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In this section, there is a description of key terms that are used throughout the entire research paper. In addition, some theoretical concepts that are crucial for the question and results are presented. Lastly, connections to the Curriculum for the compulsory school, preschool class and the leisure time centre 2011 (Skolverket, 2011) are made.
Text design is how the material is presented, and how the reader comprehends the material. This text investigates if there is a preferred way to design the material so that it aids reading comprehension. When researching text design of learning material, information and studies about typeface and text spacing was found. Though typefaces and text spacing are not the only aspects, these were the ones that we chose to focus on.
Typeface is the term for the formatting of a text, including font, font size, weight (bold), italics, etc. Font type is the style of the letters written. Two font types that often are used is Times New Roman, which is used in this text, and Arial. There are two general groups of fonts, serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have small finishing strokes at the end of the stem of a letter, for example, Times New Roman is a serif typeface, and Arial is sans serif, without serifs (see table 1).
Slattery & Rayner (2013) describes the different terms intraword spacing and interword spacing. Intraword spacing is the space between the letters within a word and interword spacing, more commonly known as spacing, is the spacing between the words in sentences and texts (p. 1275). There is also interline spacing which Zorzi, Barbiero, Facoetti, Lonciari, Carrozzi, Montico, Bravar, George, Pech-Georgel & Ziegler (2012) describes as the spacing between the lines in a text (p. 11456). For clarification of different text spacings, see table 2.
In this research paper the focus is on three different aspects of reading ability. The three reading abilities are reading accuracy, reading rate and reading comprehension. When describing these aspects, the word you is used as an example target for understanding. Reading accuracy is how many mistakes occur when reading (Hakvoort, Van de Boer, Leenaars, Bos & Tijms, 2017, p. 106). For example, when you read a sentence, which is adapted to your reading level, the reading accuracy is higher. Correspondingly, when you read sentences that are more advanced in level than yours, more mistakes are made resulting in a lower reading accuracy. Reading rate, also called reading speed, is in which rate you read a sentence or a text (Hakvoort et al., 2017, p. 107). For example, if you have read a text 5 times, you will probably read the text faster the 6th time. But if you have not read the text before, you might get hung up on certain words or chunks which will slow down your reading rate. Reading comprehension is used when explaining how much you understood after reading a text (Hakvoort et al., 2017, p. 110). Testing comprehension could be done, for example, by asking different questions about the content.
Prior research on text-design summarize that the road to reading comprehension always starts with taking in the text design and its information. By improving a text’s legibility, it can aid reading comprehension. In Text Legibility and the Letter Superiority Effect (Sheedy, Subbaram, Zimmerman & Hayes, 2005) the influence different typefaces have on the legibility of a text is explored. As stated by Sheedy et al. (2005) the intention of font design is to improve text legibility and by looking closer at text parameters such as font size, font type, and font formatting; e.g. italics and bold; the text legibility was evaluated (p. 812).
By assessing reading rate or reading comprehension as a measure of text quality, Sheedy et al. (2005) came to certain conclusions. Firstly, a font size larger than Verdana 10pt (x-height 9 pixels) does not improve legibility of words nor letters. Secondly, despite earlier theories that serif fonts are designed to define and discriminate individual letters from one another to support young readers in the process of letter and word legibility, Sheedy et al. (2005) found that the most legible texts were written in sans serif fonts. Though this finding does not give us a conclusive indication that sans serif is preferable since the two least legible fonts was one serif (Times New Roman) as well as one sans serif (Franklin). Sheedy et al. (2005), therefore reports that the legibility of a font should be determined separately. Thirdly, the research shows that a font enhanced with bold is more legible than a default text. It also finds that font enhanced with italics makes the text less legible.
Slattery and Rayner (2013) also investigates reading rate and reading comprehension, but instead of different fonts, they analyze different types of text spacing. The result in their first experiment, was that the sentences written in the font Cambria was read faster than the sentences written in Times New Roman, whereas the significant finding was that the font type did not matter as long as the standard spacing was used. In their second experiment they instead used the fonts Consolas and Georgia. The results were that it took a small amount of time longer to read the sentences written in Consolas. Therefore, Slattery and Rayner (2013) reports that increasing or decreasing intraword spacing and interword spacing is not beneficial in comparison to using the different fonts with their preprogrammed default spacing. Both Slattery and Rayner (2013) and Sheedy et al. (2005) performed their research on English speaking learners in American universities. Despite this, we hypothesize that the theories of typeface and text design reached here should be applicable on all texts, including learning material for learners in the ages 6-15.
Some of the studies examined in this research paper perform their studies on children with dyslexia. Zorzi et al. (2012) describes developmental dyslexia, often mentioned as dyslexia: “Developmental dyslexia is a severely invalidating learning disability that affects literacy acquisition in about 5% of the school population despite normal intelligence and adequate instruction.” (p. 11455). Even though dyslexia are not the focus of the questions the results might benefit its cause. Just as teachers use a daily schedule with picture support for our special needs learner’s sake, it is also known that the method benefits all learners. Therefore, the positive and negative research results should be applicable to other students as well, not just learners with dyslexia.
The Curriculum in Swedish Schools
The curriculum and especially the syllabus in English do not state that teachers should consider what typefaces and text spacing to use when creating learning material. Then again, learning should be accessible for all students, this including learning materials. The syllabus in English, core content for grades 1-3, Skolverket (2011) states that they should learn how to listen and read « simple instructions and descriptions » (p.33). Which means that the instructions and descriptions needs to be comprehensible, but it does not clarify how teachers are supposed to choose and create learning material. There are no guidelines for teachers to use; therefore, it is up to each individual teacher to choose and/or create material as comprehensible as possible.
This section gives a detailed description of how the information needed for this research paper was found. The different databases and the search terms used are all listed below, and in addition to that, the inclusion criteria and exclusion criteria are presented. At last, each study chosen to help the analysis is presented.
The primary search method has been electronic, using databases such as Libsearch (Malmö University’s Library Database) ERIC (Education Resources Information Center) and SwePub (National Library of Sweden) to find research papers and books.
Firstly, we used Libsearch to gain an overview of the research that could be found within this area. The search focus is on the design and formatting of learning material, not the content. It was shown that this area has taken little ground in the educational research. It was also hard to find a common denominator and therefore reliable information.
Secondly, we searched for information on the more restricted databases ERIC and SwePub. This gave us limited number of results even when using different search terms. Because of the limited results in ERIC and SwePub we then returned the focus back to Libsearch. Which was the database for finding most information needed to answer the questions. In addition to the electronic search, the reference lists of the articles already found, were used to gather more literature to expand our material base.
Below, the different words/terms that were used when searching for articles are presented. The words/terms were used both separately and in different combinations. The words are chosen wisely in the sense of what the paper is about. Also, some words originate in articles already found and then used to get further relevant results.
Table of contents :
Equal contribution to the paper
The Curriculum in Swedish Schools
Result and Discussion