eBook: Font Size & Line Spacing

by 23 comments
I'm currently in the process of writing my first ebook - no great chore as I am accustomed to writing technical manuals & user guides anyway - but I have a question.

When I write a report / technical manual / user guide for a consultancy client I will generally use 10 point Arial font, single line spacing, 'normal' length paragraphs, and 2-2.5cm margins (depending upon intended binding). This ensures that I get as much information as possible onto a page, and doesn't end up putting people off "because at 100 pages it's too long to read".

In complete contrast, the vast majority of ebooks that I have read seem to use 12pt or 14pt font, either 1.5 or even double line spacing, frequent paragraph breaks to create very (even unnaturally?) short paragraphs (as in a webpage sales letter), and wider margins. The effect of course is that when printed out, the same number of words cover around 3 times as many sheets of paper.

My question therefore is why this is done?

Is it because the author considers it easier for the reader, assuming that they perhaps lack the reading skills/ability/concentration to read something that is more normally formatted? Or is it because it gives the perception that the ebook is about 3 times the size (and subconsciously therefore has 3 times the content/value, if number of pages is mentoned in the marketing) than is really the case?

In my own case, my ebook is likely to be around 45 pages of close-packed quality content (well, I would say that!!!) in my normal style when finished, but by reformatting to what appears to be the de-facto IM ebook delivery standard I can probably make it appear like 120-150 pages! It won't have any more content though!!!

Are there any experienced ebook authors here who have actually tested publishing in the different formats/structures, and can explain the differences between, and results of, that testing to me (in terms of customer feedback / satisfaction / refunds / future purchases etc.), please.

Andrew
#internet marketing #ebook #ebook format #ebook structure #font #font size #line #line spacing #size #spacing
  • Profile picture of the author Vince Runza Online
    I can tell you that the tightly-packed content route is NOT what you want to do if your ebook is intended for customers. That's because they skim the work and get impatient if there is just columns of text to read.

    All the screenshots, bullet points, frequent headings and the like serve a purpose: spoon feeding content to an intended reader who fits the profile of an intelligent, motivated 8 year old. Small, bite-sized chunks of info work better.

    Obviously, this is not the same as a tech manual or user guide. However, I wonder if that kind of info might not benefit from some of the same tactics?
    • Profile picture of the author Kyle Tully
      There's two sides to the coin. Readability and bulking up the content.

      I'd say 90% of people are using all those "tricks" you mentioned to bulk up their products. I've even read this as a "tip" in at least 2 "how to create your own ebook" type products.

      Check out Jimmy D Brown's ebooks for an example of great readability without all the gimmicks to bulk up the content. He uses different fonts, indenting, bolding and italics and his products are a breeze to get through.
    • Profile picture of the author Webthings
      Vince,

      Thanks for your advice. The only thing I would pick up on is...

      Originally Posted by Vince Runza Online View Post

      spoon feeding content to an intended reader who fits the profile of an intelligent, motivated 8 year old.
      ...because this particular ebook (which, in reality, I am structuring more as a multi-part course) will train people in a particular niche investment strategy. I am therefore necessarily assuming that the reader will be blessed with more intelligence than the average 8 year old.

      With tech manuals and/or user guides there is a clear distinction between those that are intended to train (comprehensive, with a lot of screenshots) and those that are intended to support and reinforce a training course (more detailed procedure, less explanation/pictures). I have generally found that the clients (management in particular) prefer less pages for their money rather than more, because in the business-world it reduces review time/cost if there is less content, and is perceived as less intimidating to readers if there is a lower page count (regardless of information packing density).
  • Profile picture of the author Lynn Stivers
    Hi Andrew,

    The way you're used to writing is the way it's supposed to be done offline and that's what works best for regular books, reports and manuals. It doesn't work so well on the computer though because it's harder to read.

    The difference you describe in ebooks - the larger text size, double spacing, shorter paragraphs, wider margins, etc. all make webpages, ebooks and anything else read on the computer a LOT easier to read.

    If I ever downloaded an ebook that had small sized text, was single spaced, and had large paragraphs there's a good chance I'd never read it. I get eyestrain from being on the computer most of the day anyway - that would just make it worse - seriously.

    Anyone who knows anything about ebooks knows that a a regular 45 page book will make a 100 to 200 page ebook if it's formatted to be read on the computer. I can easily skim and read that in a couple of hours.

    The best reason to format ebooks that way is not because people don't know how to read and it's not just to fluff up the content - it really is a lot easier to read. And customers appreciate it if ebooks are easy to read.


    Lynn
    • Profile picture of the author Webthings
      Originally Posted by Lynn Stivers View Post

      Anyone who knows anything about ebooks knows that a a regular 45 page book will make a 100 to 200 page ebook if it's formatted to be read on the computer. I can easily skim and read that in a couple of hours.

      The best reason to format ebooks that way is not because people don't know how to read and it's not just to fluff up the content - it really is a lot easier to read. And customers appreciate it if ebooks are easy to read.
      Hi Lynn,

      I think that you have really hit the nail on the head for me here, thank you.

      I personally never read ebooks on the computer: I always (save first and) print them off and read them offline. The reason for this is that if I encounter a piece of content that I like, or that strikes me as noteworthy, I will then highlight it with my highlighter pen and/or add a comment with a biro. This works well for me, because I tend to sit and relax in an armchair, with a cup of tea and a biscuit (yes, I'm English!), whilst reading the book. Rarely, if ever, will I read things online (precisely because of the eyestrain problems that you refer to).

      The way that most ebooks are formatted however both looks ridiculous, and causes a massive waste of paper, when printed a page at a time onto A4. What I always do therefore is print two pages of the book, side by side, onto a single sheet of A4. I then end up with something which is more akin to a regular printed book in terms of font size and margin, albeit often still with abnormally large line spacing.

      I guess the key lesson here therefore is that some people actually like to read things on the computer screen, which I personally don't (despite having a 26" widescreen monitor). However, because I am structuring my ebook as a course (see my earlier reply to Vince), I am definitely envisaging that people will print it out rather than read it online (I have even included space for them to write things in, using a biro).

      It had never occured to me that they might not print it, so thank you. This does leave me with something of a quandry however, and perhaps the answer here is to solicit customer feedback on the format etc. after the first 50 copies have been sold?

      Thanks,

      Andrew
  • Profile picture of the author Anthony J Namata
    I think you guys have pretty much summed this up. eBooks have got to be easy to read. In an online / computer environment reading puts enough strain on your eyes as it is. Make it easier for them with THE format that works!
  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    Regarding fonts:

    Advertising comprehension tests have shown that sans-serif
    fonts like Arial cause catastrophic drops in comprehension and
    response in print ads. This was the conclusion of master
    direct-response marketer Ted Nicholas - don't use sans-serif
    if you want people to buy from your ads.

    Serif fonts - Times New Roman, Georgia, and Courier, are easy
    to read. That's what I use now. It's what I prefer to read as well.

    Small typesetting is hard to read on computer screens. I
    prefer 12-16 point type for computer reading - set in serif-type
    fonts.

    I'm 37, I wear glasses but my eyesight is pretty good. I read
    a lot. I get eye fatigue from a lot of online stuff and documents
    set in weird fonts (several Warriors are guilty of this).

    Sidebars and Subheadings increase comprehension in rapid
    reading of e-books. Dense paragraphs are harder to scan so
    shorter paragraphs of 1/2 dozen lines or less are preferable.

    Bullet points, indenting, Johnson boxes and so on help to
    break text up but more important isolate important lists and
    ideas.

    This is my opinion and my experience as a reader. I'm probably
    about average for a college-educated person who reads and
    writes a lot.

    I would probably hate one of your technical manuals set in Arial.
    • Profile picture of the author Webthings
      Hi Loren,

      Your comments on serif / sans-serif fonts are interesting. Personally I dislike all fonts with serif because I find them harder and more tiring to read, and therefore predominantly use arial. I'm slightly older than you, don't wear glasses, well educated, both read and write a lot incidentally.

      I note with interest that my computer, which has pretty-much the default settings, uses sans-serif fonts throughout; as does the Warrior Forum (at least on my screen); as does every other website that I can think of off-hand; as do my WordPress blogs (again, default settings for the various styles).

      In fact, now I've had a look, yours is about the only website I can recall seeing with serif fonts (and Jenny didn't speak to me when I left it).

      I don't know Ted Nicholas or his work, but I'm guessing that Microsoft in particular did some fairly heavy usability studies before settling on what font to use as Windows default.

      If we're talking printed specifically then a quick glance around my desk shows that everything from a John Lewis gift voucher, through my bank statements, to a letter from a government department all use sans-serif fonts.

      Am I missing something here?

      Incidentally, I've not heard of a Johnson box before: is that the correct name for the blue box in the middle of your homepage?

      Andrew
    • Profile picture of the author Kyle Tully
      Originally Posted by malibumentor View Post

      Advertising comprehension tests have shown that sans-serif
      fonts like Arial cause catastrophic drops in comprehension and
      response in print ads. This was the conclusion of master
      direct-response marketer Ted Nicholas - don't use sans-serif
      if you want people to buy from your ads.
      That's only true offline.

      The reverse is true online.

      Serif fonts are harder to read on screen and you should stick with sans-serif fonts such as Arial, Verdana & Tahoma.
    • Profile picture of the author Vince Runza Online
      Originally Posted by malibumentor View Post

      Regarding fonts:

      Advertising comprehension tests have shown that sans-serif
      fonts like Arial cause catastrophic drops in comprehension and
      response in print ads. This was the conclusion of master
      direct-response marketer Ted Nicholas - don't use sans-serif
      if you want people to buy from your ads.
      I'm glad I checked back on this thread. I'm doing a direct mail piece and the very first batch went out with Verdana (sans serif) type. I'm switching to Georgia -- which appears to be a bit more "weighty" than Times New Roman...

      Check out this URL for more info on printed typeface comprehension: http://www.cuttingedgepr.com/article...e_typeface.asp
  • Profile picture of the author Easy Cash
    Tightly packed content is hard to read - just look at your post.

    Naturally the eye can't glance at it and determine what it is about.

    Keeping the text open - using bullets - using images all makes it easier to read - particularly on the screen.

    If it was a novel it would be a different story.
  • Profile picture of the author ragnartm
    My friend made up a term for that kind of writing, in Morwegian, which translates to "Wall of text". Not meant in a positive way, wall signifies that it's a lot harder to get through than text with a little more space in between.
  • Profile picture of the author Loren Woirhaye
    I've been interested in this for awhile. This thread inspired
    me to dig a little deeper...

    Michel Fortin makes draws some sensible conclusions here:

    What Fonts Should I Use?

    I'll probably just start using Courier unless writing for Generation Y.

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