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Text Design Summary

Susan Connell
Fall 2003


Hartley, James. (1996). Text design - text layout: structure and access. Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. (chap. 27.2). Retrieved September 17, 2003, from https://www.aect.org/Intranet/Publications/edtech/27/index.html

While this article is intended to address paper-based documents such as textbooks and instruction manuals, many of its findings apply to text content presented in other media as well. The article offers both an overview of research on the topic and specific examples from the author's research in some areas. The section summarized here discusses structure and access for text-based documents. The author points out that elements in the structure of a document serve as devices to improve a reader's access to the content. These devices include: titles, summaries, outlines, headings, boxes, questions and sequencing.

For example, succinct titles may aid a reader's recall, while summaries assist in organizing the reading. Outlines serve similar functions in more detail. The author's research showed that headings significantly aided search and recall, but that the type and positioning of the headings did not affect recall. Text set in boxes can be used as a device to draw special attention to some aspect of a subject or set apart adjunct material. Apparently use of boxes is not without controversy and Hartley points out that some [seemingly anal] critics find boxed text a distraction. When discussing sequencing, Hartley contends that readers find it easier to follow instructional text that describes events in the order that they occur and that they prefer to see lists or numbered sequences spaced on separate bulleted or numbered lines rather than run on in continuous prose.

Much of what the article says is common sense, but sometimes when we get involved with the more spectacular aspects of multimedia, common sense can be the first victim. It would have been nice if the author had addressed how these principles might be applied beyond the printed page.


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© 2003, Susan Connell, Educational Technology Student at San Diego State University