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What Is Screen Reading?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 23, 2024
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Screen reading is the practice of reading text on an electronic display rather than on a page. Although there are clear similarities between the two types of reading, screen reading and reading on paper have some important differences, including the pattern used while reading on a screen and possibly the depth of reading involved. Many experts believe that readers use very different techniques while reading from a screen than they do while reading from a page.

The development of computer technology in the latter decades of the 20th century meant that an increasing number of people, particularly in the developed world, were using computers at work, in the home or for education. For many in the first-world, reading from a screen is now much more common than reading from a printed page.

This rapid increase in screen reading prompted both speculation and research relating to the ways in which readers use screens. In 2006, Jakob Nielsen published a study of screen reading which demonstrated that screen readers read in a distinctive F-shaped pattern, skimming much of the text and focusing only on key passages. Nielsen concluded that this different reading pattern meant that web content providers should be wary of reusing print content, since the two types of text were being read differently. Despite the tendency of readers to skim, however, screen reading appears to be slower than reading from the printed page.

The differences between reading from a screen and print reading have been the source of some controversy. Some commentators, including Rosen, have condemned reading from screens as lacking the depth and discipline of reading from a print source, while others argue that screen reading is its own, particularly valuable skill. Authors, publishers and educators remain divided about the relative merits of the two forms of reading.

Some companies have produced electronic devices intended to make the experience of screen reading more like the experience of reading from the printed page. E-readers such as the Kindle produced by Amazon.com, as well as ebook software for tablet computers, use a page-like interface with dark text on a white background. Some even use a page-turning motion as the command to turn a page. By making the experience of reading from an electronic device similar to the experience of reading from a printed page, manufacturers may be able to overcome some of the negative impressions associated with screen reading.

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