Text Format Impacts Reading Comprehension
Personalizing text formats can improve reading outcomes for school-aged children. Reading comprehension, the ability to successfully extract information from text, is
a critical skill, yet many students struggle to learn to read across many countries. In the United States, only 35% of 4th graders and 34% of 8th graders read at or above a grade-proficient level. Reading comprehension is vital, complex, and difficult for many students. It is therefore important to gain a fundamental understanding of the factors that influence how well individual students can comprehend the material they read.
Cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Shannon Sheppard, from Chapman University led the interdisciplinary team tasked to study changes in reading comprehension as a result of changes in text format. The study aimed to investigate the effect of character width and inter-letter spacing on reading speed and comprehension in school-aged children. Ninety-four children (kindergarten–8th grade) were enrolled. Researchers compared reading speed and comprehension changes using six subtly different font variations. Students participated in a word-level semantic decision task (Experiment 1) and a passage-level comprehension task (Experiment 2).
Results demonstrate that subtle typographic changes to font format (changes to letter spacing and/or letter width) can significantly impact reading speed and comprehension. At the group level, inter-letter spacing is particularly important to consider for both reading speed and comprehension. Additionally, personalizing font variation for the individual student significantly improves comprehension at the word level. Exploratory analyses also indicate that this may be true at the passage level. Younger readers and children who struggled with the reading task especially benefited from font variation personalization at the word and passage levels.
“It is likely that making font recommendations based on group-level findings will disadvantage many readers.
Sheppard, et al.
Educational technology, publishing, and assessment tool companies should consider developing font personalization features, which are currently unavailable for many educational tools, to improve reading outcomes in children.
Important for Readability Work
This work demonstrated that reading speed and comprehension are both impacted by small changes to character width and inter-letter spacing. The changes to font format produced different results for individuals. No single best format was found across the population of readers assessed, indicating that personalization is required to create the best reading performance for an individual.
Today, information publishers make decisions on how the material will be formatted typographically for the reading audience. This research demonstrates that these typographical representation decisions can impact readers positively or negatively, creating access or barriers to both reading speed and comprehension. Moving from the “one-format-fits-all” model of information publishing to one of reading format personalization has the potential to impact learning and student engagement significantly.
Additional research is required to fully understand the implications of font personalization in young readers. Additional typographic features, including font size, stroke weight, and serifs, should also be investigated. Future research directions should also include developing rapid assessments to identify personal best fonts and determining the stability of a personal best font as children grow and develop more advanced reading skills. Supporting students with personalized font recommendations has the potential to improve reading outcomes across all students, including those who are just learning to read.
The paper is available from the Journal of Education Sciences, Special Issue “Digital Innovation in Education.” This special issue belongs to the section “Technology Enhanced Education.”
One Font Doesn’t Fit All: The Influence of Digital Text Personalization
on Comprehension in Child and Adolescent Readers
Shannon Sheppard, Susanne Nobles, Anton Palma, Sophie Kajfez,
Marjorie Jordan, Kathy Crowley, Sofie Beier
Reading comprehension is an essential skill. It is unclear whether and to what degree typography and font personalization may impact reading comprehension in younger readers. With advancements in technology, it is now feasible to personalize digital reading formats in general technology tools, but this feature is not yet available for many educational tools. The current study aimed to investigate the effect of character width and inter-letter spacing on reading speed and comprehension. We enrolled 94 children (kindergarten–8th grade) and compared performance with six font variations on a word-level semantic decision task (Experiment 1) and a passage-level comprehension task (Experiment 2). Reading speed and comprehension were analyzed using generalized linear mixed-effects regression models. Independent samples t-tests compared speed and comprehension accuracy on personal best vs. worst font variation. A stability analysis was conducted to determine if participants had a stable personal best font variation within Experiment 1. The Experiment 1 stability analysis was statistically significant, and 58% of participants had a stable personal best font variation. Personal best font variations yielded significantly higher comprehension accuracy in both Experiments 1 and 2 and faster reading in Experiment 2. Using digital technology to personalize font may have important implications for school-aged readers.
Citation: Citation: Sheppard, S.M.; Nobles, S.L.; Palma, A.; Kajfez, S.; Jordan, M.; Crowley, K.; Beier, S. One Font Doesn’t Fit All: The Influence of Digital Text Personalization on Comprehension in Child and Adolescent Readers. Educ. Sci. 2023, 13, 864. https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci13090864
Read the paper here.
About Education Sciences: From its first issue in 2011, Education Sciences has grown as a scholarly international open-access journal. Its aim remains to publish extended full-length research papers that have the scope to substantively address current issues in education. As a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), their goal has been to disseminate high-quality research. Their publisher, MDPI, takes the responsibility to enforce a rigorous double-blind peer review together with strict ethical policies and standards to ensure to add high-quality scientific works to the field of scholarly publication.
Prof. Dr. James Albright, Editor-in-Chief
School of Education
Faculty of Arts and Education
The University of Newcastle
Special Issue: Digital Innovation in Education: The future of education requires a systematic analysis and reflection from the scientific community, especially in the current context marked by the global pandemic, which continues to affect society. Based on the contributions of the respective authors participating in this Special Issue, we aim to strengthen the knowledge for guiding the future of education in the 21st century. The aim is to delimit, through research and innovation, new educational scenarios in which the digital component is integrated in a significant way.
This Special Issue focuses on new proposals, methodologies, resources, research, innovations, reviews, etc., on education and digital technology. We welcome contributions from different disciplines (Arts and Humanities, Sciences, Health Sciences, Social and Legal Sciences, Engineering and Architecture), teaching modalities (face-to-face, remote and a mix of both) and educational levels (university and non-university).
Prof. Dr. Rosabel Roig-Vila
Prof. Dr. Miguel Angel Cazorla Quevedo
Prof. Dr. Víctor González-Calatayud