Smartphones, tablets and e-readers may be growing in popularity, but that doesn't mean traditional books are on the verge of extinction. Despite the convenience and ease of reading online, print materials provide a more physical experience that promotes better concentration and focus, states Tufts University professor Maryanne Wolf. Rather than commit to one format or another, readers may want to consider whether print or Internet reading best meets their needs for different tasks and types of literature.
The Differences in Reading Style
When you read a book in print, each page leads to the next in what's known as linear reading. From chapter to chapter, the story unfolds through the sentences and paragraphs on the page. Reading online, however, uses the process of nonlinear reading. While the text itself may look the same as it would in a print book, Internet pages usually contain hyperlinks, photos, visual aids and other elements that add to the piece. As a result, you might take a break from reading the main text to glance at this supplementary content, resulting in a more recursive and interactive experience.
The Challenges of Comprehension
While the text in an Internet document may be the same as its print counterpart, research has indicated that many readers acquire information and concentrate better when reading traditional books. In 2013, a study of Norweigian 10th-graders concluded that the students who read an article in print showed better comprehension than the students who read the same article on a screen. Online reading also encourages people to skim the text for key words and concepts rather than to read deeply for meaning, states San Jose University professor Ziming Liu. While skimming may enable readers to quickly grasp a piece's main ideas, it prevents them from taking time to think critically about the material.
The Mental Effort of Reading
You may not think about it while engrossed in a good book, but as you read, your eyes move up to four times per second, adding up to about 15,000 motions in one hour of reading time. As a result, trying to concentrate on the text instead of distracting layouts, hyperlinks and graphics can lead to more eye fatigue and mental exhaustion with online reading than with a traditional book. Reading small print, as well as low-contrast gray text, can also contribute to a more challenging reading experience. By contrast, the use of paragraphs arranged in a single column as in print materials allows for a less taxing, efficient experience.
The Landscape of Traditional Books
While e-readers are convenient to carry, many readers believe that the tactile elements of a physical book are lost in the Internet reading experience. While e-books usually display the percentage of content left to be read, reading experts like Brown University professor Marilyn Jager-Adams say that being able to physically see the number of pages remaining in a book provides a better visual cue for readers, allowing them to easily locate specific passages for review. Likewise, critics of online reading say it eliminates the control readers have over the text in terms of highlighting, annotating or underlining the material.
- The Washington Post: Serious Reading Takes a Hit from Online Scanning and Skimming, Researchers Say
- International Journal of Educational Research: Reading Linear Texts on Paper Versus Computer Screen -- Effects on Reading Comprehension
- The New Yorker: Being a Better Online Reader
- Scientific American: The Reading Brain in the Digital Age -- The Science of Paper Versus Screens
- Eye Magazine: Blink -- The Stress of Reading
- Wired: Why the Smart Reading Device of the Future May Be … Paper
- Photo Credit altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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