Reading Law Online

Reading online is not a perfect experience. Many folks won’t tackle long documents at all and print whatever needs to be read. Whether or not new paper-like paper-thin monitors will change text readability in the future, there are a few things we can do now to improve online readability of text — and one new technique that may or may not prove useful.

Old hat first:

  • Increase the type size to suit your vision (all modern browsers let you do this easily).

    Take a look at this page if you’re uncertain how to make a font larger, either on the fly or as a matter of default.

  • Make sure that your line lengths are short enough: the eye loses its way when it has to plough a long furrow.

    Many people keep their browsers and word processors expanded to fill the screen — and as monitors get larger this can result in text being spread out over significant acreage. If the author of the web page doesn’t constrain the text to manageable proportions for you (say, 10 or 12 words in width), make your browser window narrower until you get the proper column width in that way, assuming that the text will wrap freely, as it should.Lucky Mac users should take a look at Tofu, a marvelous little application that grabs any text and formats it for reading in pages of manageable columns. You might even get a bookmarklet that can live in your personal bookmarks bar and snap the browser into text reading width with one click.

  • Scroll well. Don’t just whack away at the little arrow and the bottom of the scroll bar. That will advance things only one line at a time and ruin a perfectly good index finger.

    Consider instead tapping the space bar when you’re in a browser to advance a screenful at one go — and using shift-spacebar to go back one screenful at a time.

But then you knew all of this already, no? So what’s new hat in the readability game?

A company called Live Ink has developed a method they claim can help comprehension of texts, particularly online. The notion, crudely put, is that when text is rearranged into certain clumps, the eye can traverse it better and so reading comprehension is enhanced. There’s a brief “demo” video on the site. Much more interesting is the Live Ink reader that demonstrates how a passage of Moby Dick would be reformulated using their system (pictured here).


I’m so used to ingesting regular pages or columns of text that I don’t think I could adapt to this sort of “broken field” reading. But I do notice that the groupings wind up making text resemble legislation, with its indentations and clumpings, also done in aid of comprehension (although, odd to say, I’ve never wondered about the rationale behind our legislative formatting).

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