Is 78 characters still a good option? Was: [Haskell-cafe] breaking too long lines

Robert Greayer robgreayer at
Tue Apr 21 23:57:40 EDT 2009

wren ng thornton <wren at> wrote:

> There is a deeper reason. Much work in typography has shown
> that humans read text best when it's around 76
> characters wide; if things get narrower than that then
> cohesion is lost, if things get wider then it takes a long
> time to acquire the beginning of the next line.

My impression of the research is that it isn't nearly so conclusive. See [1] for a brief survey of findings for online reading speed/comprehension and a relatively recent study.  The results are all over the place.  Nevertheless, your later point - code /= text, is key.  I'd expect there's a study that focuses on code, though I don't have one at my fingertips.  I imagine reading speed for code is overall much lower than for natural language, which I expect is an important factor affecting eye movement.  I'd also guess that reading patterns are quite different -- scanning backward or forward to find a definition, etc.  It's different enough that I'd discount research focusing on natural language text as being relevant.  



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