Reading on paper versus reading on screens

I’m a screen kinda guy but even I’ve noticed that there is a difference, most particularly in my comprehension and retention of what I read. I get more from novels printed in paper- or hardback but I’m surprised to say I enjoy reading them more on my iPad. That is a hard thing to admit, feels like I’m going against what I’ve believed all my life. but it’s true.

It just might also be bad.

Of course, there’s no clear-cut answer to the paper vs. screen question—it’s tangled with variables, like what kind of medium we’re talking about (paper, e-book, laptop, iPhone), the type of text (Fifty Shades of Grey or War and Peace), who’s reading and their preference, whether they’re a digital native, and many other factors. But many researchers say that reading onscreen encourages a particular style of reading called “nonlinear” reading—basically, skimming.

In a 2005 study out of San Jose University, Ziming Liu looked at how reading behavior changed over the past decade, and found exactly this pattern. “The screen-based reading behavior is characterized by more time spent on browsing and scanning, keyword spotting, one-time reading, non-linear reading, and reading more selectively,” Liu wrote. In the face of endless information, links, videos, and images demanding our attention, we’ve adapted our reading to fit our screens.

Everything Science Knows about Reading on Screens – (no author listed) Fast Company Design (8 July 2015)

Now here’s an interesting thing: I copied and pasted that quote out of the Fast Company’s Design section and it looked fine there but I felt compelled to break it up into two paragraphs. I just added a return, I wouldn’t alter the quote, but on this screen at this time, it looked like an impenetrable wall of letters. On the original site, it looked fine.

So I’m looking at it on the same screen but the font choice, the layout, the spacing make giant differences. Read the full piece

Paper not better than ebook for reading, except…

I love ’em both, paper and ebooks. But it has been said and I have wondered whether I retain more from things I read on paper than on screens. Maybe so, but if it’s true, it looks like that may be more down to me than to the technology – except in one key respect.


A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

The study, presented in Italy at a conference last month and set to be published as a paper, gave 50 readers the same short story by Elizabeth George to read. Half read the 28-page story on a Kindle, and half in a paperback, with readers then tested on aspects of the story including objects, characters and settings.

Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University, a lead researcher on the study, thought academics might “find differences in the immersion facilitated by the device, in emotional responses” to the story. Her predictions were based on an earlier study comparing reading an upsetting short story on paper and on iPad. “In this study, we found that paper readers did report higher on measures having to do with empathy and transportation and immersion, and narrative coherence, than iPad readers,” said Mangen.

But instead, the performance was largely similar, except when it came to the timing of events in the story. “The Kindle readers performed significantly worse on the plot reconstruction measure, ie, when they were asked to place 14 events in the correct order.”

Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper, study finds – Alison Flood, The Guardian (19 August 2014)

‘Course, I only read the full piece on my iPad so maybe it really says something completely different.

Read faster, if you must, but retain more

I don’t believe in speed-reading techniques but then I don’t have to: I naturally read at around 600 words per minute and I also type at around 120wpm. But my retention is poor: I am fantastic at scouring for information but if you ask me detailed questions about the whole text I’ve just taken in, I will be below average.

So that’s what makes me interested in advice that says you can read faster yet retain more by visiting Wikipedia first. Hold on. Wikipedia. O-kay. I’m listening, warily…

There is a relationship between background knowledge and reading comprehension. The more you understand about a particular subject, the more “hooks” keep the facts in there. So if you are going to read a book on a subject you don’t know much about, check out the Wikipedia article on it first to prep your brain to retain more.

How to Become a Faster Reader – Ryan Battles, (17 July 2014)

That’s the one bit that interests me in an article that (ironically) takes a long time to read. But if you want to read faster or you’re just curious to see if Ryan Battles is his real name, do take a look at the full article.