Reading text on a screen is not the same as reading text in a book – so what can we do about text in our online classes?

Posted on March 14, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

So, given that reading text on a screen is not the same as reading text in a book or on paper how do we improve written communication in online classes? Well, a few things can help! Research shows that typefaces, information placement, using colors, margins, and font size all determine how much content students will read, perceive, and internalize. research shows that students don’t read on screens – they scan

For the research and tips on how to improve written communication in online classes, see a great article from Campus Technology: “8 Considerations for Online Text.”

What are the 8 considerations?

1. Allow for white space! (Or black space or whatever color space). Don’t clutter. 

2. Limit text (this goes with #1). Limit the amount of text on-screen at any given time. (You don’t do this in books because books are on paper and cost money – not so for screen space). Create on-screen documents in which the reader does not have to scroll down or across a screen. 

3. Alignment. Always left justify (books have trained us to read this way so just do it). (And don’t worry about full justification the way books do – just make it readable). 

4. Typefaces and Fonts. Serifs or sans serifs are okay – just make sure your font is readable and letters don’t together (which can happen with some serif fonts). [Nice history lesson that was my favorite part of the article: serifs were originally developed when letters and numbers were chiseled into stone. The serif would “end” the stroke and prevent it from cracking over time and destroying the rest of the stone.] Don’t go smaller than 12 point font for body text and avoid distractions by using no more than than three different fonts. 

5. Case. DON’T USE UPPER CASE TOO OFTEN. IT CAN BE DIFFICULT TO READ (and readers think you are yelling).

6. Don’t underline (or people think it is a hyperlink). Don’t overuse italic or bold fonts – both can be distracting. 

7. Color matters. For readability, background colors should be dark and the fonts should be light (because a light background will cause glare and eventually negatively impact the readers’ eyes). Use bold or colors for emphasis (but beware of emotional responses to colors). [I, for one, try never to use red because of its negative associations – stop sign, stop light, red ink all over my high school English essay].  And of course, make sure you use strong contrast between background and foreground (for colorblindness).

8. Placement. The more important real estate on the screen is upper left – so put the important information there! The low priority space is usually the bottom right – so put an image there to attract attention. 

Bottom line: The easier it is for students to read the text, the more they will comprehend – so let’s do are part to support our students. 


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