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The dos and don’ts of reading course literature digitally

Many ask which is better – reading on screen, or on paper. The answer isn’t all that easy, however: there are many indications that the right response is a matter of context, habit and personal preference. Although there isn’t a right answer to this question which suits everyone, it’s good to know that most of us don’t read the same way on screens as we do on paper. Here you can find some advice on the best ways to read digital course literature.

Note: The focus of this text is reading standard texts on a regular computer screen. If you have access to newer technology with screens that are better adapted for reading, or you read texts with links and videos, for example, then our advice for you will be different.

Do: Adjust the reading speed

Most people read faster and smoother on screen. This is advantageous when the goal of reading is to quickly gather the main theme of a text, but it can become a problem if you want a deeper or more nuanced understanding of what you’re reading. It is therefore a good idea to actively slow down if you notice that the passage you are reading is more difficult to understand or contains many different components – or if you know that you need to remember specific details from the text.

Do: Test yourself

In addition to the fact that many of us seem to understand and remember a little worse when we read on screen, we also tend to overestimate how much we understand and remember, in a way that we do not when we read printed text. This negative effect, however, is totally possible to counteract if you are aware of it. Actively practice screen reading by testing yourself at regular intervals on what you have learned, instead of just reading on. Pause often and write down key points, keywords and your own thoughts on the content. Try to avoid going back and writing down these notes directly from the screen, instead, try to actively remember the key ideas of what you have read.

Do: Make the text as clear as possible

It is more difficult to get an overview of text when we read on screen. The physical experience of flipping, feeling the weight of the paper in our hand and easily seeing where in the text we are is important for how well we remember and concentrate. There isn’t the same sense of control when you are reading on a screen. It can be difficult to completely recreate the overview of the printed text on the computer, but to some extent it is possible to regain this control. You can customize the document so that you see an entire page on the screen as you read. Clicking on a new page instead of scrolling requires less effort and focus, as you do not have to keep track of where in a scrolling text you are reading. In some programs, you can put two pages next to each other on the screen, as in an open book. You can also take notes in the form of mind maps or other more visually engaging formats, to get a clearer picture of where in the text you are, for the same effect, you could also put the table of contents in front of you on the desk.

Do: Pretend you are reading a book

All texts are the same on screen, which means that we do not distinguish them from each other as easily in our memory. It becomes more difficult to remember who wrote what and thus how the texts relate to each other. In addition, many people do not seem to treat the texts on the computer with the same seriousness as the books on the bookshelf. Maybe you recognize yourself in not devoting as much time or noting as much to digital texts? Here it is important to think creatively about engaging with your texts. Maybe you can write in different formats or colours for different texts? Is it possible to be in different places in the room depending on what text you are reading? Can you create your own front pages for the digital texts? There are certainly many tricks you can use to make these digital documents feel more real, which will help you to remember and differentiate these texts in the future.

Don’t: Get distracted

Something that can indirectly make reading on screen more difficult is that we tend to automatically relate a book to reading only. The same is not true for the computer which we associate with the many other activities that we use the computer for. Maybe you get distracted by messages that need answering, or by icons that you often click on. Make an extra effort to eliminate distractions when reading. Close all the programs you are not currently using, disconnect from the internet, and fill the screen with the current text so that you are not disturbed by any other pop ups.

Don’t: Forget to rest your eyes

One last thing worth mentioning is that reading on the screen can be harder on the eyes than reading a book. Some people can experience tiredness in the eyes or even get a headache after only a few hours of reading. This means that taking breaks is even important when reading online or digitally than when you’re reading an actual book. So, remember to take regular breaks from reading, and to actively make sure you stop and refocus your eyes on something at a further distance from you, to help your eyes recover.  It’s also important to give yourself a break from digital reading before you go to sleep: as the blue light on most computer screens can affect melatonin production before bed