Readability Vs. Legibility — Know the Difference

The distinction between readability and legibility is often confusing. These two concepts in typography are commonly mixed up due to their similar meanings. However, it’s important to understand what distinguishes readability from legibility.

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    This article will demystify these two concepts and the best way to decide the terminology for a particular task.

    Readability or Legibility: Which One to Focus On?

    “Readability” is more about a text’s meaning, and “legibility” is more about the letters on the page.

    The decision of whether to use legibility or readability in your writing depends on your audience. For example, a marketing blog is likely to emphasize readability. This is because the intent of the blog is for people to understand the meaning of the ideas being shared.

    However, a website arguing against a political candidate is usually more concerned with legibility. It would use it as an advantage to have a good representation of the rhetorical points in their text.

    A person reading a book on a brown and beige textile
    Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

    What Distinguishes Readability From Legibility?

    Readability and legibility are the two terms in typography that explains the components of writing. Both terms relate to the ease and clarity of texts, but they are two separate concepts. Designers should be familiar with these terms because they are part of the language used to discuss typefaces, typesetting, and design.

    What Is Readability?

    Readability relates to the intended meaning of the text. It relates to how challenging it is to understand the meaning that a paragraph or article is trying to express.

    Grammar, word choice, and appropriateness are all factors that affect how readable writing is. Readability also refers to the typesetting or arrangement of the font. Complicated sentence structures and complex terminologies can reduce the readability of a document.

    Some of the common factors that affect the readability of a text:

    Type size: It is often referred to as “point size.” The larger the type size is, the easier it is to read. Smaller type sizes can be challenging to read, especially for small children and seniors. Therefore, you should choose the text size considering your target audience.

    Type case: Though the type style may be the same, the difference in the text type case can make a document hard to read. Stick to upper- and lowercase letters when readability is your priority because these help people recognize characters.

    Line spacing: Spacing is an important factor that helps readers understand text faster. Readability is negatively impacted by tight line spacing. So, ensure to space the text properly, so the character will read appropriately on a line.

    What Is Legibility?

    Legibility is the visual aesthetics and clarity of any piece of writing. It determines the simplicity or difficulty of reading a text. In other words, legibility pertains to how letters and words look, how the typeface is designed, and how the glyphs are shaped.

    The letters of a legible text should be distinct and simple to read. The size of the text, the fonts employed, and the distance between letters and texts are the main elements of legibility. Also, the spacing between paragraphs contributes to better legibility.

    Some of the common factors that affect the legibility of a text:

    X-height: This is typically the height of the lowercase x for a typeface. It refers to the distance between the baseline and the mean line of lowercase letters. Small fonts with a tall x-height have better legibility.

    Character width: As the term suggests, this is the width of the letters. Letters with an average overall width are easier to read than characters with narrow width. Extensive and very compact designs both make it harder to read smaller texts.

    Weight: This is the thickness of the typeface. If legibility is your goal, avoid using excessively light or extremely heavy weights. They are not easy on the eyes and are harder to read.

    Conclusion

    In general, readability is how easily and quickly someone can consume or understand the content. An individual’s readability level can be measured utilizing various factors. Legibility is simply the ability to decipher a piece of text meant to be read. This article is a quick guide to give you an idea of what distinguishes readability from legibility.

    Readability Vs. Legibility — Know the Difference

    Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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