Saturday, November 14, 2009

Large print, hard read

The other day I went to the library to pick up some books I had put on hold for myself. One of them turned out to be the large print version of the book, I guess I had not read the full description of the book in the online library catalog and had ordered up the large print version instead of the regular version.

Ah well, no worries, I am getting to the age when large print is probably a bonus anyway. So I started thumbing through the book as I usually do when I get a book from the library, to get the gist of the book. I order so many books 'on spec' that it often turns out that the gist of the book is not really something I want to spend any more time on, so that quick summary reading is quite often the only reading I do of many of the books I order.

Well here's the thing I noticed. Large print turns out to be not so easy to read after all. I think this is a book I am actually going to want to read in more detail, but I think it's going to be a tough slog with the large print version.

When I was a technical writer we used to pay a lot of attention to making text readable, whether by using simple direct language, formatting content in small chunks, using easy-to-read typefaces and font sizes, or by laying the text out in a pleasing manner on the page. There are a number of things you can do, and it does make a difference. With technical material you want to make your text as easy to read as possible because often the content is not so easy but is important to understand.

The problem with the large print I quickly found was that in order to keep the size of the book down even though the print was larger than usual, they have crowded every page as full as they can. There is hardly any margin space and no space between paragraphs. The text looks really dense. And as your eyes follow each line, it is really easy to lose track of which line you are reading because they all look the same, there is no white space anywhere to give you a sense of where you are on the page.

I realize that they make large print books for people who are visually impaired and for older people who are often visually challenged. Some folks have serious impairments that make them legally blind, and I can understand that white space is probably irrelevant to them. But for the rest of us who just have trouble with small print, they have sacrificed other readability factors such as white space, and I find that counterproductive.

I will manage to read this book anyway, but it will be a tough slog. Note to self: avoid large print books!


Wisewebwoman said...

Yes I tried to read one a few years back and found it hurt both my brain and my eyes.
I am grateful I don't need large print (yet) but feel sorry for people with no choice faced with blaring pages.

Alan G said...

I am not a prolific book reader but when there is something I want to read I look for it on the Internet to see if it has been digitized. Then I can make the text whatever size I like.

I have a lot of user manuals for this and that and I always go on-line and download a 'pdf' copy if I can find one and you usually can. The printing in some of those manuals is so small I don't think people with 20/20 vision could read them.

That is also why I take my local newspaper on-line because when you read it on-line you can make the text bigger.

Barbara Anne said...

How interesting it is that you've noted this problem and are aware of how the text could have been better organized to be easier to read. I got a large-print book from the library for MIL to read and she didn't mention any annoyances. Wonder if that book happened to be better done?


Annie said...

Me too WWW!

Alan, a lot of the writers of those manuals are sweet young things who have no idea of the changes in vision in store for them, and they are trying to cram as much info on the page as they possibly can. For manuals your solution is very workable, for "pleasure reading" maybe getting a Kindle is the answer, I don't know.

Hope you're right Barbara Anne, I hope there are large print books out there that are better done. Unfortunately it is probably expensive to do it better---bigger pages and more of them---and the book would end up being rather heavy too.

Ah, the trials of aging! But nothing a good rant can't take care, yet. ;-)