Why do newspapers use multiple columns?


This might not be the right place to ask, but I was wondering why newspapers use multiple columns? Does it take up less space, or is there a visual reason?

11/6/2012 12:15:00 PM

Accepted Answer

I am amazed that not one of the responses gave the ACTUAL reason which is that it is far easier to work with shorter line lengths when it comes to the type set. This is especially true with the Linotype machine which revolutionized the newspaper industry. These devices actually formed the type set plates as they went along, line by line, creating molds that would be used to form the type. Much easier to make molds that were no greater than 2 inches worth of characters. And before that when laying out the type set was done by hand, it would be much easier to work with smaller lines at once.

10/27/2015 7:12:00 AM

Linked below is a short but good read summarizing different studies on line lengths. Studies were done as far back as the 1880s demonstrating that optimal line-length for reading was between 3.6 - 4 inches. Even 50 years later, this was still the deal:

One of the best studies was done by Tinker and Paterson in 1929. Using 10-point black type on white paper, they found that line lengths between 3 inches and 3.5 inches (75 to 90 mm) yielded the fastest reading performance. Paragraphs with line lengths of 7.3 inches (185 mm) were read slowest. The authors proposed that longer line lengths obviously require greater lateral eye movements, which seemed to make it more likely that users would lose their place within the text.

Bob Bailey, Ph.D.
UI Design Newsletter – November, 2002

Bailey mentions that this held true until computer monitors became more prevalent. He cites several studies in the 1980s & onward indicating that, on computer screens, longer lines are read faster, while users prefer lines of 4 to 5 inches in length (the fact most relevant to your question). Other research shows that more whitespace improves comprehension (Chaparro, Baker, Shaikh, Hull, and Brady, 2004).