80 Characters Ought To Be Enough For Anybody

Now that I have something vaguely resembling a blog, I was hoping to spend some time over my weekend writing a bit. So, naturally, I instead hurled myself down the nearest rabbit hole I could find: futzing around with CSS and trying to determine the ideal characters-per-line for optimum readibility.

Unfortunately for me, this isn't really a problem that science can definitively solve. An X-character line may result in vastly different optical widths based on which typeface, or even which font, is used. Think 80 characters of Helvetica Condensed compared to Helvetica Extended. (Not to mention ligatures, kerning, tracking, etc.)

It's also highly subjective. The research that does exist seems to indicate strong preference for either very short (40-50 character) lines, or very long (90-95 character) lines, but rarely any preference towards the median. Beauty in the eye etc, I suppose.

At the risk of being productive, I've decided to let accessibility be my guide and stick with WCAG 2.2 criterion 1.4.8's 80-character limit. Most best-practice recommendations I've heard and read land somewhere between 70 and 90 characters per line, at most. 80 feels like a happy medium.

While attempting to validate this 80-character approach, I had an unexpectedly tricky time finding a list of sentences with an exact character count—a pangram for character count, if you will—that I could toss into my layout for testing.

I briefly considered some sort of AI prompt for generating sentences, but that sounded like too much effort so instead I downloaded a plaintext dialogue rip from Skyrim (2011, Bethesda Game Studios) and manually skimmed through until I found lines that landed at exactly 80 characters.

I used to be an adventurer like you. Then I took an arrow in the knee...

...is only 72 characters, but here are a few 80-character examples that I found:

Funny, when I was a boy, Imperial walls and towers used to make me feel so safe.

Perhaps some hero will bring one to Dragonsreach like old Olaf One-Eye once did.

They can be killed. The Blades killed many in their early days as dragonslayers.

Why are you stopping? We should be careful here. See these symbols on the floor?

We'll have more time to look around later, I suppose. Let's see what's up ahead.

So we're looking for a Shout then. Damn it. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Best of all, there's more where that came from...if you think you can handle it.

Since Brynjolf assures me you'll be nothing but a benefit to us, then you're in.

Hmm, no, you look fine. Well, at least no different than when I first saw you...

Goldenglow Estate's a bee farm; they raise the wretched little things for honey.