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Old 10-31-2005, 04:08 PM   #1
Colin Dunstan
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On ideal paragraph and sentence lengths for e-books

Teleread's Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti continues to amaze us with her ability to accurately describe how reading e-books differs from reading paper books. In her latest editorial she stresses the importance of keeping sentences and paragraphs short in order for e-books to be easier on the eye and easier to read. An audio podcast is also available.

This is, ideally, what we want when writing for the Internet, an easy sort of read so that our eyes don't cross as we try to get into a book. After all, what use is the Internet or an e-book if you have to print it out to read it? In the final account we come full circle, converting our e-books finally into p-books, the very thing we had said we were trying to get away from in the first place.
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Old 10-31-2005, 05:37 PM   #2
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I really, really couldn't agree less.

Sentence and paragraph length are style issues, and should be determined more by the content rather than by the medium.

Surely, items specifically for on-line consumption such as news and op-ed pieces can be written to accomodate the medium. Something like fiction or technical non-fiction should not be mangled solely to fit into an electronic format.

This attitude can be taken to a ridiculous extreme. Should we start writing all our prose in leet? txt in abrvs & not use cap or punc? Do we really want to start reading books that look like SMS text messages?
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Old 10-31-2005, 05:45 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Do we really want to start reading books that look like SMS text messages?
*grin*... I think Mrs Ranson-Polizzotti was referring to authors who are specifically targeting e-book content. Sure it wouldn't make sense to rewrite a popular paperbook novel. But for instance if you work on an online textbook only, it would probably make sense to follow some of her guidelines.
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Old 10-31-2005, 06:26 PM   #4
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I have to agree to disagree with Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti. The only time the short sentence/paragraph argument holds any water is when you are writing non-literature and specifically targeting a sub-set of the ebook readers, those using severly limited screens like cell phones.

I've never felt the reading ebooks on a device that can display text with a proper line length is at all difficult and I've read 100's of books of literature by classic authors. By "proper line length" I'm refering to the long held print media standard of approximately 40 characters (~35-45 when proportionally spaced) per line. This length has been proven to yield the maximum readability. My current device, a Sony UX-50, yields 35-40 characters/line using MobiPocket and my favorite text size. BTW, this is why the "fine print" on contracts is so hard to read. Its not the small size but the fact that the lines are massively long in terms of character count.
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Old 11-01-2005, 10:33 AM   #5
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Quote:
Its not the small size but the fact that the lines are massively long in terms of character count.
Compounded with extremely tight line spacing ("leading") that makes it difficult for the eye to scan the line without slipping up or down a line.
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Old 11-01-2005, 05:37 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Compounded with extremely tight line spacing ("leading") that makes it difficult for the eye to scan the line without slipping up or down a line.

I think you may have hit the nail on the head. As a writer, I bristle at the suggestion that I alter my writing style to accomodate a medium. People who can read and comprehend don't want a bunch of bite-sized sentences.

I think that eBook reading software should help us and make it easier to read these eBooks. I'd like to see a piece of software with a "roaming highlight" line that guides our eyes. The speed can be set to taste. Or, how about the autoscroll where the line we're reading magnifies as it passes our highlight line? Or, how about when we page-down there is a line that briefly indicates where we left off instead of making us scan the page for our last spot?

Writing in a new style to accomodate a new medium is unfathomable. What if they make books we can read underwater (for whatever reason, Global Warming or something), should writers add more watery prose to their books to facilitate better comprehension? Should writers write in that wavy font to accomodate the wavy water? If we start reading books in outer space, should writers talk more about stars? It's silly to blame the inadequacies of the reader or software on the writer.
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Old 01-13-2006, 07:17 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rmeister0
Sentence and paragraph length are style issues, and should be determined more by the content rather than by the medium.
There are many people on this planet who seem to agree with you and who seem to feel that furthermore other such recent inventions as punctuation, capitalization and spelling are nothing more than a fad, part of a large-scale dictatorial repression by the dumb masses of the true artistic expression.

I won't read what these artistes write.

And then there are authors who actually try and reach an audience, rather than create one. These authors will study the bounds of the medium, get to know them, use them extensively in order to be an effective writer, play with them and ultimately cross them in order to find out their true nature.

Quote:
Sure it wouldn't make sense to rewrite a popular paperbook novel.
Why not? Have popular paperbook novels somehow managed to elude the limitations of the ebook format?

I believe by the way that Sadi's point is only valid for web pages and for documents that are displayed on desktop monitors, where reading behaviour is perhaps not well-understood, but at least well-studied. Without knowing more about the medium she is talking about, it is hard to agree or disagree. But I do think it is fair to state that the medium dictates the style.
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