people stumble on the text above or below a line, this effect can be helpful if you're skimming. It would be a pain to skim a ten (block paragraph) page of text in this poetry format. Not only would there be a lot more scrolling, but you can't just "image" a paragraph at a time to find the piece you're looking for. I'll admit, the modern way of formatting text may not be the best, but it is so entrained that'd be tough to change without all sorts of unintended consequences.
  • by Carik ( 205890 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:04AM (#19083333)
    First impressions when looking at the image that accompanies this article:
    1) The block text version is actually blurred. Compare the initial "M" from each side... there's a major difference in clarity of the image.
    2) I find the "clear" version nearly impossible to read. It's a bit too randomly coloured and formatted.
    3) The people who did this research are idiots.

    OK, so two of the three are subjective. But I'm pretty certain about the first, and I think the third is pretty likely.

    Add in the points other people have mentioned -- long scroll times, loss of standard formatting tricks to convey meaning -- and this all starts looking pretty useless to me.
  • I've known for years that I could parse well-written code faster than the equivalent English.
  • Ok, here is my Book Text Mark [] extension, it is used to mark a line where you are reading, so you can scroll to that line later or navigate to it through a supplied menu, you can even navigate to the page with a mark through the supplied menu. The mark itself can be dragged on the screen with the mouse pointer and the mark is not transparent, it will block a line of text. However I am going provide a choice in the next version to select different types of mark, I so making one that blocks 2 lines above and
  • by shadowspar ( 59136 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:10AM (#19083465) Homepage
    seeing the article
    text, strangely familiar
    where have I seen it?

    the light bulb goes on
    a haiku generator
    can it truly be?
  • I've always been a slow reader,
    and what they're describing is a big part of my problem.

    When I read,
    I can only focus on two or three words at a time,
    and I have to scan across to read a whole line.

    I've always been amazed
    at people who claim that they can read a whole line at a time
    without scanning,
    even if it's just a narrow newspaper column.

    And the succession of undifferentiated lines in standard block text
    makes it easy to lose one's place and have to bac
  • With E-paper and eBooks this could be really helpful. I have mild dyslexia and so does my dad. I learned a trick from him is to take a blank 4x6 notecard and run it below the line of text I'm reading. This helps a great deal with eye drift and comprehension.

    If there was a way to do this with the new digital formats then waste will not be an issue.
  • 700 Words Per Minute (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rrhal ( 88665 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:19AM (#19083623)
    My uncle could read 700 words per minute. He would look a section of a page and grab part of 3 or 4 lines at once. He brain would be putting the lines back together while he was scaning the next section. He always read that way. He was a farmer - he almost no time for reading in the summer but long stretches in the winter. He could easily read over 100 books in that time.

    In other words the effect that this process is fighting can be used to read much faster than most of us do. I can't do it for more than a few minutes but if you trained early enough or hard enough I think you could get there.

  • I was lucky enough 25 years ago to go to an optometrist who specialized in learning therapy and explained reading to me this way. His program definitely made a massive improvement in my ability to learn and was primarily responsible for me (eventually) going to college.

    This is really old news in the neglected educational development communities. No surprise though given the broad and deep benign neglect for public education.
  • It seems to me that they have made a tool useful for composition of haiku poems.

    But is it really efficient when reading fiction? The difference between reading fiction and reading a fact book is the flow of reading. In a fiction story the reader can make different picks and speed through some parts and concentrate on other parts without losing the story. In fact books each sentence is there for a reason. (sorry fiction-writers, that's the reality biting).

    Anyway this doesn't mean that the parts that one

  • It's always pissed me off how text is always mixed up, backwards and flashing weird colours. Oh wait.. is that just me?
  • by PFI_Optix ( 936301 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:26AM (#19083773) Journal
    At work, I deal with the software used to help kids who are struggling with reading a lot. Presently, all it does is give them a section of text, let them listen to recorded readings of it, and then have them try to emulate what they heard. It does work for a lot of kids, but it's slow going.

    What I see in this new method of formatting is that the sentences are being being broken up very similar to how their natural spoken rhythm would flow, making it much easier for a struggling student to read aloud. It shouldn't be a crutch, but I can picture a kid being shown the entire written text, and then this version of it. Have the kid read the Live Ink version aloud into a microphone and play back the recording for him to hear how it sounds, then try to do that with the "normal" text.

    This could really be something huge for education. I'm about to go talk to our special programs director about it, this looks like it could be very useful.
  • This sort of thing will come up more and more as western civ. slowly loses its ability to read. Already we have instructions created in diagram-only formats and even simple declaritive signs are reduced to symbols for "conprehension".

    This is not to say that our schools are doing a bad job teaching reading or I.Q.s are dropping, but fewer and fewer people take the time to really read anything longer than a magazine article or a blog.

    You may bash me when ready.
  • I seem to recall an old typographer's rule of thumb that a line of text should contain no more than 60 characters, including spaces. consequently, large folio volumes--like Gutenberg's 42-line Bible-- were printed in two columns, with hanging hyphens, and are surprisingly readable, despite the very dense Rhenish blackletter typeface.

    I wonder how much of this research is language-dependent, though. In languages like German (and Latin) verbs often come at the end of a sentence. Line-breaking as shown on

  • I wonder if those researchers ever saw a 1944 book entitled "The Educations of T. C. Mits," by Hugh and Miriam Lieber? Listings at Amazon, [] and at abebooks []

    It was intended to popularize mathematical concepts for laymen ("the celebrated man in the street," hence T. C. Mits), and it used exactly that style of formatting. As I recall, the introduction said something along the lines of

    This is not
    free verse

    but is simply
    an way to
    make re
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @11:47AM (#19084149) Journal
    But that's so slow. Not everyone reads "through a straw" like they claim. IF you're really interested in reading, then you should be training your brain to read faster. Stop doing slow stuff like moving your mouth or running your finger along word by word.

    You shouldn't be like a beginner reading one of those children's books with 3 words a page.

    Learn to read stuff chunk by chunk - keep your eyes further away from the screen if the whole column is to wide to fit - that's why newsprint is in narrow columns. Most human eyes don't have a wide angle of view especially with those crappy blind spots.

    Brains definitely can do parallel processing, and read multiple lines at a time. And brains can learn and adapt. Trust me, you do not want to adapt to reading like a beginner.

    Often I can spot spelling mistakes after just a glance at an entire page of print - they just stick out. And sometimes at a glance, my brain notices that there's an unusual word somewhere, and I become aware of it, but just don't know where I saw it on the page (but just a brief search and I'll find it). I think there must be editors (real ones not slashdot ones) out there who do this much better.

    In this day and age where there's lots of textual data I don't think it's a good idea to teach people to read stuff in a format where they have to keep doing "next page" every second.

    Life is too short.
  • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @01:36PM (#19086593)
    It sounds to me like scientists are over-thinking the problem. These are all basic design problems a designer with good typography skills can resolve. The solution certainly isn't to reinvent how we write.

    I see three glaring problems making text difficult to read, especially online.

    1) Text blocks are too wide. This is the biggest problem I see. It's difficult to follow progress when you're reading 10pt text running all the way across the screen. One of the biggest things I hate about websites is when they stretch EVERYTHING including text. Open the window too wide and you get these ridiculously long lines of text. Slashdot is guilty of this.

    The solution to this is to restrict the width of any copy, even if the page itself can stretch. A line of text shouldn't really be run any longer than roughly 10 long words. I'd say a good example of line width can be found in paperback novels.

    2) Not enough leading. Leading is the space between lines. This alone solves the problem mentioned where a reader starts getting distracted by words above and below the sentence currently being read. Again, this is basic design and it's something completely disregarded on the internet where lines of text are crammed together.

    The solution here is especially simple. Increase linespace, and I suggest being fairly liberal with spacing.

    3) Poor font selection and small point size. The standard browser fonts are somewhat readable. Serif fonts, like Times New Roman, are more legible than san-serif fonts like Verdana and Arial. This is a minor problem but serif fonts are recognized more quiclky. But I'd say font selection is dependent on the overall design of the site. A bigger problem is when someone uses some wacky font that's difficult to read, although this is more of an issue in Flash where fonts can be embedded.

    The bigger problem is font size. After all these years with dramatic increases in screen resolutions why are we still reading text online in 10 point? We should be at least at 12 point, and ideally 14pt or higher. There's no need to go huge, but it's time we start utilizing these screen resolutions more effectively. There's no need to cram a novel onto a single page. When a reader encounters a screen crammed with type, psychologically they're overwhelmed and less likely to actually bother reading anything. If course, with all the advertising appearing on some websites it's getting increasingly difficult to design a page that's actually easy to read.

    If these scientists want to address online text legibility take a few basic typography courses.
  • not new (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday May 11, 2007 @01:43PM (#19086739) Homepage
    This sounds like the conventional wisdom from your basic Tech Writing class, where the rule of thumb is; at least 50% whitespace on the page.

    In fact, childrens' book typesetters have known about this, ever since there have been childrens' books.

    Now - for reading text on the web; I've noticed - particularly in ad-supported content, that there's a trend (who am I kidding? It's been the standard for over 10 years now - and before that; ad-supported print) - to condense text to make more room for ads. (which is why the text-size plugins for firefox are so great!).

    Sorry, but I'm not too terribly impressed with this "study".

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.