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Julie Baister

Posted 21st January, 2011 by Julie Baister

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Recent research at Princeton University suggests that if new information is presented in a font which is harder to read then the extra effort expended in reading the text leads to greater retention of the subject matter. Details of this research can be found at the link below:

These research findings contradict the widely held view that easy to read fonts assist dyslexic learners both with speed of reading and comprehension. Ariel and Verdana fonts are generally adopted as dyslexia friendly options but in this research Haettenschweiler, Monotype Corsiva and Comic Sans Italicized were used.

The Princeton researchers acknowledge that if the texts are too difficult to read then this may discourage some learners from continuing to read the information. Interestingly they also suggest  that the adoption of harder to read fonts would be a cost effective means of raising attainment!

I am sure this research will arouse strong opinions amongst fellow dyslexia practitioners.  Please use our discussion area to share your views.

  • Yvonne G

    I fully recognise that the suggestion of harder -to- read, being a ‘cost effective path to raising attainment’ is likely be viewed with a high degree of cynicism, at least by the dyslexia aware. However, as you have put it on the table, I for one see some merits in us debating the ‘disfluency’ they are highlighting.
    It’s hard to put a finger on it, but I’d be really interested in where other assessors stand on the separation of reading speed/accuracy from comprehension. Certainly learner friendly fonts make the physical process easier, but there is then the tendency to assume that concentration will be re-directed to comprehension. Maybe we have to look at the balance between excess effort and automaticity, if we are to optimise reading concentration and learning from text. I think of myself, driving. If I am on familiar territory I cannot remember much of the journey, my mind was elsewhere….. probably thinking about dyslexia! If I am looking for a side road, I have to work harder; I read each sign with intent and would doubtless have some recall.
    Recently I assessed a professional with a marked degree of visual processing difficulties. His reduced reading speed, for two texts, was virtually identical. However his comprehension, although still marred, was much stronger on the text outside his professional expertise. He emphasised that he had concentrated more, because the whole process of engaging with the topic was harder. Has this got something to do with disfluency too?
    Anyone anything to add?

  • J Gronow

    Interesting research, but who researched which texts were easy to read and which were difficult to read; this is surely subjective.

    Additionally, who selected the students and on what criteria? Did any of the students experience Mears Irlen Visual Stress, MIVS; The Irlen Institute states that 12% of the population are affected by MIVS?

    ‘The control was whatever the teacher had been using previously — usually Times New Roman or Arial.’ But many people find Times New Roman difficult to read, due to the almost equal amounts of black and white in a line of text.

    I would be wary of altering the way text is presented to learners based on this research.

  • Marysia

    When I heard about the research on the Today programme, my brain started buzzing with worry. So often research conducted by an academic negates common sense and what I, as a simple practitioner have observed over many years; readers with any type of barrier, be it visual stress or different alphabetic script find ‘difficult’ fonts hard to read. I have noticed that many of my dyslexic clients when reading from the computer screen, adapt the font type and size and background to meet their particular needs. They never choose a ‘difficult’ font.

    A few months ago, when observing an adult education pottery class, several learners found the italic fancy script used in the handouts, impossible to read. Sorry can’t remember the name of the font. Two Japanese students found the font unreadable and interferred with their memory of the printed English word; so although they could read English, they could not access the text in these particular handouts. So much for comprehension!

    I also agree that we do not know, what strategies the subject in these tests, used during the course of the experiment and whether they were ‘good’ readers with no difficulties. I read differently according to the purpose and need of a particular text. Sometimes, I may finish a book in a day, and remember very little of it in a week or so. But then so what? Other times, I read more slowly as I need to understand what is written and thus it would be foolish to read quickly. Literacy students loved Comic Sans because they felt comfortable with it. If comprehension was poor, then we offered stategies to improve memory, which makes me think that perhaps the researchers should have tested working memory before embarking on this research.

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