Hyperlinks slow reading speed only when the linked word is unfamiliar, an effect independent of the color of the link, according to new research published in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Gemma Fitzsimmons, Mark Weal and Dennis Drieghe from the University of Southampton in the UK. The effect is likely due to the reader’s perception that the unknown word may have special significance in the sentence when formatted as a hyperlink.
Since the early days of the Internet, hyperlinks have most often been formatted as blue text, but web designers have little data on how this choice affects readability and comprehension. To explore this question, the authors performed three experiments in which they tracked the eye movements of volunteers every millisecond as they read text on a computer screen, determining how long readers stayed on individual words, to how often they skipped a word and how often they reread part or all of a sentence.
The researchers found that a single colored word was skipped less often than the other words in the sentence, suggesting that this signals that the word may have special significance. Choosing a specific color did not affect the time readers spent on a word unless the word was gray, and to a lesser extent green, both of which increased fixation time, presumably because they contrasted less with the background of the screen. The effect of color wore off when multiple words were colored, most likely because the reader no longer interpreted color as a sign of importance, the authors suggest.
Finally, when presented with a web-like page with standard hyperlink formatting, readers tended to linger longer on related words and reread sentences if the hypertext word was sparse, but not s. ‘it was common. The authors suggest that linking uncommon words may cause the reader to re-evaluate the content of the sentence to make sure they understood it, or to try to decide why the linked word was important.
The authors add: “Colored hyperlinks in web pages do not negatively impact reading behavior. In fact, hyperlinks can be used to highlight important information and draw the reader’s attention to important areas of text on a web page.
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Fitzsimmons G, Weal MJ, Drieghe D (2019) The impact of hyperlinks on text reading. PLoS A 14 (2): e0210900. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210900
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Quote: Unknown words, not blue text, slows down hyperlink reading (February 6, 2019, retrieved December 25, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2019-02-unfamiliar-words-blue-text- hyperlinks.html
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