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Page vs. Screen: The Benefits of Reading Paper Books

Last updated 3 years ago

Which is better for reading--paper books or e-readers? Both forms have their champions, but paper books have some clear advantages over digital devices:

Fewer distractions mean deeper concentration
Paper books have no games or communication media built in, no animation, and no light shining into our eyes. When we are alone with words on a page, we can become more absorbed in the story and follow the flow of reasoning.

Finding your way around in a book is easier
Our minds tend to "anchor" an incident in terms of where it is located in our reading. In a paper book, we can see both left and right pages, turn back to find a passage we remember seeing at the top of a page, or look ahead at what's about to happen next, all without losing sight of any part of the book.

We take paper books more seriously
In a discussion of differences between e-reading and book reading experiences, Ferris Jabr suggests that "many people approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper."

We may read online with an "easy-come-easy-go" attitude. We don't expect to retain the information for long, so we tend to scroll and scan rather than read with deeper concentration.

Comprehension, recall, and test performance are stronger
Research shows that students reading paper books generally fare better on tests.
One study of reading comprehension among 10th-grade students in Norway concluded that "students who read texts in print scored significantly better on the reading comprehension test than students who read the texts digitally." Students who read print on paper had better recall of information and were able to locate material more easily.

Taking notes, highlighting, and reviewing are also easier with books. On digital devices, tools are not always easy to access or find and may be a distraction.

Holding a book and turning pages is satisfying
The act of holding a book, looking at it on the shelf, and knowing you own it appeals to many people. Even a book borrowed from the library has a physical presence—weight, smell, feel--that makes it seem more enduring than digital text.

Designers are doing their best to replicate these aspects of paper books in e-readers. But for the present, at least, a "real" book in our hands seems to be serving us better.

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