In later years, when I was studying typography, I wondered how I might apply the same principles to make text more readable. There were only three of them:
- Don't subvocalize as you read. (In other words don't “say” the words in your head as you read.) This is a tough habit to break. It takes a lot of practice. At first, your mind seems to race through the words out of control and you begin subvocalizing again very quickly. But, stick with it. It really works.
- Use a pointer (your finger or a pencil will do) to guide your eye on the page. This will make a lot more sense after you master the next principle.
- Reduce the number of times your eye stops to read words. It is virtually impossible to focus on anything while your eyes are moving. Thus, you read when your eyes stop scanning the page. A person who must stop and focus word-by-word is going to be only half as fast a reader as a person who can focus on two words side-by-side simultaneously. Reading a whole phrase of three, four, or more words at one time will greatly increase reading speed.
Obviously, the first two principles were not applicable to my goal. There's no way to “help” a reader avoid subvocalization or point to words dynamically just by some special arrangement of the printed text on the page. However, the third principle could. I could arrange the text in narrow columns to help readers “see” an entire line in a single glance even though they weren't trained.
Now you must have guessed why I chose a format for my website wherein the text is set in a narrow column. No, I'm not claiming to have invented columns. Newspapers have been using them for decades, but for different reasons. Newspaper columns facilitate the process of pasting up multiple stories on the same page.
In the event you come across a website with text stretched across the screen (most are), you can make it easier to read. This is especially important if your computer monitor, like mine, is a wide-screen television scree. You can force the text to appear in easily read bite-sized phrases. Just reset your browser width to force the text to appear in a narrow column. Click the "Restore" button in the upper right corner of the browser - the one between the "Minimize" and "Close" buttons - and stretch the browser window to a narrower width. Go ahead and try it. Open another web page (don't navigate away from mine, please) and experiment.
You're back? Good. I hope you could see how much easier it is to read that way. Which brings me back to my golden rule of typesetting: That which is easier to read is more likely to be read.
Oh yes, when you can read an entire line without moving your eye, place your finger in the center of the page (or column of text) and draw it straight down. This will guide your eye to remain in the center of the page taking in the whole line using your entire field of vision. Experienced speed-readers using this technique claim to read upwards of 10,000 words per minute with at least 50% comprehension! (No, I never got that good and I don't believe they did either.)