Reading from Screen: Theoretical and Empirical Background

Reading from Screen: Theoretical and Empirical Background

Azza A. Abubaker (Benghazi University, Libya & University of Huddersfield, UK) and Joan Lu (University of Huddersfield, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1884-6.ch007


This research aims to deliver the fundamental, theoretical and empirical background surrounding electronic reading. It is structured into five sections starting with a reading definition, reading process, and a comparison between reading from paper and from an electronic format. The fourth section discusses the variables that influence reading electronic texts. These variables are classified into three categories: the individual or user variables (age, gender, experience and educational level); the text layout variables (font type and size, line length, spaces between lines of text, colour); and the applied technology (hardware and software). In the fifth section, a summary of previous studies is given and a framework for these variables is suggested based on the previous surveys.
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Reading Definition

From the history of research on the topic of reading, researchers put forward a set of definitions, but it is to be noted that the majority of them focused on one concept without providing a clear definition of the concept of reading to make it incomprehensible to all elements that related to reading. One of these definitions classified reading as an active process, self-directed by the reader in many ways and for different purposes (Gibson & Levin 1976). Others believe it is a complex, rule-based system that must be imposed on biological structures that were designed or evolved for other reasons (Malicky & Norman, 1989). Still, others consider reading as extracting information from the text. Furthermore, children’s reading is usually defined according to the brain structure (Frey & Fisher 2010), where the brain is divided into three areas in the early stages of learning: the prefrontal cortex, the parietal cortex, and the cerebellum (Kosslyn & Rosenberg, 2004). Therefore, reading occurs only through the intentional appropriation of existing structures within the brain.

Generally, reading aims to create a comprehensive understanding of the text. This requires from the designer of the text a good organised text, with a clear structure and clear links between words (Malicky G., & Norman C.A., 1989). In addition, Kenneth Moorman and Ashwin Ram (1994) defined reading as the cognitive task of understanding a text.

Based on the above, reading is both a bodily and mental process, and it is difficult to describe it because it is one of those deep and complex phenomena involving the human brain. Moreover, it is a complex interaction between the text and the reader, shaped by the reader`s prior knowledge, experiences, attitude, and language community which is culturally and socially determined. The complexity of the process of reading can be attributed to the absence of a comprehensive definition and that each definition focuses only on one side, perhaps because of the complexity of the reading process.

In addition, Harrison (2000) classified reading into six types:

  • 1.

    Skimming through the content,

  • 2.

    Reading to answer a specific question,

  • 3.

    Reading to learn,

  • 4.

    Reading to critique,

  • 5.

    Reading to cross-reference,

  • 6.

    Reading to support listening.

From the above, it can be concluded that the reading process goes through several stages, making it difficult to narrow it down to a single definition or model of reading, as we shall see in the next section.


Reading Process

Before describing and discussing the process of reading, it is important to give a brief definition of the reading process by referring to it as a manner of reciting or acting with the text. In other words, it is a method that the reader follows when reading any type of material. However, the reading process varies according to the type of information and other factors such as the text size, organization, and search tools. For example, the organization of an article is different from that of a book, conference paper, or report. Therefore, we must investigate the reading process for each type and genre of information by defining the differences between them, which will help outline the requirements of each type.

On the other hand, many would think that reading online is similar to reading from paper but looking at it more deeply from a transactional perspective, electronic reading is actually more complex as it imposes on readers to learn reading skills such as decoding, fluency and synthesizing.

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