Adapting Hvistendahl's and Kahl's typographic legibility study to the World Wide Web

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Gosse, Ross R.
Popovich, Mark N.
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Thesis (M.A.)
Department of Journalism
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In 1975, J.K. Hvistendahl and Mary R. Kahl tested 200 individuals to determine if readers preferred serif type for the body text of stories in newspapers. Subjects read stories set in serif and sans serif type. They were timed and asked for their preference as to which typeface they felt was more legible. The researchers found that test subjects preferred serif type the body text in their newsprint. After comparing the time it took subjects to read stories, researchers found readers needed less time to read stories set in serif type than sans serif.Almost 25 years later, another generation of readers has emerged, and Web pages are commonplace among many newspapers today. Yet nothing has been done to determine if these same findings are true for the World Wide Web. This study set out to do just that.Two hundred subjects were recruited for this study, each one placed into one of four groups: male student, male non-student, female student, and female non-student. Each subject was asked to read two 325-word stories, each on its own World Wide Web page. One story was set in a serif typeface, the other set in a sans serif typeface. Subjects were unobrusively timed with a stopwatch as they read each story. After reading the two stories, they were asked which typeface they felt was more legible, serif or sans serif.Overall, readers showd no statistically significant preference for serif or sans serif type in body text on the World Wide Web. The data was tested with ANOVA while frequencies and were also gathered. Only one statistically significant interaction surfaced which found that male students, who preferred sans serif type, took a statistically significant longer time to read online stories set in serif type.