Literacy instructors know how important fluency is to a student’s overall ability to read and comprehend text. By gaining fluency, a new reader shifts from decoding each individual word to reading with speed and accuracy to understand the content.
There’s plenty of research and proven techniques dedicated to improving fluency, but how much thought goes into the way words and letters are placed on a page for the student?
Regardless of how a font looks, it’s important to consider whether it is actually easy to read for someone at a low level. Also, take a look at the overall layout of a page. Is it cluttered? Is there enough white space to make it easy to focus on the text?
These things can affect a reader’s ability to comprehend and engage with the information being presented.
Marjorie Jordan, the co-founder of Readability Matters—a nonprofit organization that strives to use technology to create a world where everyone can read with ease—said that, in general, many people don’t put much thought into how text features can impact readability.
“Readability is the ease with which a reader can recognize words, sentences, and paragraphs,” Jordan said. “The choice of typeface, characteristics of the type, and page layout can create a better—or worse—reading experience.”
When visual elements of text are adjusted, it can affect the reading experience and, ultimately, a person’s reading fluency and comprehension. Visual elements can include size, shape, and spacing of letters, Jordan said.
“Reading is not a natural act; a significant number of children and adults struggle with this task,” Jordan said. “As we have seen in our work, when individuals read with their best reading format, they can improve their speed of accurate reading, called reading fluency, and then comprehend more. This is critical to becoming a competent reader.”
But Jordan points out, the best reading format is not one-size-fits-all. She says research has shown that preferences vary by individual.
“Some readers respond well to fonts with extra character spacing, others to fonts with wider character width,” she said.
Knowing this, how do you create materials that are most accessible to everyone? As the world becomes increasing digital, Readability Matters advocates for reading app developers to give users the options to change the font, letter spacing, and line spacing to improve their experience and get the most from what they are reading.
“If a reader can gain more pages per hour of productivity with simple text format changes, why would they not want to read in their best personalized reading format?” Jordan asked.
But what about using print instructional materials in class? There are some general things to consider when creating materials to be used by students. Most readers lean toward either a serif or sans serif font, she said. And, there is research underway to learn more about the most readable fonts.
“Early results indicate large numbers of readers perform well with the free Google fonts Noto Sans and Garamond. Another set of readers do very well with Montserrat,” she said.
All this being said, it might be worth considering readability if a student is struggling with fluency or understanding the words on a page. A slight adjustment to the font could improve the way someone processes or engages with the words to improve both reading speed and accuracy.
Readers can play with a complete set of text features in Readability Matters’ Readability Sandbox.
Tune Your Text presentation
Readability Matters co-founders Marjorie Jordan and Kathy Crowley, along with Jen Vanek, director of Digital Learning and Research from EdTech Center@World Education, and Rick Treitman, entrepreneur in residence at Adobe, will be presenting a workshop titled “Tune Your Text: Tech to Support Readability of Digital Texts” at the 2021 ProLiteracy Conference on Adult Education. The workshop will summarize recent research and spotlight innovations that enhance learner engagement with digital texts.
Learn more about the conference at https://www.proliteracy.org/Professional-Development/ProLiteracy-Conference