Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting: A New Method to Enhance Online Reading

The VSTF process converts display of text such as this first sentence from the U.S. Declaration of Independence

block text from declaration of independence

into this:

text from declaration of independence presented on multiple indentend lines

Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting: A New Method to Enhance Online Reading (Reading Online)

Fascinating. The indented version really does seem a lot easier to read, perhaps chiefly because the first word in each line is often a preposition or other small word that one can usually guess from the context. Such words are so common that they are easily recognized, even when the eye is focusing on the next word in the line. So there is less back-tracking of the eyes.

The article is packed with statistics that show that students comprehend better when they learn texts formatted in this manner.

The researchers are selling an online service that reformats text on the fly, so naturally the research is going to emphasize the benefits of such a service, so keep that in mind.

The economics of book printing dictate that books are less expensive (and therefore accessible to more people) if the print fills up as much of the page as possible. But there is no such restriction on electronic text. As monitor screens get wider and wider every year, I have often wondered what to do with all that blank space on either side of the legible columns of text. This looks like a useful option.

Over the summer, I’m planning to create some new online handouts for my journalism class, so I’m blogging this for future reference.