Have you ever spent too much time reading a web page? That might not have been caused by the amount of text. Research shows that margins and line lengths affect readability.
An ideal reading experience is when users can read at a fast pace and understand the information afterwards. If you want users to experience this on your site, you need to optimize your margins and line lengths.
A research study found that line lengths had a significant effect on reading speed. They tested online articles with line lengths of 35, 55, 75 and 95 characters per line (CPL). Results showed that users read the fastest on articles with 95 CPL. They also found that line lengths do not have an effect on reading comprehension.
This suggests that the way to optimize for reading speed is to keep your line lengths around 95 CPL. Some users reported that they felt like they were reading faster at 35 CPL. But that condition actually resulted in the slowest reading speed.
In other words, shorter line lengths make users read slower. This is because there are more line breaks, which cause users to move their eyes from line to line more often.
Reading fast without understanding the information isn’t much use to users. It’s not only important to optimize your text for reading speed, but also reading comprehension.
A research study found that reading text with margins increased comprehension than that of no margins. Results showed that users favored the margin condition. They reported lower levels of eyestrain and greater satisfaction with the layout.
This suggests that the way to optimize for reading comprehension is to use layouts with whitespace margins. You should choose a fixed width over a liquid layout for your website. Liquid layouts stretch the line lengths to the browser width giving you no margins. Fixed width layouts allow you to constrain the line lengths and set margins for your text.
Balancing Speed and Comprehension
Margin sizes and line lengths affect each other. Users need a balance of the two for ideal reading speed and comprehension. Spending a long time reading text isn’t efficient. Not understanding the text you read isn’t useful. Give users the best reading experience by optimizing your margins and line lengths.