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Response to response on issue ID 2462

From: Patrick H. Lauke <redux@splintered.co.uk>
Date: Tue, 11 Mar 2008 01:14:59 +0000
Message-ID: <47D5DD13.5000206@splintered.co.uk>
To: public-comments-wcag20@w3.org

Comment 9: 80 characters?
Source: http://www.w3.org/mid/20080201003754.9BF965F70B@stu.w3.org
(Issue ID: 2462)
Original Comment:

"width is no more than 80 characters" sounds arbitrary...do you
actually intend to talk about "line length", which is not necessarily
bound to just the number of characters, but can also be influenced by
the size/shape of the typeface used?

Response from Working Group:

It is somewhat arbitrary.  We could have chosen 72, for example, which
is another common line length.  We chose 80 to  be a bit more relaxed
and because that is a standard in computers where as 72 is more
standard in typewriters.  The goal is to limit line length from being
too wide.  The number of characters is the only thing that can be
reliably measured.

The fact that you mention 80 characters (and 72 characters in the 
response) seems to indicate that you're thinking in terms of monospaced 
/ fixed width typefaces, where each character takes up the same amount 
of space. As use of monospace is rare/specialised, and the vast majority 
of textual content online uses proportional typefaces, a character count 
bears no relation to actual line length, even across different lines in 
the same page or paragraph. I'd suggest dropping references to 
"characters" and instead reword the bullet point to

"* width (line length) is no more than 15 to 20 words"

(just picking these, still admittedly arbitrary, values from point 7 of 
http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/extra352.html - probably not authoritive, 
but it's one of the first results Google gave me for line length and 

It's true that using words as measure will end up with variations, 
depending on natural language used (long German words versus usually 
shorter English ones). A second alternative would be to start using 
actual typographic measurements and start talking about line length in 
EMs (which works for monospaced and proportional typefaces, and is not 
dependent on language...though it does depend on actual font size, but 
this is also the case with the "80 characters" definition).

Patrick H. Lauke
re·dux (adj.): brought back; returned. used postpositively
[latin : re-, re- + dux, leader; see duke.]
www.splintered.co.uk | www.photographia.co.uk
Co-lead, Web Standards Project (WaSP) Accessibility Task Force
Received on Tuesday, 11 March 2008 01:34:27 UTC

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