The Influence of Macrotypography on the Comprehensibility of Texts in Easy-to- Read Language

an empirical study


  • Sabine Sieghart


easy-to-read language, typography, graphic knowledge of poor readers


Easy-to-read language (Leichte Sprache) is a tool for barrier-free communication. In Germany, easy-to-read language is utilised by means of a set of rigid rules. In practice, the rules for typography tend to promote uniform design. From a linguistic viewpoint, different types of text are not differentiated, while from a visual viewpoint, the design is not genre-specific. This interdisciplinary study investigates whether the target group uses typographical features for purposes of text comprehension and can recognize different types of text.

Six different types of text were investigated, three of which were present both in a genrespecific design and in easy-to-read language. In total, nine design examples were tested by 38 participants in the study (24 people with so-called mental handicaps and 14 so-called functional illiterates). The data of the study was triangulated with a structured interview and a written selection procedure.

The results show that the participants possess graphic knowledge and draw on this in their reception of texts. A genre-specific design enables them to make conclusions about the content of a text without even reading a word. Texts in conventional design were consistently assigned to the correct text type better than texts in generic “easy-to-read” design. This also applied to text types whose linguistic level means they are not used in everyday life by the target group of easy-to-read language. The specifications of the easy-to-read rules make it more difficult to apply graphic knowledge when reading, and more difficult to categorize texts according to their genre. The resultant design is recognised by the participants and associated with institutions for the disabled. This is a sign that a new (dysfunctional) genre has emerged here.

The target group with reading difficulties needs an optimum design for its reading materials. We may assume that a conventional, genre-oriented design is better suited than a uniform design according to the hitherto rules. One of our research aims is to determine how to adjust the design to aid the target group. The present study offers initial suggestions as to what might be the decisive parameters.

Author Biography

Sabine Sieghart

Sabina Sieghart (Dipl. Communications designer and MA CD Design Research) is a designer, lecturer and design researcher. She runs a communication design office in Munich, teaches typography and editorial design, and works at the Institute for Design Research at the Bern University of the Arts HKB. Her research field is easy-to-read language and typography.

Designer, Lecturer, Design Researcher
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Journal Article