back to article Harder to read = easier to recall

Fancy fonts might be harder to read, but the messages they convey are easier to recall, according to boffins at Princeton and Indiana Universities. The researchers got 28 subjects to read a load of made-up facts to learn in 90 seconds, with a third getting the details in black Arial while the rest got greyed out (60 per cent) …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    flawed research.

    ... comic sans is used most in schools.... therefore is associated with learning. innit.

  2. g e

    Effort vs reward

    Anything that requires some effort to achieve/comprehend will be better remembered by people, is kind of obvious but of course nothing exists until someone's done some kind of study ;o)

    Maybe that explains why many many stupid people watch XFactor, etc but... is XFactor the cause or the effect....

  3. Tom 15

    The problem is...

    The problem is fonts like Arial are meant to be much more legible for dyslexics, etc.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

      I don't know where they get that idea...

      Being dyslexic myself I find it much easier to read seriffed fonts than the sans crap that is Arial.

  4. stucs201

    jelly-printed handouts* we had at school were almost illegible

    We had one particularly useless teacher whose lessons largely consisted of writting over the top of such handouts in pencil to make them legible. I remember very little except the tedium.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Down


      I remember at Polytechnic where one electronics lecturer's lectures consisted of him writing the text on an OHP while we wrote it down in our notes. This was in the late 1980s and you'd think that even then a lecturer at a polytechnic offering an HND in Electronics could have worked out how to use a photocopier and used the lecture time for a decent question/answer or demonstration of principals.

      1. Darryl

        You're lucky

        Our instructors (at least two as far as I can remember) kept the transparencies for years and just sat at the front of the room placing them on the projector one at a time whenever it looked like everyone was done copying.

  5. Grease Monkey Silver badge


    IME complicated fonts can be easier to read for some dyslexics. So a fancy font may make it easier for dyslexics to read.

  6. John Tserkezis
    Thumb Down

    I'm not so sure.

    I'm looking for work again, and after reading this, I thought how would this theory apply with badly rendered fonts on my resume?

    It would be nice to speculate the reader is going to remember mine better than any of the others, but having read resumes myself, the most likely outcome is that it's going to piss people off in a major way, as well as looking non-professional. And then get promptly binned.

    I call bullshit on this one.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    ¿sןıɐʇǝp ǝɥʇ ןןɐ ɹǝqɯǝɯǝɹ oʇ ʇuɐʍ noʎ op ʇnq˙˙˙

    Speaking as someone who deals with waaay too much marketese and has to skim loads of text in order to pick out the small bits of text that actually carry information, I'm very happy that I don't remember too much of what I read.

    1. Ball boy Silver badge

      You can't do that and not let on how!

    2. Someone Else Silver badge

      OK, I'll bite...

      How did you pull that off?

      1. Anonymous Coward

        How do you produce upside down text?

        ˙ƃuıpuəs əɹoɟəq ʎldəɹ ɹnoʎ ʍəıʌəɹd 'ʇɥƃıɹ ʇı əʌɐɥ noʎ əɹns əʞɐɯ oʇ ˙ɥƃnoɹɥʇ əɯɐɔ ƃuıɥʇou puɐ əʞɐʇsıɯ ʇɐɥʇ əpɐɯ ʇsnɾ ı ˙ɥƃnoɥʇ səpoɔ loɹʇuoɔ əɥʇ ʇou puɐ 'ʇxəʇ uʍop əpısdn lɐnʇɔɐ əɥʇ əʇsɐd puɐ ʎdoɔ noʎ əɹns əʞɐɯ ¡ƃəɹ lə uo xoq ʎldəɹ əɥʇ oʇ uı ʞɔɐq ʇı əʇsɐd puɐ ʎdoɔ uəɥʇ 'ʇuɐʍ noʎ əƃɐssəɯ əɥʇ ədʎʇ ˙ɹoʇɐɹəuəƃ ʇxəʇ uʍop əpısdn uɐ əʌɐɥ ʎlqɐqoɹd llıʍ noʎ puɐ noʎ slləʇ ʇı ʇɐɥʇ əƃɐd ʎuɐ oʇ oƃ ˙əlƃooƃ oʇuı ʇuoɟ uʍop əpısdn ədʎʇ ʇsnɾ

      2. fred_be9300

        flip text around (2 minutes to google, 5 minutes to remember password and log in to El Reg)

      3. MarkieMark1

        ʍoɥ ʍouʞ noʎ uǝɥʍ ǝldɯıs

        for instance

        1. MJI Silver badge

          I used NVidea control panel to read

          And it looks worse normal way up!

          Took a little while though to reclick default!

  8. Poor Coco

    Help Fight Crimes Against Typography!

    Their methodology was flawed, because it only tried making existing documents worse. They should have also compared them with clear, professionally-designed copies; it may well be the case that the cleaner but "un-designed" one is the nadir of readability because it is neither especially clear nor is it a word-puzzle that poor reproduction creates.

    Why assume a phenomenon as complex as readability is a linear function?

  9. Anonymous John


    I never have any trouble remembering what I've just read. It's about time Facebook sorted out their connectivity problem.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    'Easy to Read Fonts'?

    Arial isn't easier to read than Bodoni. In fact, it's the other way around for any longer body of text. Sans-serif fonts such as arial are often only easier to read when used at display sizes, in headings for example, or given enough leading to allow plenty of whitespace between lines. This is because the tops of the lowercase character shapes (where your are tends to skim when reading) and width of strokes are very similar in a font such as Arial, but offer more variety with a serif font, particularly one with such pronounced thicks and thins as Bodoni.

    And that is why most books are set in serif fonts, because it's much easier for the eye to recognise the word shapes.

    The actual difference here isn't the font per se, but more likely the difference in contrast. If you give someone two pieces of type to read using identical font, point size, leading, kerning, tracking etc they'll be able to read the piece that's 100% black on a white background much more easily than the piece that's 60% black on a white background, because of the greater contrast.

    The controls for this test should have been a group using the 60% black on white set in Arial and a group using 100% black on white set in the other fonts (Bodoni and Comic 'crimes-against-typography' Sans) to check whether the results were truly reflective of the chosen fonts or simply the visible contrast in the supplied material.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @A. Coward -- Correct, Correct, Correct, Correct !

      Correct, Correct, Correct, Correct!

      We've know this fact since at least Claude Garamond's time in the 1580 or even earlier.

      It's been known for centuries that seriffed text is less tiring and results in a higher comprehension. Books on typography etc. have mentioned this for eons.

      So why is it been dragged out again? Must have something to do with the availability of research grant monies methinks.

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        dragged out 'again'

        Effect of font and text clarity has been dragged out 'again' because most teachers aren't taught anything about teaching in their 4 year B. Ed. degree.

        Which is why they think computers and electronic whiteboards contribute to (instead of detracting from) education and learning.

  11. nickrw


    The major selling point for an e-ink device is the fact that they are not LCD. LCD devices can be just a legible - but cause eye strain due to the backlight.

    Eye strain due to backlight != a less legible font. Given that an e-book on my kindle looks the same as a paper copy I guess I should just give up on reading altogether.

  12. OkKTY8KK5U

    More effort to pay attention, perhaps?

    I haven't read the article, so of course my opinion may be safely disregarded.

    However, from what I understand, the act of actively paying attention itself induces the brain to generate more new neuron growth. It doesn't even matter what you're paying attention to. And I expect it takes more active effort to read the poor writing. Furthermore, it probably makes it a lot harder to simply skim it, intentionally or unintentionally. So this doesn't come as much of a surprise.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Remind me...

    ..what was this article about again?

  14. TeeCee Gold badge

    Jelly printing?

    First I've heard of that. The instrument of choice for producing rotten copies in faded purple when I was at school was the Banda (sp?) machine.

    First part of the lesson, handing out the copies.

    Second part of the lesson, reading through the things so everyone could correct the illegible bits of theirs.

    The bell would go at that point, so I never found out what came after that, but it sounded something like "donfoggettobringumbakenmundyanshowyawurkin".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Happy solventy school lessons

      I recall one teacher who used the Banda ( machine for handouts, and would print them just before class. Oh, how we loved the smell of those slightly-moist fresh copies.. ahhhh!

      1. AndrueC Silver badge


        Were those the ones that came out purple? They smelled nice :)

      2. PaulW


        My how I had forgotten about those Banda machines. Just what I needed to remember this morning. Im off to sniff some boric acid or sulphur fumes to get the remembered smell out of my mind.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I gave up trying to remember stuff.

    These days I just accept I'm basically a real-life Leonard Shelby, but instead of avenging my wife's death i provide 3rd line software support.

  16. AlistairJ
    Gates Horns

    Its got to go in to come out again.

    Where does this leave Powerpointless?

  17. Steve 13


    I've noted that I find it particularly difficult to read when I've had a skin full.

    I've also noted that I remember nothing of what I read the next morning when I wake up, head pounding.

    Thus, anecdotally, disproven.

  18. Rob 101

    Ahh, I remember

    The old Banda machines. If the test was being run off as you came into class you had to try and finish before you passed out from the fumes. What a fantastic smell. Our German teacher insisted he did them in class to relax us.

  19. Ian Ferguson

    Thinking vs Reading

    So thinking about a subject and calculation of meaning results in greater learning than merely reading a document.

    Nothing new there.

    All this says is that teachers should be careful not to rely too much on handouts, which isn't exactly breaking news either.

    Saying that it's down to the font is missing the point. Correlation =/= Cause, as our teachers impressed on our minds so well (with or without handouts)

  20. Rob Quinn


    So will TheReg be moving over to Wingdings then?

  21. Colin Brett

    I remember the Banda printouts

    TeeCee missed a point:

    Third, getting high as a kite on the smell if the handouts were recently printed.

    Like ink from a marker pen!

    Smiley face because that's the sort of grin you get after a double lesson sniffing the handouts.

  22. nobby

    not just fonts...

    if u reed smthng thta mkes you pt sm ffrt Bhnd it thn it snks in btter

    read Iain (M) Banks Feersum Endjinn if you want an example

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That makes no sense at all!

      If ulcerated reedpipe somethings intrinsic-hat-a mikes your pot smell [of] fearfart Borhound, it's thing iterates sinkers incontrollable bitterness.

      What the hell kind of a point were you trying to prove - that by making it less legible you can introduce greater a margin of error?

  23. PaulW

    This doesnt bode well for ElReg

    Wingdings as mentioned above... or perhaps,

    10% light puce background with 90% yellow with "Old Dreadful No7 BT Regular" font (my fave for trying to make things unreadable).

  24. Adair Silver badge

    I can't really remember...

    ...but it was probably sniffing the methylated-spirit vapour off the freshly minted Banda copies that rotted my brain; or maybe that was somebody else, I can't really remember...

  25. DamBuster


    What about captcha?

    I find those things almost impossible to read, but can't remember any of them.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Comic sans isn't hard to read

    Just silly.

    As a previous commenter mentions, serif type is generally easier to read than sans serif.

    I suppose we're a generation or more into the age of copy for print being prepared on a word by people who have never learnt anything about typography and never will know anything about it and it is really, really showing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I meant

      "on a word processor"

      ... which, even in my mind, has become almost synonymous with Word.

      I'm a lousy proof reader of my own writing!

  27. Dr. Mouse

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits

    "When asked how they felt about the teaching materials, and if they'd be happy to use them again, the pupils showed no preference for the clearer fonts."

    This could be modified for any given situation.

    "When asked how they felt about the <INSERT SUBJECT>, and if they'd be happy to use them again, the pupils showed no preference for the <INSERT ONE OF THE CHOICES>."

  28. Camilla Smythe

    That will explain..

    That abomination of a PDF file produced by some woman using...

    Just a moment, I've come over all nauseous again.

    I can't remember who did it or what it was about, excuse me whilst I wipe the blood out of my eyes, but it certainly seems to have had a long term effect on both my physical and mental memory.

  29. Stephen Channell
    Thumb Up

    So.. we're all dyslexic to some degree..

    I went and got the paper because as a dyslexic I thought the summary was twaddle.. but was relived to find the conclusions to reasonable, but for completely different reasons.

    The premise that Serif fonts like Arial are easier to read than Comic Sans, is entirely contrary to dyslexia studies which has shown that asymmetrical fonts like Comic sans are easier to dyslexics to read.

    What the evidence seems to suggest is either that we are all dyslexic to some degree or that dyslexia is more common than expected.. either way, a thorough academic study is sorely needed

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      What has that got to do with it?

    2. Semihere

      Serif fonts like Arial?

      I think you misunderstand. Arial is a SANS-Serif font (it has no serifs).

      Not sure if that's what you meant (and got it wrong) or you just thought it was the other way around ;)

  30. MonkeyBot

    Sure it's the fonts?

    ...and not the reduced contrast to 60%.

    As someone who works with dyslexic students all day, I know what I'd put my money on.

  31. Captain Thyratron

    Please don't let the pencil-pushers see this.

    They do not need any such encouragement.

  32. ZardozLovesMe
    Paris Hilton

    It's a Time Issue

    On a computer screen, it takes less time to read a sans-serif font like Arial than a serif font. I suspect that is the case for printed text as well. You remember something serif'd better than non-serif'd because you spend more time over the same words when reading a serif'd page.

    I want to see if you remember things better when they feature the blink tags. And when they are multi-colored, interrupted with copious profanity and Timecubes.

    Paris, because she thinks that serifs are a relic of feudalism.

    1. Gweilo

      serifs are cool

      "On a computer screen, it takes less time to read a sans-serif font like Arial than a serif font."

      Really? Sez who?

      Whenever given the option I change the font of a webpage to a nice serif one (my current favourite is Georgia as a screen font). Often when faced with a page of Arial I click the "Mode" button in Opera to remove the formatting and leave me with nice clean SERIF font that is much easier to read.

      So I doubt the basic premise of this story too: who says Arial is easier to read than Bodoni?

      Sure, Bodoni's fine lines requires sharp, high res printing, but given that it's very pleasant to read.

      See which is an examination of fonts used for subtitling, and why Arial, despite being the default, is one of the worst.

  33. peyton?

    The real story

    "pupils showed no preference for the clearer fonts."

    Yet they did better with bad fonts?? Clearly the teachers chucked the poorly printed materials in the bin, and actually had to come up with a more interactive lesson plan. Ergo, better results.

    You may wonder how it was reported that the yoofs had no preference. However, it turns out, this was simply how their response was recorded. Their actual response to the inquiry 'which did you prefer' was "bugger off".

  34. Apocalypse Later


    In a couple of his novels, Jack Vance posits religious texts (which the protagonist is forced to study), printed in green on purple, with alternate lines printed upside down, and so on. Now we are told this works?

  35. Brennan Young
    Thumb Up

    Make keywords less legible

    Another correspondent complained about the effect this might have on 'skimming'.

    The lesson here could be, make the important keywords fuzzy, and do the filler text in clear Arial or Helvetica. Could be an interesting next step in this research.

    Consider that 'Simples' campaign, or even 'Think Different' - both of which generated plenty of free PR as people discussed the grammar and/or spelling.

    Renowned hypnotherapist Milton Erickson used to use bad grammar or mispronounce specific words deliberately in order to get the listener's unconscious mind to activate and 'work harder'. This would make the hypnotic suggestions more memorable because the subject would make them more his own.

  36. John 62

    Arial vs Comic Sans

    Arial vs Comic Sans? talk about being between a rock and a hard place! to be fair, Arial is clear and legible, but at anything above 12pt it is pretty horrible (and even below 12pt on a Mac where fonts are rendered properly). There are a lot of gothic fonts that are worse than Arial, but Arial's ubiquity makes its crimes all the worse. The r/R/G glyphs especially make me wince and the S isn't much better.

    Also "The teachers were not told the purpose of the test, and didn't even meet the researchers to ensure the trial was suitably blind"

    The phrasing makes me think the teachers couldn't be bothered to make the trial blind.

  37. JaitcH

    New life for worn out laser drums?

    Following this articles theory, am I to assume simply resetting my lasers "Change Drum" circuitry, I can carry on using my old drum whilst improving communications?

    What a boost for saving the garbage dumps!

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