Wide vs. Narrow Paragraphs: An Eye Tracking Analysis

Conference paper
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 3585)


How wide should paragraphs be formatted for optimal reader retention and ease of reading? While everyone is familiar with the narrow, multi-column formatting in newspapers and magazines, research on the issue is not consistent. Early work using printed media favored narrow formatting, while more recent work using computer monitors has favored wider formatting. In this paper, we approach this issue by using eye tracking analysis of users reading material on instructional web pages. In our experimental system, subjects read the material using an instrumented browser that records all HTML content and browser actions, and their eye gaze is recorded using a nonobtrusive, “remote” eye tracker. Comparing the wide and narrow formatting conditions, our analysis shows that for narrow formatting, subjects (a) read slightly faster, (b) have fewer regressions, (c) retain more information in a post-test of the material, but (d) tend to abandon the ends of longer paragraphs.


Line Length Text Line Reading Speed Perceptual Span Reading Analysis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. 1.
    Bernard, M., Fernandez, M., Hull, S.: The Effects of Line Length on Children and Adults’ Online Reading Performance. Usability News 4(2) (2002)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bouma, H.: Visual Reading Processes and the Quality of Text Displays. In: Grandjean, E., Vigliani, E. (eds.) Ergonomic Aspects of Visual Display Terminals, pp. 101–114 (1980)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Duchnicky, R.L., Kolers, P.A.: Readability of Text Scrolled on Visual Display Terminals as a Function of Window Size. Human Factors 25(6), 683–692 (1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Dyson, M.C., Kipping, G.J.: The Effects of Line Length and Method of Movement on Patterns of Reading from Screen. Visible Language 32(2), 150–181 (1998)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    McMullin, J., Varnhagen, C., Heng, P., Apedoe, X.: Effects of Surrounding Information and Line Length on Text Comprehension from the Web. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 28(1) (2002)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Tinker, M.A., Patterson, D.G.: Studies of Typographical Factors Influencing Speed of Reading: Length of Line. Journal of Applied Psychology 13(3), 205–219 (1929)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Rayner, K., Pollatsek, A.: The Psychology of Reading. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale (1989)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Tinker, M.: Legibility of Print. Iowa State University Press, Ames (1963)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Paterson, D., Tinker, M.: Influence of Line Width on Eye Movements. Journal of Experimental Psychology 27, 572–577 (1940)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Beymer, D., Russell, D.: A System for Capturing and Analyzing Web Reading Behavior Using Eye Gaze. In: CHI 2005 Extended Abstracts, pp. 1913–1916. ACM Press, New York (2005)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Tobii 1750 Eye-Tracker, Tobii Technology (April 2005),
  12. 12.
    Li, S.F., Spiteri, M.S., Bates, J., Hopper, A.: Capturing and Indexing Computer-based Activities with Virtual Network Computing. In: ACM Symposium on Applied Computing, pp. 601–603 (2000)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Salvucci, D.D., Goldberg, J.H.: Identifying Fixations and Saccades in Eye-Tracking Protocols. In: Proc. of the Symposium on Eye Tracking Research & Applications, ETRA (2000)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Dyson, M., Haselgrove, M.: The Influence of Reading Speed and Line Length on the Effectiveness of Reading from Screen. Int. J. Human-Computer Studies 54, 585–612 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© IFIP International Federation for Information Processing 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IBM Almaden Research CenterSan JoseUSA
  2. 2.IBM On Demand LearningUSA

Personalised recommendations