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Friday, May 05, 2006

Why Most Bibles Have Two Columns

Today's post at the ESV Bible blog is about "Why Most Bibles Have Two Columns". I hadn't thought much about this issue in the past and found the post informative. According to the post, there are three main reasons that most Bibles have two columns: economics (it takes less paper to print in two columns rather than a single column), readability (our eyes can process the number of words per line in two columns better than they can the number of words in single column), and history (the traditional look of a Bible).

I commend the post to you for your reading, if you are interested in this topic.


At Fri May 05, 09:08:00 AM, Blogger codepoke said...

For the same reason, you should always narrow your browser window if you are going to be reading for a long while. The further your eyes have to track left to right, the harder you are working them. The movement left and right is itself a physical effort, but then you also have to track back to the beginning of the next line.

You'll notice that all major websites do this for you. They fill the gutters left and right with advertising for more reasons than just money. They know that you have to be able to read their layout easily, or you will start reading someone else's. They also know that you will not resize your own browser window. So, they set the width of the body of the text to the optimal 9-12 words per line that the article references.

Amusingly, the article referenced here uses a single column of 16-20 words per line. Exactly the format he reproves. He could fix this by playing with his CSS stylesheet, but most people don't know that.

BBB uses the 9-12 that he praises.

Made me chuckle.

At Fri May 05, 09:27:00 AM, Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

I've already ranted about this, but I'm going to do it again. The best way to test these arguments is to compare an actual single column design with the traditional double column format. Assuming the reader has no sentimental attachment to the old format, I think the majority would find a book designed like, well, a book more readable than one layed out like a dictionary or newspaper. It seems like such a waste to agonize over producing readable translations if no attention is going to be given to producing readable formats -- and judging by how few publishers venture beyond tradition (whatever the justifications), it seems like no one really cares. There are a few exceptions. The New Cambridge Paragraph Bible is the first KJV in a long time to be formatted for reading, and Cambrige also does a single column NIV and REB. The Message Remix is a great example of contemporary design, too. I'm glad Crossway is hinting at a new single column format -- but this is a strange way to announce it!

It seems to me that before we can have Better Bibles, some attention will have to be paid to design issues. The Bible is a particularly challenging design problem, because of its size and the number of references and tools that traditionally go with it. Unfortunately, our new translations are being packed into old wineskins (bonded leather ones, no less).

At Fri May 05, 11:14:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri May 05, 11:15:00 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

I generally prefer a single-column text so that there's more room to write my own notes in the margin. For years I used the classic Holman-published NASB side-column reference and later "upgraded" to the 1995 update in the same format (although now published by Foundation Press). Both had the text in one column.

When I started teaching from the HCSB at church earlier this year, I settled on Broadman & Holman's Minister's Bible (ISBN 1586401696) because it also had a single-column format.

However, having said all that, I know from experience, that it's much easier to lose my place using a single-column than a double column when reading aloud, especially if I'm trying to maintain eye-contact with the group I'm teaching. Of course, I used the old-finger trick to keep my place, but the double column has great advantages for reading both silently and out loud.

I also find that when I'm mentally tired, the shorter width of a double-column Bible seems to read easier.

I suppose that if I could find a double-column with one inch margins on all sides of each column, that would be ideal, but I won't hold my breath.

Two rabbit trails:
In going from the single-column NASB to the single-column HCSB, I went from an edition of the Bible that had each verse treated separately (the NASB) to a Bible in paragraphs (HCSB). Now, I know full well that the advantage of the paragraphs helps with flow of thought and doesn't isolate verses from each other which can often lead to texts being taken out of context. HOWEVER, by biggest complaint is that I don't have as much room to write! Actually, if I'm in poetic literature I have more room in the HCSB because there's not that side-column of cross references in the way. But with my NASB, I used to write notes in any available space which often included space under a verse where the last line ran short. I have much less room to write in my HCSB. This is especially true in the NT where there's mostly justified text on every page.

The second complaint I have is the thin paper that has been part of the last two Bibles I've bought. Again comparing to my Foundation Press NASB, I never had a problem with bleed through in my old Bible. I'm talking about being able to see the text of the opposite page through the paper--not bleed through from wet-markers. Holman's HCSB Minister's Bible attempts to be a thinline--they call it an "ultrathin reference Bible." I would have preferred to have the Bible half an inch thicker by using thicker pages. After writing in the margins, the pages tend to curl up. They flaten back out over time, but it's distracting if you've written something recently, and it's curling while you're trying to use it.

The pages are also too thin in the TNIV I recently bought to use in the NT Survey class I'm teaching at IWU. [Rabbit trail within the rabbit trail: Wayne, do you remember the conversations we had a few months ago when I complained that I couldn't find a decent TNIV that didn't have a cover that looked like it was designed for a teenager? Well, I came across this "XL Larger Print Edition" in black leather (ISBN 031093494X), and it will do just fine for now]. I can see the text through these pages as well. It has the description of "Easy-to-carry Thinline design." Again, I'd prefer something non-thinline with pages that are a bit thicker. Why does everything have to be thinline?

I've often thought about just taking Accordance and a word processor and simply creating my own edition which I could print on thicker paper from my laser printer (which happens to have duplex capabilities) and then send the whole thing off to be bound. However, it seems like a very time-consuming project, so I won't be doing that any time soon.


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