Screen reading

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Screen reading is the act of reading a text on a computer screen, smartphone, e-book reader, etc. It is often contrasted with the act of reading a text on paper, in particular a printed text.


Louis Émile Javal, a French ophthalmologist and founder of an ophthalmology laboratory in Paris is credited with the introduction of the term saccades into eye movement research. Javal discovered that while reading, one’s eyes tend to jump across the text in saccades, and stop intermittently along each line in fixations.[1]

Because of the lack of technology at the time, naked-eye observations were used to observe eye movement, until later in the late 19th and mid-20th century eye-tracking experiments were conducted in an attempt to discover a pattern regarding eye fixations while reading.[1]



In a 1997 study conducted by Jakob Nielsen, a leading web usability expert who co-founded usability consulting company Nielsen Norman Group with Donald Norman, it was discovered that generally people read 25% slower on a computer screen in comparison with a printed page.[2] The researchers state that this is only true for when reading on an older type computer screen with a low-scanrate.

In an additional study done in 2006, Nielsen also discovered that people read Web pages in an F-shaped pattern that consists of two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.[3] He had 232 participants fitted with eye-tracking cameras to trace their eye movements as they read online texts and webpages. The findings showed that people do not read the text on webpages word-by-word, but instead generally read horizontally across the top of the webpage, then in a second horizontal movement slightly lower on the page, and lastly scan vertically down the left side of the screen.[3]

The Software Usability Research Laboratory at Wichita State University did a subsequent study in 2007 testing eye gaze patterns while searching versus browsing a website [1], and the results confirmed that users appeared to follow Nielsen’s ‘F’ pattern while browsing and searching through text-based pages.[4]

A group of German researchers conducted a study that examined the Web browsing behavior of 25 participants over the course of around one hundred days.The researchers concluded that "browsing is a rapidly interactive activity,"[2] and that Web pages are mostly viewed for 10 seconds or less.[5] Nielsen analyzed this data in 2008 and found that, on average, users read 20-28% of the content on a webpage.[6]

Google Golden Triangle[edit]

A similar study, using search results from the Google search engine, determined that readers primarily looked at a triangular area of the top and left side of the screen. This corresponds to the Nielsen F-shaped pattern, and was dubbed the Google Golden Triangle.[7]

A recent 2014 Meditative study [8] showed evidence of the declination of the Golden Triangle phenomenon since 2005 as users view more search result listings than before.


Critics have voiced concerns about screen reading, though some have taken a more positive stance. Kevin Kelly believes that we are transitioning from "book fluency to screen fluency, from literacy to visuality".[9][10] Anne Mangen holds that because of the materiality of a printed book the reader is more engaged with a text, while the opposite is true with a digital text in which the reader is engaged in a "shallower, less focused way".[11][12] Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, says that “the ability to skim text is every bit as important as the ability to read deeply. What is… troubling, is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of reading” (138).[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wade, Nicholas J. “Pioneers of Eye Movement Research.” i-Perception 1.2 (2010): 33–68. PMC. November 5, 2010, retrieved Feb. 19, 2016.
  2. ^ Alex Beam (2009-06-19). "I screen, you screen, we all screen". The Boston Globe. 
  3. ^ a b Jakob Nielsen (2006-04-17). "F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content". 
  4. ^ Shrestha, Sav, and Kelsi Lenz. “Eye Gaze Patterns while Searching vs. Browsing a Website”, SURL, Jan. 14, 2007, retrieved Feb. 19, 2016
  5. ^ H. Weinreich et al. “Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use”, ACM Transactions on the Web, Vol. 2, No. 1, Article 5, Feb. 2008, retrieved Feb. 20, 2016
  6. ^ Nielsen, Jakob. "How Little Do Users Read?", Nielsen Norman Group, May 6, 2008, retrieved Feb. 20, 2016
  7. ^ "Google Search's Golden Triangle". Eyetools. Archived from the original on 13 January 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2015. 
  8. ^ "Keeping an eye on Google – Eye tracking SERPs through the years"
  9. ^ Kevin Kelly (2008-11-21). "Becoming Screen Literate". The New York Times. 
  10. ^ Christine Rosen. "People of the Screen", The New Atlantis, Number 22, Fall 2008, pp. 20–32.
  11. ^ Anne Mangen (2008). "Hypertext fiction reading: haptics and immersion". Journal of Research in Reading. 31 (4): 404–419. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9817.2008.00380.x. 
  12. ^ Mark Bauerlein (2008-09-19). "Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Washington, D.C. 54 (31): Page B7. 
  13. ^ Carr, Nicholas (2010). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 138. ISBN 978-0393339758.