Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: bold text (was scriptingNews outline for 1/22/00)

Author:Dan Bricklin
Posted:1/22/2000; 2:33:33 PM
Topic:scriptingNews outline for 1/22/00
Msg #:14741 (In response to 14730)
Prev/Next:14740 / 14742

There are many uses of bold text.

The use of single bold words, like Dvorak uses, is somewhat limited. It's not exactly the comic-book style of putting emphasis in your voice, but not really a summary of what he's trying to say. It is not a very good help to those skimming (maybe it's more the opposite: as a tease to get you to read the text.) The bold used for sub-heads in newspapers works quite well for skimming. What I've been trying, and Dan Gillmor is exploring, is not bold for hot words but rather bold for key concepts. If you only read the bold words you'll get the main idea. Another use of bold (from the old days) is bolding a company or person when first used (great for financial articles and gossip columns, a favorite in alumni newsletters).

Sorry to say, but most people do not read entire web pages all the time. They often skim. I have spent too much time behind the one-way glass watching usability tests to dismiss Jakob's statements. (Subject: "I can't find out how to get to the next step", Me (behind the glass wanting to shout): "Click the NEXT button [hidden] at the bottom of the screen, you idiot!" -- I see it, but he doesn't...that's the real world.)

With so much to read, we need to craft ways that work to aid in skimming. Dave Winer uses this on the home page: Rather than bold (since it's a blog linking to other articles) he often makes the link be the main idea. The blue underline serves as the 'demi-bold' one of my readers requested. Dave, don't fool yourself into believing many people don't just skim the blue underlined text. If you can't use a link to point to a main point, what typography do we have? For Davenet, you use the 'sub-head' technique, but that's harder to use in articles of just a couple of paragraphs.

Rather than calling one technique or another wimpy, why not discuss the merits? To me, trying to respect the reader's time says something positive. It says "Thank you for reading me even though you have little time today." If you think there is only one way to use bold (the Dvorak way) you are mistaken and need to be more sensitive to the fine points of user design. If you think cute sub-heads serve the same purpose as summarizing ones you should put yourself in the reader's position a bit more.

I know bolding main ideas isn't perfect, but with my long-winded writing what other ideas do you have? The time it takes to write is a major factor, and making something shorter, we all know, is often the longer thing to do.

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