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Small Business Resources > Website Building > Readability


There are three main aspects to cover here; that is, the typeface used, the layout/design and the colours used for text and backgrounds.

The first rule is to stick to the main typefaces wherever possible. That is Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and Times. This is because, if you choose a more obscure typeface, it is possible that your reader may not have that particular typeface on their computer, so all of your text will be converted to the 'nearest' compatible typeface which they have. This can often change the whole layout/appearance of your page. Remember, there are literally thousands of different typefaces around. Most computer users only have a few hundred (at most) loaded on their computers.

Other often used typefaces include gill sans, courier and comic sans.

Secondly, your choice of typeface determines how easy your text is to read on a computer screen. If you've spent a long time reading large amounts of text on screen, you'll know that this is very tiring on the eyes. So choose a clear typeface. For example, this text is written in Arial which is easy to read.

But imagine if we produced this using Gothic, Script or Cloister. If you produce your text on your website using a typeface like this, your visitors will very, very quickly decide this is too much hard work and will almost immediately click their back button. I think you can see what I mean by this!

When you read large amounts of text, it is far easier if there are many headings and sub headings breaking up the text into sections. This is even more important on a website due to the way most people look at web sites; i.e. they 'skim' each page to look for information of interest. If they see something that interests them, they read further.

So you can see, if you create headings which clearly explain the nature of the text which follows, your visitors are going to be scanning your headings (and sub headings) for words of interest, and will only read more if your heading has attracted them.

When creating headings, make them one or two pt sizes larger than the body text and make them 'bold'. Sub headings can be the same size as the rest of your text, but should also be bold.

Then, if you also wish to emphasise certain parts of the text within each paragraph, you can make some of the most relevant words (or sentences) bold too, so they stand out more as people 'skim read' your pages. Likewise you may also choose a different colour for some headings, or other bold words, but this should be done in moderation. And care should be taken when choosing colours so they do not clash with each other.

One final point; avoid typing in CAPITALS except where absolutely necessary. Not only is it harder to read a long sentence in capitals BUT ON THE INTERNET, WRITING IN CAPITALS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF SHOUTING!!! IT AMAZES ME HOW MANY PEOPLE PRODUCE MOST (SOMETIMES ALL) OF THE TEXT ON THEIR SITES IN CAPITALS. THIS IS A COMPLETE TURN OFF TO ANY VISITOR TO YOUR SITE! I'm sure you can see what I mean.

As an aside, you should not send e-mails to people typed in capital letters either. This is considered as rude.

If you look at the top 100 sites on the Internet you will notice that, almost without exception, they are created with mostly black text on a white background. There is a very simple reason for this.

If you choose a dark background and use white text (or worse still, coloured text!) it is much more difficult to read. Whilst it is OK to use a coloured navigational bar or column and put white or coloured 'links' on them, if you do the same for the remainder of your text, most visitors to your site will soon tire of trying to read your text and they will quickly be searching for their back button. Again this applies to any printed material, but the results are far worse when viewed on a computer screen.

I think the point has been made!

As a final point on text readability, it should go without saying, your text should be free of spelling and grammatical errors.

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