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Typographic emphasis of headings: Methods of typographic emphasis to assist with search of unfamiliar and familiar text

Readers use headings to understand the structure and content of a text, and to locate information. Readers understand the structure of a text by building an understanding of the structure of the content through developing relationships between the sections of content. Headings assist readers with both their comprehension of text as well as assisting them with recall of the content. Headings provide signals to readers to aid navigation of a document by indicating the structure of topics. This helps readers to locate information both through signalling the content of text that may be unfamiliar or providing markers to assist with the recall of the location of information in a familiar text. The importance of headings is known; however, little research exists to indicate how these important organisational features of text should be presented visually. This research was undertaken to fill this gap in our understanding of how headings can assist readers. Five studies were carried out to investigate which heading emphasis methods are most easily identified within a passage of text and which of these methods best assist readers with searching text. An initial survey of current practice for emphasising headings revealed that there are six main methods for emphasising headings and these are often used in combination with each other to create stronger emphasis. It was also revealed that the presentation of headings in the same publication across print and digital formats is often inconsistent. This survey was used to help inform which heading emphasis methods were used in the paired comparison studies to test for ease of identification. Three paired comparison studies were then undertaken to establish which methods of typographic emphasis are most easily identified within a passage of text. These studies compared seven individual typographic emphasis methods with each other in print and on screen then compared five combinations of typographic emphasis methods in print and on screen. These studies found that emphasis methods with the greatest visual weight were the most easily identified. The most easily identifiable heading emphasis methods were then evaluated in search tasks to evaluate which of the four heading styles provided the most assistance when searching for answers in a screen-based text. This research showed that when headings are emphasised using styles that combine two heading emphasis methods they are easier to distinguish from the body copy surrounding them. These more easily identifiable headings are more useful to readers when they are searching for information in a text, both when the text is unfamiliar and when it is familiar. When bold is combined with either an increase in size or a sans serif typeface to create a heading, readers are able to more quickly and accurately find information within a document, whether that text is unfamiliar or familiar.
Type of thesis
Timpany, C. (2018). Typographic emphasis of headings: Methods of typographic emphasis to assist with search of unfamiliar and familiar text (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12091
The University of Waikato
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