Text visualisation

The aspect of written text that most immediately strikes the user and shapes his assumptions is its visual form. Adequate size and contrast with the background are essential for clear visibility. Surrounding visual noise can be confusing (cf. Johnson 2010: 41-43). For longer on-screen texts - “[t]ype to live with” (Santa Maria 2014: 62) - simple fonts have become standard. Serifs (small dashes attached to letters) can be distracting, unlike in printed media, where they aid legibility. Italics generally appear uneven when represented in pixels and are thus to be used sparingly, as is also the case in print (and for emboldening). Underlining was originally used on the web to indicate hyperlinks but this conventio, being highly obtrusive, has now been largely superseded by coloured text (traditionally blue). Other secondary aids to recognition are: manageable line length, which reduces the length of lateral eye movements; left justification only because an unjustified right-hand margin makes for easier readability than the highly variable word spacing caused by full justification (cf. Crystal 2010: 203); and ample division into paragraphs, if possible with subheadings.

Such headings, as well as other short but large-font word sequences - “[t]ype for a moment” (Santa Maria 2014: 59) - may demand non-standard typographical choices. In such cases, semiotically “charged” fonts (decorative, playful, strong, minimal, etc.) may be used to convey the particular character of the content concerned. In the case of navigation categories, for the designation of which there is generally little space, neutrality and rapid perceptibility retain paramount importance. Limiting the number of fonts used (the recommended maximum is usually two) can prevent the screen becoming a typographical jumble. Another issue is the combinations used: depending on the style to be conveyed, the aim is to achieve an appropriate blend of differentiation (no fonts that are too similar) and harmony (strong complementarity). “[A] good rule of thumb is to pair a serif and a sans serif.” (Santa Maria 2014: 78). Colour, size and spacing can be employed to generate further variation within an otherwise consistent display.

As regards background coding, the current trend is towards logical renderings, such as , which leads the browser to apply its own highlighting mode, rather than , which always results in emboldening. This approach need not imply losing control over the final on-screen appearance. The preferred solutions for such instructions (e.g., the way should actually appear) are cascading style sheets (CSS). These enable structural logic and final appearance to be processed separately, even though they are combined in the browser.

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