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When I was going my PGCE I was taught that when writing on the board to use separated characters rather than joined up writing to aid readability.


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An example

I’ve modified a theme of mine to serve and use the ‘BPscript, Grand Hotel and Sofia’ fonts (please see references) then used the CSS ‘letter-spacing: 0.125em’ to separate the characters so that what was once joined up text is no more:

Different forms of script fonts with letter spacing


To me, looking at the text, it seems that ‘BPscript’ is more readable without the spacing and ‘Grand Hotel’ and ‘Sofia’ with.

This then leads to the thoughts ‘How do I understand what I see?’ and ‘What is going on and how does this affect my learning?’. With the former, I imagine that its how my mind processes imagery and identifies elements within the overall picture, breaking them down into objects that I know, like specific characters. The characters along with the lack of characters, spaces, to form other objects, words. With the latter, these words have meaning to me, and when combined form an even larger thought. The speed of how that thought is formed and then connected to other known memories must surely be a factor in how fast I can learn new concepts? Because the initial ‘low level’ processing is clearly faster when you don’t have to concentrate as much at understanding the characters.

I do remember at the time not even questioning ‘why’ my written characters needed to be separated. In fact:

"eLearningWorld" in my handwriting both joined up and separated

What do you think? Which is better?


Readability perhaps says just as much about the communicated as the communicator. We are all different and what works well for one person is not so effective for another. It is perhaps what works well for the majority that is the solution when excessive differentiation causes confusion.

Please do say what you think in the comments.

Gareth Barnard
Latest posts by Gareth Barnard (see all)

Gareth Barnard

Gareth is a developer of numerous Moodle Themes including Essential (the most popular Moodle Theme ever), Foundation, and other plugins such as course formats, including Collapsed Topics.

4 thoughts on “Readability

  • Interesting – I’d read a number of studies of fonts and readability, but none of them dealt with cursive fonts, just things like serif vs. sans serif. Incidentally, some oft-quoted studies are not very rigorous. For example, a study that gets cited in favour of sans serif fonts only compared two fonts, Times New Roman and Arial (which were the defualts in word in those days). It’s likely the reason Times New Roman was less readable had nothing to do with serifs and everyting to do with compression – it’s based on Apple’s Times font, which in turn was based on the newspaper of that name, so it’s designed to be read in narrow columns. Other studies have indicated that compression is a negative factor (which might relate to your observations on letter spacing) so it would be interesting to do studies with a broader font like Georgia.

    Readability issues aside, Donald Knuth’s Computer Modern font still rocks my world!

    • Interesting Robin, I’d been taught that serifs were there to aid readability, as a sort of means of replacing lines. But I prefer sans-serif fonts in general, they don’t seem to be so ‘harsh’ on the eye. Will definitely have to check out the ‘Computer Modern’ font.

  • Interesting post !
    My initial training was as a graphic designer, and it was exactly at the time that typesetting fundamentally changed in the printing industry, although second year at art college I did learn to construct pages using metal letters and putting it all in backwards!
    Something related was learning to render (draw) typefaces – and I can still (fairly accurately) draw about a dozen fonts (typefaces).
    So I have quite an eye, and interest in the way we read letters, and words, and even the psychology behind how our eyes actually just read the first few letters of a word, and our brain guesses the rest 😉
    Fascinating stuff.

    • Thanks Stuart. I think that reading is a whole pipeline of processing, initiated from the brain interpreting an image as containing text as a part of the general pattern recognition as we decipher the world to identify elements of interest, then we process the elements and link them as fast as possible to what we know as if they are a threat, then speed is important to survival – at least that’s how I think is what is happening in relation to what we’re discussing and observing, thus trying to make sense of ‘Why is that?’ :).

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