4
  • This study show that all caps is not harder to read than lowercase.

Engineers and architects often write in all caps. Does this increase the legibility and visual impact of text?

13
  • 2
    All caps forces a lot of people to write each letter individually instead of making them connected which often becomes a squiggly line due to trying to write fast. I dated a med student once, her hand writing was nearly unreadable seeing it become just a line with a loop here and there when she was working.
    – A.bakker
    Jan 30, 2023 at 9:05
  • 1
    Note that the linked article is (implicitly) about typed, not handwritten, text
    – Chris H
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:10
  • 1
    The linked article actually says that it's faster to read lowercase than uppercase. It just tries to make a point that all caps could be as easy to read, if we were as used to them. "All capital (uppercase) letters are slower for people to read, but only because they aren’t used to them. Mixed case text is only faster to read than uppercase letters because of practice."
    – Stef
    Jan 31, 2023 at 11:44
  • 1
    The article you're referring to is not a "study", it's a blog. A blog by someone with a fairly-relevant PhD, but a blog nonetheless. And, as the article states, the research "doesn’t exist, or 'It’s complicated'". I don't see the justification for concluding "[all caps is] slower for people to read, but only because they aren’t used to them". I see nothing there that supports not being used to them being the "only" reason why they're slower to read, but rather just that we may have some misconceptions about what the reasons are.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 31, 2023 at 14:37
  • 3
    @Nat Technical lettering, like blueprints or labels on parts. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_lettering bleckarchitects.com/… This is probably more common with hand lettering than with typewritten stuff. Jan 31, 2023 at 20:18

2 Answers 2

7

You are misrepresenting the claim. From your link [emphasis mine]:

All capital (uppercase) letters are slower for people to read, but only because they aren’t used to them.

Even if the idea that word shape doesn't explain the empirical results, that doesn't make those empirical results incorrect. In normal circumstances, people read mixed-case faster. I see nothing in the article contradicting that. It. The key word that you've omitted is 'inherently'.

In other words: mixed-case is easier to read in practice but not in theory.

One of the articles referenced does assert at least one advantage of ALL-CAPS [emphasis mine]:

is the result that upper-case text is more legible in terms of reading speed, for readers with reduced acuity due to visual impairment, and in normally-sighted readers when text is visually small.

4
  • I dont look at words like shapes, I look it as set of letters, the clearer each letter is, the easier it is to read the word. I read all caps and lowercase with same speed, but cursive I read much slower.
    – 22flower
    Jan 31, 2023 at 8:56
  • @user207141 OK. But saying people don't read words as shapes is not the same thing as saying people don't read mixed-case faster. They do read it faster (in general) and the article explicitly states that is the case.
    – JimmyJames
    Jan 31, 2023 at 16:10
  • You think cursive is hard to read only because we are not used to them? I think they are hard to read because clarity of each letter is poor.
    – 22flower
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:13
  • @user207141 I didn't mention anything about cursive.
    – JimmyJames
    Feb 1, 2023 at 19:47
6

When you are writing in a hurry, taking notes during a lecture or presentation, we take several short cuts.

Engineers, at least, attend "lectures" of some sort or another about every other working day. It is not an unusual week to have 5 or 6 coordinating meetings with fellow engineers on the same project and/or management supervising the project and/or end-users of the project, all of which may require notes.

I've worked with software and firmware engineers, electronic engineers and mechanical engineers.

All Caps increases clarity; there are a limited number of shapes to recognize when those are written in a hurry so the guessing game later (going over your notes) has fewer choices; and if case actually matters (as it might for some technical purposes) you can just make the capped letters large and the lower case letters small.

It is also common to abbreviate words (abrvt wds). Cursive script is "fast" but often becomes illegible in a hurry, Caps less so.

It is not unusual at all in meetings to see everybody, including the manager or presenter, with some sort of notebook or paper they can take notes on.

When your job is inventing new products, your entire career is basically a learning environment and every meeting is like a class you are taking or a class you are teaching. Bring a notebook.

4
  • 1
    Indeed my handwriting gets pretty bad at speed, to the point where I have to think about some words. Writing all caps is slower, so all caps for key or unexpected words can add clarity and emphasis (and emphasising the unexpected is fairly likely) at the same time. A non-emphasised clearly spelt word can be achieved by slowing down, of course.
    – Chris H
    Jan 31, 2023 at 10:13
  • 1
    @ChrisH My handwriting, too, used to get illegible at speed. After a lot of experimentation, I found that printing (i.e. writing letters separately, but still using lower case) improved that tremendously — and with only minimal speed penalty. Printing is more legible to start with (else why did books never develop joined-up print?), but IME it degrades far less with speed than joined-up. I don't know why joined-up has such cachet — or is even taught at all!
    – gidds
    Feb 1, 2023 at 15:38
  • @gidds the problem I find with lower case is it is harder to distinguish "i" from "l" (lower case L) from "1". I also always write zero with a slash. even "g" and "q". But to each his own.
    – Amadeus
    Feb 2, 2023 at 0:03
  • @Amadeus I add a litte ‘hook’ to the top of ‘1’ (like most fonts), which distinguishes it very well. And of course ‘i’ has a dot. I don't generally have trouble mixing up upper-case ‘I’ from lower-case ‘l’, but if there's any risk I add serifs (short horizontal lines at the top and bottom) to the ‘I’, or a short curved tail to the ‘l’. The more distinct your letter shapes, the easier they'll be to distinguish, especially at speed. (I found greatest legibility with shapes similar to the font Century Gothic, especially the relatively large, round bodies and small ascenders/descenders.)
    – gidds
    Feb 2, 2023 at 8:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.