Some sentence lengths are more readable for screen reader users than others, and this can affect the overall accessibility of web content.
The readability of content is a concern for writers and editors working on the web. However, the relationship between readability, which pertains to users’ comprehension of content, and accessibility, which pertains to the availability of content to all audiences, is not always taken into consideration.
The readability of web content for individuals using screen readers—a web accessibility tool used by blind individuals—is an important concern. Bam Bahadur Kadayat and Evelyn Eika address this concern in their article “Impact of Sentence Length on the Readability of Web for Screen Reader Users” (2020). Kadayat and Eika conducted a study to determine whether sentence length affects the readability of texts for screen reader users. They recruited sighted students from Oslo Metropolitan University and asked them to use a screen reader while blindfolded to read five sample web texts. Each sample contained a set number of words per sentence: 10–15, 16–20, 21–25, 26–30, and > 30. The researchers used two criteria in evaluating the readability of the samples: reader comprehension and participants’ perceptions of the workload. Kadayat and Eika found that sentences fewer than 20 words in length scored the best on both reader comprehension and workload. Their overall conclusion was this: “Sentence length significantly impacts readability of the web for screen reader users” (Kadayat and Eika 2020, 268).
The results of this study suggest that sentences shorter than 20 words are easier to comprehend aurally. This information may serve as a helpful guideline for writers and editors of web content. Because the study participants were sighted rather than blind or visually impaired, the conclusions in terms of accessibility may be somewhat limited. However, editors and writers can still use this study’s findings to inform their approach to readability and accessibility of web content. The recommendation for shorter sentence lengths may also be applicable in other situations where writing is accessed aurally such as with audiobooks.
To learn more about how sentence length can affect web accessibility for screen reader users, read the full article:
Kadayat, Bam Bahadur, and Evelyn Eika. 2020. “Impact of Sentence Length on the Readability of Web for Screen Reader Users.” In: Lecture Notes in Computer Science 12188:261–271. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-49282-3_18.
—Rachel Frei, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY TOMASZ GAWŁOWSKI
Find more research
Check out the American Foundation for the Blind’s website for additional information about screen readers.
Read Jakob Nielsen’s (2011) article to learn more about readability tests: “Cloze Test for Reading Comprehension.” Nielsen Norman Group. www.nngroup.com/articles/cloze-test-reading-comprehension/.
Take a look at Rakesh Babu, Rahul Signh, and Jai Ganesh’s (2010) article for more insights into web accessibility issues for blind users: “Understanding Blind Users’ Web Accessibility and Usability Problems.” AIS Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction 2 (3): 73–94. https://aisel.aisnet.org/thci/vol2/iss3/1.