Length Matters

Length Matters

We all know that size really does matter no matter what some nice people might tell you but does length matter as well? There is no point in writing great content if nobody will read it so length does matter - line length that is - what else did you think I was talking about.

Too short

If the length of the line too short then as a reader your eyes will be travelling left and right so often that it breaks the reading flow. Speed readers and content scanners also find that they are starting the next line before finishing the first and as a result may miss important content or misunderstand the meaning.

Too long

When the length of the line is too long then it is hard for readers to focus on the text and they will often find that they miss lines as it you cannot keep the focus on the end of the previous line when starting a new one. As a result they may miss important content or misunderstand the meaning.

Academic research has shown that our focus and concentration is greatest at the beginning of the line and decreases as we read further. So the longer the line the greater the chance that readers will lose interest.

Getting it just right

Traditional typography suggests a line length, including spaces, of between 50 and 75 characters(cpl). A study at Wichita University found that:

  • Reading speed was highest at 95cpl, and lowest at 35cpl on screen.
  • Reading efficiency was again highest at 95cpl.
  • [Note] 95cpl was the maximum length that they tested.

 

I don't believe there are any perfect rules. You just have to judge it for yourself and take into account your target readership and the devices that they will be using.

Here on this blog the line length is about 120 characters. I didn't set out to create that when I built the template I just went with what looked right to me. I know for myself that I find it very difficult to read content with a line length any greater than about 120 characters per line and usually don't even bother to read it.

Ironically compare this article with this content on line length which has no fixed dimensions and as a result on my 1440px wide screen has a character count of over 220 per line.

Don't let anyone tell you that length doesn't matter - it does

The web was meant to be read, not squished.
This isn't the way to test a responsive design.