Have you ever picked up a book or corporate publication and struggled to read it comfortably? Sure, the letters were decipherable, but there was something you couldn’t quite put your finger on preventing you from actually comprehending the message.
Sounds like the text you were reading lacked what’s known as readability.
In this article, we’ll define readability, discuss why it matters, and share a few critical components that influence a publication’s readability. Let’s get started.
What is readability, and why does it matter?
Put simply, a text that’s considered readable is easy and comfortable to read. The letters are clear, the layout is visually pleasing, and the message is comprehensible. You should be able to scan the copy and intuitively navigate the arrangement of text and graphics on the page.
Readability is the primary goal of quality typesetting – but why does it matter so much?
Let’s say an author has put hours upon hours of hard work into their manuscript, and now it’s ready for publication. The work is brilliant, but when the book hits the shelves it’s just not receiving the expected praise.
The visual elements of the book – the layout, amount of white space, font choice and more – are preventing readers from really diving into the author’s world. Instead of showcasing the story, these elements are drawing readers’ attention away from it. They are distractions.
In short, the book lacks readability. And readability matters because, beyond the content, it really can determine the success of a publication. Poor readability means poor communication; excellent readability ensures a text is a joy to read.
Four elements that influence readability
Optimal readability is a nuanced balance of quality, error-free content, expertly designed layout, and professionally executed typesetting. Here are four elements that have a significant influence on the readability of a text.
1. White space
White space is critical – it allows text to breathe.
The space between lines of type – known as leading – should be equal to the point size of type or greater. Too little space between lines and it can be difficult to remain focused on one line of type. Too much, on the other hand, and the reader can easily lose their place, inhibiting comprehension.
The space between blocks of text and other elements – such as graphics and captions – also require attention. Avoid touching text blocks and other objects. Text also shouldn’t overlap or run over images.
Finally, a generous margin can help set text apart from background ‘noise’ by creating a clear visual distinction between the text and the outside world.
The text should be distinguishable from the background – black text on a pale background is a popular choice for both print and digital publications. Ideally, stick to simple, neutral colours such as blacks, greys, and whites. Reserve brighter colours for headings, logos, and other oversized text and graphic elements.
We covered hyphenation in detail in our post ‘How to use hyphenation properly’, as it’s one of the most common mistakes we see in both print and digital publications. Hyphenation is an important technique, but when used incorrectly it can be incredibly jarring.
Here are a couple of tips for proper hyphenation:
- Don’t hyphenate words in titles, headings, subheadings, introductions, photo captions, labels or quotes.
- Avoid hyphenating text that is justified in the centre unless it’s really, truly necessary.
- Never hyphenate over the page break – by the time a reader turns the page, they may have forgotten the first few letters.
Typically, text should be left-aligned (which mirrors the way we read) or justified. Justified text is preferable for both print and digital publication but requires pinpoint specifications and an expert understanding of hyphenation.
Centred text is popular, but can be distracting for a reader, especially in larger blocks of text. Because both sides of the copy are ragged, it can be tricky to determine where a line starts and stops. Centred alignment should therefore be reserved for titles and captions only.
Ensure your text is readable
There is a whole lot more than the four elements discussed above that goes into ensuring a text is readable.
You’ve already invested so much into your manuscript – why stop now? Find out more about our expert typesetting services. Or get in touch with our friendly team today on (07) 3395 2022.