The June 2004 issue of Usability News has an article called “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts”.
The research is summarized as:
“In this study, reading performance with four white space layouts was compared. Margins surrounding the text and leading (space between lines) were manipulated to generate the four white space conditions. Results show that the use of margins affected both reading speed and comprehension in that participants read the Margin text slower, but comprehended more than the No Margin text. Participants were also generally more satisfied with the text with margins. Leading was not shown to impact reading performance but did influence overall user preference.”
I’ve looked at this a few times now and have to say I don’t get it. The sample images used in the testing seem to change the font size as well as the margin and leading. The images are the same width and each line has the same number of letters on it, but two of the images have almost no margin. Seems to me that this means the font has to be larger.
If this is the case, then the results don’t seem conclusive. In fact, in the report the researchers state:
“The second preferred combination was the No Margin, Optimal Leading condition. Interestingly, those that chose this condition as the best layout said that they liked the spacing between the lines and indicated the font looked larger and was easier to read. So, while leading did not affect reading performance, it did appear to influence user preference.”
Somehow the researchers manage to say “they liked the one that they thought had the bigger fonts, so the leading must have an impact on preference.”
I think the research makes could equally be read to say:
“The second preferred combination was the Larger Fonts, Optimal Leading condition. Interestingly, those that chose this condition as the best layout said that they liked the spacing between the lines and indicated the margins looked smaller and was easier to read.”
And therefore the whole exercise seems too ambiguous to draw a best practice from. And I was really hoping to add that one to the archive.