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Bill Bennett

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E-books harder to read, hard to comprehend

Five years ago I wrote why people read less online than with print:

People spend less time reading online news than reading printed newspapers because reading a screen is more mentally and physically taxing.

I’ve no hard and fast evidence to offer. This is just my observation. It would make a great research project for someone.

Last week The Guardian reported on similar research in Readers absorb less on Kindles than on paper.

The story says researchers at Norway’s Stavanger University asked people to read the same short story on a Kindle and on paper. Those who read on paper did a better job of remembering the events than those who read on the e-books.

A similar study looked at a school student comprehension test which shows those who read the paper document performed better than those who read digitally on screens or e-books.

Tired eyes when reading e-books

None of this surprises me, it mirrors my experience. I’ve noticed I get more from reading print than digitally. Also my eyes tire much slower with print.

If I have a serious editing or sub-editing job to do, I’ve learnt that proofreading a printed document is more accurate than working directly onscreen.

I doubt knowing readers absorb less with digital books will change anything. Nothing is likely to stop the world moving from print to pixels. But with e-books there’s a danger we’ll know more and understand less.

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