On the Importance of Narrow Columns

When reading a newspaper or magazine, you may have noticed that it’s easy to read lots of text quickly. This may be because you’re reading Cosmo and not the Journal of Nuclear Physics but aside from a material’s complexity there is another important factor in play: the width of the text column.

A narrow column is easier to parse than a wide column. That’s because the brain can process text more quickly by moving the eyes downward instead of side-to-side. A common speed reading technique is to mitigate lateral eye movement by relying on peripheral vision to “gulp” a line of text in one shot.

Since a friendly user interface is one of our cornerstones, we set the content area for the default Ninja Post skin to be about 600 pixels wide. Coupled with a relatively large font, the content is easy for the reader to scan. Many forums set their main content areas to expand to the width of the user’s screen by default which makes it difficult to digest.

column comparison

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The biggest downside to narrow columns is that it can make long pages. Thankfully it’s convenient to scroll down using the browser’s scroll bar, “space bar short cut”, or scroll wheel on a mouse.

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