Politicians use them. So do television news anchors. Electronic prompting devices have been helping such folks speak written lines without appearing to be reading them. History credits Hubert Schlafly and Irving Berlin Kahn with creating the first TelePrompTer in 1950. In its original form, the device used a long paper scroll, operated by a worker standing near the television camera.
This helpful device has seen a lot of improvements since those days. They’re much slicker and easier to use now. But with all of their electronic gains, people who use them remain stubbornly stuck in the past when it comes to readable type.
Public speakers and television reporters are confronted with scripts printed in all capital letters, the hardest type to read. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been.
Capitalized words are harder to read for many reasons. We’re accustomed to reading words in lowercase letters. Our brains find lowercase words easier to scan and absorb. Scientists who study cognition and typographers agree that lower-case text is more legible than upper-case. Use of all caps reduces the readability of text because the height of every letter is identical, which makes every word a similar rectangular shape. This forces the reader to read letter-by-letter, which reduces one’s reading speed.
Then there are serifs, not to be confused with seraphs, angelic creatures associated with light and purity. Serifs are those little extensions of letters that lead the eye from one letter to the next.
Experts who study these things point out that type fonts with serifs are particularly helpful when reading large blocks of text. The serifs make it easy for the eye to travel over the text. Most books, newspapers, and magazines use serif fonts for good reason — they are easier to read. Without the serif, the brain must work harder to identify the letter because the shape is less distinctive.
Those who prepare teleprompter text for television readers and public speakers, however, steadfastly continue to use the type fonts that are the hardest to read. Why?
I can’t explain this stubbornness, but daily I witness the negative effects of television reporters and anchors trying to deal with hard-to-read type. One local news anchor, though experienced at his job, continues to struggle to read from the teleprompter. I know that he could read his lines more easily if they were printed in caps and lower case with serifs.
So could everyone. Why don’t we change?