Beauty of c&lc

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?

3 thoughts on “Beauty of c&lc

  1. This is fascinating, Raleigh! I never thought about it (and I’m not sure i even realized that teleprompters use all caps) but it makes total sense. We are taught in education classes about the importance of word shape in reading fluency in children – that even beginning readers start recognizing oft-used words not letter-by-letter, but by the familiar shape. So why have the powerful TV producers who make these decisions not consulted kindergarten teachers? And the serif thing – when my kids were taught to print in “reception class” and year 1 in England they were taught letter shapes with serifs, so that when they went to “joined up” writing, as they call cursive, it was as simple as just being taught not to pick up your pen* between letters. It made so much sense – I wondered why that never caught on here! (And now I understand they don’t bother teaching cursive at all because no one writes any more. But that’s another topic for another day!)

    [*When I say “pen” I mean cartridge ink pen. In England, a ballpoint pen is a biro, and a biro is not considered a pen! And at least back then biros were not allowed in school when developing handwriting skills. It was a steep learning curve for this American mother….]

    On Fri, Jul 30, 2021 at 11:38 AM Raleigh’s musings wrote:

    > raleighmann posted: ” 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 TelePr” >

    Like

  2. Amen! The same readability ignorance besets many PowerPoint slides and other presentations of text. How can text creators be taught these fine points of typography and reading? Why don’t they know?

    Like

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