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Location: Bellevue, Washington, United States

Nathan is both a writer and designer of books and eBooks and is part-owner of boutique publisher Long Tale Press, LLC. He is available to help make your eBook or Book publishing project come alive with great book design.

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Why is it that people find pages easier to read than scrolls?

Well, if we were dealing exclusively with physical pages and scrolls, the answer would be fairly obvious. Shear logistics in finding a place in a scroll as opposed to flipping through a few pages would make preference to pages obvious. But in the electronic world is there any benefit to having pages instead of scrolling screens of content?

The answer to this is still both yes and no. If we compare paginated content in the form of fixed pages that relate to something other than the size of the screen or its viewing area to a bottomless scrolling page, we have to say that there is not a lot of benefit to pagination. The page is seldom the right size for the viewing environment and often requires oddball scrolling before pages even come into play.

However, if we compare the bottomless scrolling content to a page that is properly formatted and laid out for the viewing area on-screen, some advantages can be seen. First and formost is the problem of the reading line-length of the content. Many scrolling pages have content that is so wide that it is difficult to track from the end one line to the beginning of the next. Secondly, as you scroll, the eye fights to maintain its place in the content. If you use single line scrolling, you are constantly tapping the down arrow, trying to stay in a rhythm with your reading speed. If you use page-at-a-time scrolling, the eye often loses its place at the top or bottom of the screen before settling on a start point for the new reading experience. Both of these problems disappear with paginated content. If it is properly formatted for the screen size, then the line-lengths would be correct, showing multiple columns or appropriate margins to surround the type. The eye automatically snaps to the top left corner of the page (in western culture) an begins reading with the first character every time, reducing the amount of time spent looking for the right place to continue reading.

This does not necessarily improve the locating of content. In fact, in some instances it may be harder to find specific location in paginated content than in scrolling content. Most paginated reading experiences, for example, make it difficult to tell how far into the content you have progressed compared to the elevator box on a scrollbar. Even if you have page numbers, are you on page 100 of 500 or page 100 of 101?

Many people have also suggested that pagination that differs from viewing surface to viewing surface (including the printed book) is highly confusing and makes it difficult to find a particular location if previously viewed in a different layout, or to match locations in a class where there are multiple layouts. I want to suggest that this problem is not better in a scrolling environment and that in either case we need better visual cues and navigation systems in order to make on-screen reading a palatable experience.

Does paginated content offer a better reading experience than bottomless scrolling content? I would have to say that in most of the current manifestations it is a toss-up. But the potential exists to make a phenomenal reading experience from paginated content that is combined with a great user interface and navigation system.


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