Tuesday, 22nd May 2007
Tim Buckley Owen
Conventional wisdom states that people pay far more attention to the printed page than to a browser screen. After all, print is for consideration and contemplation by committed readers, while the web is for people who flit from place to place, constantly diverted by intriguing links.
Not so according to new research from the Poynter Institute, a school of journalism in Florida. Presenting the Institute’s EyeTrack07 project to the American Society of Newspaper Editors recently, project director Sara Quinn revealed that online newspaper readers read 77% of the content in the stories they choose to read, while printed broadsheet readers read only 62%.
The researchers gathered their data by mounting two small cameras above the subject's right eye to monitor what they were reading. The results have significant implications for information professionals who need to summarise documents for their clients and present the results in a digestible format.
Methodical readers tended to read in a full two-page view when reading in print, and to use drop down menus and navigation bars when reading online. Scanning readers would read part of a story then jump to photographs or other elements without going back to the place in the text where they left off.
Readers comprehended some parts of a story more than others, and retained them in memory better too. These elements included:
In fact, readers generally paid 15% more visual attention to ‘alternative’ or ‘unconventional’ text than to regular text. In broadsheet readers, this figure climbed to 30%. When it came to images, readers gave most attention to live, documentary news photos; mugshots got almost no attention at all.
The full EyeTrack report is to be released in June. More information is available at http://eyetrack.poynter.org and the outline findings are at http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=120458.
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