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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • You touched on a point I learned by studying typography. "All Caps" is harder to read because our eyes look at the overall shape of a word. Especially for things viewed from a distance, that's what you see before you can even make out the letters.

    It's ironic that people choose to use all-caps to make something more important or visible, when they may actually be making it header to read.

    I think of the road-side signs with changeable plastic letters.

    All-caps work OK to emphasis things in small does, b

    • Yes! All caps is a bad idea in many cases. It should be used ONLY for VERY short bits of text.

      However, that’s not for the reason you cite. “Bouma shape []” has been conclusively refuted. In fact, the scrambled-middle-letters myth, while making a ridiculous claim, clearly disproves that we recognise words by their shape, because if the context provides enough clues, you can read scrambled-middle-letters words without even slowing down – despite the fact that the word shape has been completely corrupted. Microsoft Research has a very good article about this []:

      Word shape is no longer a viable model of word recognition. The bulk of scientific evidence says that we recognize a word’s component letters, then use that visual information to recognize a word. In addition to perceptual information, we also use contextual information to help recognize words during ordinary reading, but that has no bearing on the word shape versus parallel letter recognition debate. It is hopefully clear that the readability and legibility of a typeface should not be evaluated on its ability to generate a good bouma shape.

      What happens is that we go through the text sequentially, but doing parallel recognition of short blocks of individual letters. That doesn’t mean we deal with every single letter, though – we go from tentative to partial to (sometimes) full recognition of letters, but by taking the context into account we can reduce the plausibility of occurence of most words to zero very quickly, so we can stop looking at any one block of letters quite quickly, long before we've visually determined the exact sequence of letters. F.ex., •• grammatical structure •• • sentence alone •• often enough •• dictate ••• choice •• many short words with barely any ambiguity. This is why scrambling the middle letters does not slow you down appreciably when you read text with relatively short words and low “concept density” (for lack of a better word).

      You will notice that the mangling I showed is not just all caps, but also prefixes every word with the same string of letters. In fact, it didn’t even need the all caps to effectively destroy the readability of the text:

      Wrd_according wrd_to wrd_a wrd_researcher wrd_(sic) wrd_at Wrd_cambridge Wrd_university, wrd_it wrd_doesn’t wrd_matter wrd_in wrd_what wrd_order wrd_the wrd_letters wrd_in wrd_a wrd_word wrd_are, wrd_the wrd_only wrd_important wrd_thing wrd_is wrd_that wrd_the wrd_first wrd_and wrd_last wrd_letter wrd_be wrd_at wrd_the wrd_right wrd_place. Wrd_the wrd_rest wrd_can wrd_be wrd_a wrd_total wrd_mess wrd_and wrd_you wrd_can wrd_still wrd_read wrd_it wrd_without wrd_problem. Wrd_this wrd_is wrd_because wrd_the wrd_human wrd_mind wrd_does wrd_not wrd_read wrd_every wrd_letter wrd_by wrd_itself wrd_but wrd_the wrd_word wrd_as wrd_a wrd_whole.

      This is not a whole lot easier to read than the all caps. Why is that? It’s because we can only recognise short blocks of letters in parallel. Now pay attention to how you read this – you will notice that you are forced to scan meticulously, looking for the actual start of each word.

      We jump through the text 3–7 letters or so at a time. Naturally, th• begi••••• of a wor• is mu•• mo•• impor•••• to thi• tha• its en•. What the above mangling does is that it keeps tripping you up by making the start of every word meaningless.

      In summary: the all caps version is painfully slow to read because it makes the shapes of each letter much more similar, not the shape of each word.

      Again, pay attention to how you read it. It forces you to go literally one or two letters at a time, instead of you letting you “surf” the text as we normally do.