Walsh College

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Jun 6 2013
Digital vs. Print Text: What's Your Preference?
By: Barb Koch Category: Library

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    The library has a large collection of digital books and access to thousands of digital journal articles. While some people prefer printed text, others like the accessibility and convenience of reading online or on an e-reader. Whatever your preference, you may be interested to know that studies have discovered differences in the way our brains respond to text on paper vs. digital text. An article in Scientific American reviewed research from the fields of psychology, computer engineering and library and information science. The results don’t show a clear advantage for one medium over another, but they do point out differences in how readers respond to text. Understanding these differences may help you use digital text more effectively. You can read the whole article here. Below are some highlights:

  • It’s easier to navigate through printed text than through digital text. Visual cues, such as “It was in the middle of the book,” or “It was at the bottom of a right hand page,” help readers orient themselves to the book easier than scrolling page by page on a screen. In some studies, this ease of navigation improved comprehension. Bookmarks and highlighting in digital text facilitate navigation.
  • In a comprehension study, students scored equally immediately after reading printed or digital text, but researchers believe that the text readers’ form of memory was more likely to be retained long-term than digital readers.
  • Reading digital text tires the eyes and causes more fatigue than printed text. Scrolling through screens is more taxing than flipping pages.
  • Many readers approach digital text less seriously than printed text. Digital text readers are more likely to scan text than readers of printed materials. Many people scan text online, but if they really want to study and learn it, they print it out.
  • In a separate study on how students use digital text, students generally don’t read digital text from beginning to end. They’re more likely to dip in and out of e-books, looking for a specific chapter or fact.

    The Walsh Library has more than 2,000 e-books and countless articles that are available online through the Walsh portal. Despite any differences in how the digital and print text are processed, nobody denies the advantages of digital text for accessibility and convenience, especially for online students who may live far away from campus.

    To access e-books, go to the EBSCO Ebooks database. If you need assistance, contact a librarian at 248-823-1228.


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