Line length readability suggests that each line should have 50-60 characters (or 75 max) per line for optimal reading experience.
The left paragraph has ~100 characters per line, whereas, the right one has ~50-60 characters per line. I find the right one to be easier to read.
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I see many sites with 2 column designs who use 1 column for media and 1 for text. Making for easier text reading and better space utilization.
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The point is, you can use multi column layout quite effectively to convey your information. You just need to find out what design fits your bills. Like, in the example you mentioned, the 3 column layout, while it makes the text easier to read, the fact that it is spanning across my entire screen makes it a bit difficult for me to consume the content. Guide the users' eyes with you design/visual cues and make the content easy to consume.
One problem I can point out in the example you mentioned, there is no enclosure for the text and the common background makes me jump the space between columns. Look at the 'SAME HYMN SHEET, DIFFERENT PAUL' paragraph, because it is in a separate color background, my eyes are locked within the region while reading it.
Just noticed this question in the side bar suggestions: Ideal column width for paragraphs online
The answer gives some nice summary of rules of thumb:
General Rules of Thumb
Take these with a grain of salt, they are just guidelines; feel free to break them.
I repeat, they are not "one-rule for all" you need to adopt; just a push/clue in the right direction.
- 12 words per line
- 39 characters regardless of type size (alphabet-and-a-half)
- multiply the point size by 2 and interpret it as picas (points-times-two)
- around 50-60 to at most 75 characters (spaces included) — this is usually the guideline borrowed from our friends in typography
"The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst, mentions the following more specific measurements
- 45 to 75 characters line length (measure); specifically 66 including spaces; Single Column
- 40 to 50 characters; multi-column
- 85 to 90 characters; discontinuous text; generous leading
- 40 characters (minimum); justified
- 12 to 15 characters; marginal notes; English
Variables in readability:
- larger = I've tried it, (some) people find it annoying. Just aim for the happy "medium size"
- medium/standard = larger width
- smaller = smaller width
- large (1.9+) = easier to scan lines, longer lines become more acceptable
- normal = shorter lines
- smaller = very short lines
- content length
- big blob = long lines + large line-height
- short message = short lines + reasonable line-height