Archive for February 24, 2011

Pagination is better than scrolling for digital texts

This is an interesting argument that I hadn’t met previously: Pagination is better for long digital texts because it’s easier for sustained reading.  What are the implications for reading source code?  Is pagination (and perhaps formatting via something like Knuth’s WEB) better than a scroll bar?

Let’s put it under the umbrella term ‘scrollable’. Scrollable content works very well for two or three screenfuls of content, because it lets you adjust, pixel by pixel or line by line, to your changing context. You can say “I want this thing on the screen, and this nearby thing on the screen at the same time”, which is often useful — particularly if the content has varied elements like buttons and links and images as well as text. That is to say, scrollable content generally works very well for web pages.

But for anything of real length, it is seriously hard work. It’s important to realise what you’re doing when you’re scrolling. You’re gazing at the line you were reading as you draw it up the screen, to near the top. When it gets to the top, you can continue reading. You do this very quickly, so it doesn’t really register as hard work. Except that it changes your behaviour — because a misfire sucks. A misfire occurs when you scroll too far too rapidly, and the line you were reading disappears off the top of the screen. In this case, you have to scroll in the other direction and try to recognise your line — but how well do you remember it? Not necessarily by sight, so immediately you have to start reading again, just to find where you were.

Beyond this, even if you have startling accuracy, still you are doing a lot of work, because your eyes must track your current line as it animates across the screen. For sustained reading, this quickly gets physically tiring.

Pagination works for long text, not because it has a real-world analogy to printed books or whatever, but because it maximises your interface: you read the entire screenful of text, then with a single command, you request an entirely new screenful of text. There’s very little wastage of attention or effort. You can safely blink as you turn.

via if:book: a defense of pagination.

February 24, 2011 at 8:06 am 4 comments


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