Reading on screen is becoming increasingly popular, in particular with young people according to the 2013 National Literacy Trust found 52% of their subjects preferred to read on screen (Clark 2014). Although this is on the rise there are still a number of problems associated with reading on screen vs on paper such as; light emitting screens causing visual fatigue and issues readers can have navigating between multiple windows. However, there is technology to help bridge this gap and rectify some issues presented with reading on screen, to aid users in their digital working.
Mangen, Walgermo and Brønnick’s research suggests that having a good awareness of the physical layout of the text on the page, means the reader will be able to remember information based on where it appeared. Those with a good comprehension ability were better at remembering and locating the order of information, when compared to those with a poor comprehension ability. Scrolling through documents and pages to read is argued to impend this, as it effects the reader’s mental reconstruction of the layout of text, and their ability to locate information. However, choosing a solution that mimics paper based attributes such as; the ability to view documents as a whole and flick from page to page, can assist with helping the user locate information, as they are able to remember where on the page they have seen something.
Additionally Mangen, Walgermo and Brønnick (2013) found that dual tasks of switching between 2 window screens adds an additional cognitive challenge to the readers. Therefore this challenge can be solved with users using dual screens, so that they do not have to switch between windows to locate information. Dual screens allows the reader to have both windows open, eliminating the additional cognitive challenge.
LCD screens are found to cause visual fatigue features such as; refresh rate, contrast levels and fluctuating light, which can all interfere with cognitive processing, and impair long term memory. Mangen, Walgermo and Brønnick (2013) state the visuospatial, perceptual processes of reading, involving letter detection and word identification crucially on the visual legibility of text. Is in turn is influenced by screen resolutions, effects of backlighting and luminance control. These impairing effects on the visual processing of text might in turn have negative implications for high level process like comprehension. E Ink screens such as the ones Kindles have do not cause the same detrimental effects on high level processes, however they do not provide the same capabilities that computers and tablets do. For reading longer static documents using an E Ink screen would be beneficial in particular if the user needs to recall the information without being able to look at the document. Most E Ink screen devices are only able to display PDF documents, therefore you should ensure you have a powerful PDF converter tool.
Although Mangen, Walgermo and Brønnick’s study clearly finds their subjects were able to recall information better when they read on paper than on the screen, there is still an increase in those reading on the screen. At work how many emails a day do you read compared to letters? What work do you do on paper compared to Microsoft Office applications? Our working world is very much screen dominated, therefore looking at technology that helps to aid this working and bridge the gap will be beneficial. It is also worth mentioning that this study doesn’t take into account that we are used to reading paper based materials, if a similar study was conducted in a few years the results might be very different as people adapt to reading on screen.
Clark, C. (2014). Children’s and Young People’s Reading in 2013. Findings from the 2013 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey. London: National Literacy Trust. http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0002/3432/Young_people_s_reading_2013.pdf
Mangen, A., Walgermo, B., & Brønnick, K., (2013) Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension International Journal of Educational Research 58, 61-68