Reading From a Computer Display


Have got a copy of Eleanor L. Criswell’s Design of Computer-Based Instruction at last. Here are some important although slightly dated stats

People read about 25 per cent faster from text pages than they do from computer displays (Gould et al, 1987, cited by E.L. Criswell 1989, p. 83)

In the late 1980s that might have been the case, but now the computer display has evolved and the stats are not that reliable.

The following are likely to increase reading speed from a computer display

  • using high-quality images
  • using paperlike fonts
  • screen lightning being brighter than the room lightning (can be achieved by either keeping screen contrast very high and adjusting brightness as necessary, or reducing room brightness)
  • the eye being unable to detect any flicker in the screen
  • the screen being located and designed for minimal head and eye movement
  • viewing the screen from a distance of about 16 inches/40 centimetres
  • viewing the screen at a 90-degree angle

Well, it is obvious that not everyone is likely to follow the guidelines above now that there are laptops around and many users surf the Net lying reclined on the sofa or in a similar e-reading unfriendly position.  That in its turn means that larger amounts of text should be made available for printing off when e-courseware development is concerned and time is an issue.

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  • Well, I tend to think that you are right but partially. I see things rather differently myself. I should say that it is not the (only) guidelines above that are likely to speed up reading from a computer display. I have thought it over and what I have come up with is that there are a lot of different additional features that make it impossible to soak information up effectively from a computer. One of them is incredible eye fatigue however technologically good a computer display could have been, the next is the influence of electromagnetic fields around. The last but not least, it is the necessity to be in strain and in the forced permanent position when it comes to reading from a computer display. I interviewed two groups of undergraduate and graduate students and some postgraduate students, who are 20-25 years old and who are of high electronical literacy, a while ago, and all of them claimed that they would prefer to read text pages rather than computer pages. All things considered, I have to admit it that it is not individual features but physiological laws we don’t completely know that limit human abilities to read from a computer display.

  • Thanks for that, your comment is really to the point. Yet, I do believe that it is the format and the layout of e-texts that makes all the difference along with your purpose. Generally, they distinguish between skimming and scanning in academic settings as well as reading for pleasure at leisure, which is not exactly skimming or scanning in my opinion. Reading is purpose-oriented when you read job-related articles or study for an exam, so it is intensive by definition, as it requires attention to detail and speed. The situation is dramatically different when you are reading a novel, because it is the process that you enjoy, or at least it is the case when I am concerned. I am not in a hurry when I read science fiction and I do take my time when the author is good at describing people or places in minute detail. It is not uncommon for me to reread descriptive paragraphs or dialogues when they succeed in conjuring vivid images in my mind. The bottom line is that it is a combination of factors that you have to take account of when you choose between a paperback and an e-book. And when you opt for the latter, it is the format that frequently makes all the difference – I am fine with PDF texts, but I really hate it when I have to read interactive books that require you to click NEXT at the bottom of each page, and the reason for that is simple – it is more time-consuming that way if the text is long.

By Stacey


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