Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Is it possible to create easily readable web pages?

A study by UniTrento published today in Scientific Reports lists the features that must be used to ensure text readability for all, including people with dyslexia

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Based on the Global Digital Report 2019 there are over 1.7 billion websites on the web today. Almost 55 million Italians surf the web for hours every day, reading the news, browsing through social networks, updating their blogs or searching for goods and services to buy.

The web pages are very different one from the other: for the colours of the texts and backgrounds, the size and type of font, the layout and the amount of text.

This great flexibility, however, does not always help readers understand the information provided, among other things because reading from a screen or a cell phone can be more fatiguing than reading printed material.

So, is it possible to make web pages more easily readable? Can we adapt their layout to make it more accessible to different categories of users, including for instance people with dyslexia?

A study by the University of Trento, carried out in collaboration with the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan and published today in Scientific Reports (Investigating effects of typographic variables on webpage reading through eye movements), shows that some elements of the webpage can make a difference for its readability, and provides guidelines to create more inclusive webpages.

Four aspects, in particular, are crucial to increase readability:

  • Font size – the study examined texts with fonts varying in size from 10 to 18 points. The larger the font, the better readability. 
  • Left alignment (not centred or justified text)
  • Use of headers that give an idea of the paragraph content
  • Line spacing – the study examined texts with interline spacing between the size of the font and double that size. Increased line spacing makes the text more readable.

These and other features make content accessible to people with dyslexia too, irrespective of their age. The same elements could be useful, for example, to the elderly – although this study did not investigate this specific category of people.

About the article
The research team, led by researchers Michele Scaltritti of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento and Simone Sulpizio of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, carried out a series of experiments with about eighty participants, both adults and children of middle school age, both typical readers and readers with dyslexia.

The participants were instructed to read some pages from the web, with different appearances and various typographic features, while the researchers registered their eye movements.

The results of the study show that various typographic factors influence text readability.

Text alignment and the use of headers, for example, may help all types of readers. On the other hand, column width or the amount of text in the page have specific effects depending on the type of reader. And it seems that other factors – like the type of font, bold and italic styles, or the use of a high luminance contrast – have no effect on text readability.

In general, the study demonstrates that by simply altering some features of the web page, which can be done easily and almost effortlessly, you can improve text readability.

This improvement is beneficial to typical and dyslexic readers, with different levels of reading ability.

And that is why adopting certain typographic features can help design more inclusive and accessible websites for all users.

The recommendations formulated in the study are very useful, in particular, to people who draft guidelines on the accessibility of web content and to those who create digital texts. 

The study, which took a few years to complete, was coordinated by the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science of the University of Trento with collaboration from its Department of Information Engineering and Computer Science, Fondazione Marica De Vincenzi ONLUS, the Faculty of Computer Science of the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, the Faculty of Psychology and the Centre for Neurolinguistics and Psycholinguistics of the Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan. 

More details in the press release