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Readability means good page layout.

Readability connotes an appealing graphic design and page layout. All information systems, no matter how small must incorporate principles of good graphic design. You and your information system is competing with a myriad of other information systems. If your data is not presented in a visually appealing, easy-to-read manner, then your chances of retaining the attention of your intended audience are significantly reduced.


Use a consistent layout

Your documents reflect you, your organization, and your information. By consistently using the same layout you are creating a unified whole, an identity. With the use of a consistent layout it is easier for the reader to know when they are reading your text and not someone else's. The creation of a template file can be helpful here. The template file would consist of your standard headers, footers, logo, signature, last data updated, as well as any other stylistic features you may incorporate.

White space is good

White space is the empty areas of a page. It adds contrast and provides a place for you eyes to rest. White space is not wasted space. For this same reason, stay away from all capital letters. Capital letters are usually the same height and width. This creates a block effect reducing the white (negative) space around letters. Instead, use a combination of lower and upper case letters because it increases the amount of white space around the letters.

Visually organize your pages

In other words, group similar concepts on your page together. Employ proximity. Don't put our email address at the top of the page and the URL to your personal home page at the bottom. Both items are electronic pointers relating to you. Group them together. When there is more than one type of information on a page, delimit the page with white space or horizontal rules.

Keep your pages short

In general, people do not like reading text from a computer screen. Using the popular vertical scroll bar of graphical WWW browsers it is very easy to get lost in a document. In general keep you pages shorter than two or three screens in length. By keeping your pages short and to the point, the attention span of your readership will increase. Put another way, break up long pages into shorter ones.

Include elements of contrast

A boring looking page is completely filled with text. It contains no white space, no change in fonts or font sizes, no lists, no pictures. It is boring. Elements of contrast breakup the monotony and make our page more dynamic. Elements of contrast include emphasizing some text with styles like <em></em> or <strong></strong>. Other examples include the use of very heavy horizontal rulers or very large headers. With the current version of MacWeb and MacMosaic you as a information provider can distribute preference files defining the size of style of fonts you want your readers to use. This gives you the ability to select different font families for different parts of your documents. Unfortunately, this is an extremely uncommon practice and difficult to actually implement.

Use all stylistic elements in moderation

Be a stoic Greek, "All things in moderation." The use of too many headers gets old and the reader feels like you are shouting. Too many emphasized elements loose their distinction. To many graphics take too long to download no matter how fast your computer or network connection is.

See Also

  1. HTML Writers Guild, "Principles of Good HTML Design" - This is a list of ``general principles'' of quality HTML design. It is intended to educate HTML authors to the elements of good and bad HTML style. It does not seek to ``control'' Guild members, but rather to encourage them to adopt these practices in their everyday HTML construction. <URL:>

  2. Jan V. White, Graphic Design for the Electronic Age, (Watson-Guptill : New York 1988)

  3. Robin Williams, The Non-Designer's Design Book (Peach Pit Press: Berkeley CA 1994)

  4. Roy Paul Nelson, Publication Design, 5th ed. (Wm. C Brown: Debuque IA 1991)

  5. Yale Center for Advanced Instructional Media, "Yale C/AIM WWW Style Manual" - This is one of the more scholarly treatments of the subject. <URL:>

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This page was first published on September 26, 1995. Feel free to send comments.