Skip to Main Content

Reading Screens vs. Reading Paper: New Literacies? (December 2014): Reference Literature

By James K Bracken

Reference Literature

The topic’s most up-to-date bibliographies are Andrew Dillon’s “Reading from Paper versus Screens: A Critical Review of the Empirical Literature,” (Ergonomics 35.10 (1992): 1297-1326); and Jan M. Noyes and Kate J. Garland’s “Computer- vs. Paper-Based Tasks: Are They Equivalent?” (Ergonomics 51.9 (2008): 1352-1375). Both critical reviews focused on the equivalence of reading paper versus screens, cumulatively concluding that while paper versus screen reading experiences were seen as becoming increasingly equivalent, they were also still seen as significantly different.

Several literature reviews or excerpt collections complement these bibliographies.  Stephen D. Krashen’s The Power of Reading reviews research showing that computer use plays a positive role in influencing time spent reading.  Nicola S. Schutte and John M. Malouff’s Why We Read and How Reading Transforms Us reviews research about how reading’s benefits might be maximized.  I Read Where I Am, compiled by Mieke Gerritzen, Geert Lovink, and Minke Kampman, collects brief invited comments on reading paper versus screens by 82 different authors, artists, critics, and designers.  Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, edited by John Brockman, collects 150 experts’ responses to the title’s question.  Similarly, editor Louise I. Gerdes’ What Is the Impact of Digitizing Books? excerpts fourteen previously published works.

The most useful general reference resource on the subject is Barbara J. Guzzetti’s Literacy in America, a collection of authoritative contributed overviews of theories, programs, and approaches to literacy through 2002.  Essays on topics like computer-assisted instruction, hypertext, instant messaging, and “Post-Typographic” emphasize the changing landscape of technology while expressing a realistic ambivalence about its impact on reading.  Essays on “Multiple Literacies” and “Literacy in Informal Settings” acknowledge the similarities and differences in reading paper versus screens.

Handbook of Reading Research: Volume IV, edited by Michael L. Kamil, P. David Pearson, Elizabeth Birr Moje, and Peter P. Afflerbach, continues a series that started in 1984.  Contributed authoritative essays distinguish reading from literacy, broadening both to include new reading practices appropriate to new formats.  The International Handbook of Literacy and Technology, edited by Michael C. McKenna, Linda D. Labbo, Ronald D. Kieffer, and David Reinking, focuses on technologies driving new literacies.  Admitting in volume 4 that a “post-typographic world” projected in the handbook’s first volume (1998) remains to be realized, several essays call for more research on reading on paper versus screens.  Defining comprehension as “deep understanding of ‘text’,” with much discussion of what exactly “text” might be, The Handbook of Research on Reading Comprehension, edited by Susan E. Israel and Gerald G. Duffy, reviews research recognizing that comprehension must now be seen in the context of multiple individually and situationally defined literacies.  How individuals read depends on why and what they read.  They conclude that comprehension is perhaps now more complex than previous research indicated, and that “new literacies” and “digital literacies” require “more sophisticated comprehension.”

The Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior, edited by Zheng Yan, covers the increasingly diverse texts now read on screens.  Some 106 chapters contributed by more than 200 authorities, with notes and bibliographies, make excellent starting points for mining information about the complex relationship of IT use and reading.  Topical sections cover cyber behavior with specific technologies like e-mail, chat rooms, social network sites, and wikis; among specific populations such as the homeless, disabled, seniors, adolescents, and immigrants; and in settings including business, healthcare, law, government, and education.  The index includes no references to “reading,” although many articles mention reading and it is implicit everywhere else.  Some articles specifically focus on reading, such as Linda A. Jackson and Edward A. Witt’s “Internet Use and Cognitive Development,” which describes how children’s low reading skills improved with IT use.

More specifically focusing on IT in the workplace, Handbook of Research on Technologies for Improving the 21st Century Workforce, edited by Victor C. X. Wang, similarly contains contributed essays with few references to reading, although it is understood throughout.