Citekey: @OHara1997

O’Hara, K., & Sellen, A. (1997). A comparison of reading paper and on-line documents. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems - CHI ’97 (pp. 335–342). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/258549.258787



The Literature (p. 1)

A fairly substantial body of literature comparing the reading of paper versus on-line documents can be found in the psychological, human factors, and ergonomics literature (see [4, 10] for comprehensive reviews). The majority of studies focus on “outcome” measures of reading, such as speed [16, 25], proof-reading accuracy [3, 8, 25], and comprehension [6, 16]. A lesser effort has been devoted to looking at “process” differences between reading on paper and reading on screen such as how readers look at text in terms of eye movements [9], how they manipulate it [21], and how they navigate through it [5]. (p. 1)

Jay Bolter, in his book “Writing Space” [2], heralded the computer as the fourth great document medium, next to the papyrus, the medieval codex, and the printed book. Implied in this is that the demise of the printed page is merely a matter of time. Certainly many of today’s hot topics in human-computer interaction point to digital alternatives to paper documents: the Web, new hypertext applications, digital libraries, and digital document ~ading devices. Some have predicted that such advances will make books as we know them obsolete, will radically alter the relationship between authors and nxxiers, and will change forever our concept of libraries as repositories of physical volumes of text, and of publishers as producers and sellers of paper books. (p. 1)

But the reality of day to day life shows that paper continues to be the preferred medium for much of our reading activity. (p. 1)

Annotation While Reading (p. 3)

Subjects’ comments in both conditions indicated that annotating and note-taking while reading was important in deepening their comprehension of the text, and in helping them to form a plan for writing the summary. Essentially, it did this by drawing attention to important points and making explicit the structure between them. (p. 3)

On-line. In the On-line condition, 4 of the subjects expressed that, had the document been on paper, their natural tendency would have been to annotate the document in some way or another. However only one of the subjects attempted to do this on-line, using a complex customisation of the tool bar to allow him to draw boxes around relevant sections of text or to draw a line down the side of the text. In doing so, this subject experienced a number of difficulties which interfered with the smooth flow of reading: (p. 3)

Paper. The majority of subjects (4 of 5), during the fiist pass through the document, undertook some form of notetaking activity while reading. In general such markings were made quickly and interwoven with the ongoing reading. (p. 3)

One reason for this kind of annotation was to provide a set of markings for later reference. (p. 3)

Another reason for the general reluctance to annotate the document was that annotating on-line results in making changes to the original document: emboldening, italicizing or underlining all alter the original document. Subjects indicated that they wanted to regard annotations as a separate layer of the document, and felt uncomfortable not maintaining this distinction. (p. 3)

It seems, then, that note-taking separate from the source document was more appropriate with these on-line tools. (p. 3)

the very act of making such marks is a process which aids understanding and facilitates the building of an internal representation of the text. (p. 3)

Notes written separately were also used as a resource for later reference, (p. 3)

Summary. (p. 3)

Three major differences between conditions were noted (p. 3)

(1) Annotation on paper was relatively effortless and smoothly integrated with reading compared to on-line annotation which was cumbersome and detracted from the reading task. (2) Paper supported annotation of the source document itself which many subjects felt was important. The Online condition did not provide enough flexibility to d this, nor did it support the richness and variation of annotations on paper. In addition, subjects were (p. 3)

reluctant to tarnper with the original text and wanted their marks perceptually distinct from the original document. (3) Subjects in both conditions also took notes on separate documents. Note-taking in the Paper condition was fkquent and was interleaved with reading. In the Online condition, reading was interspersed with long periods of editing, or note-taking was done after twiding with little reference back to the source document. (p. 4)

Movement Within and Betwaen Documents (p. 4)

On-line. In the On-line condition, whether scrolling or paging through the document, navigation was found to be irritatingly slow and distracting (p. 4)

Another feature which limited quick movement was the fact that one handed input meant that navigation activities had to be performed serially with other activities. (p. 4)

Paper. A40vement through paper documents was characterised by its speed and automaticity. (p. 4)

Summary. Movement through documents in both conditions was found to be important for information organisation, for reference, and for checking understanding. However, there were four ways in which this movement diffenxl: (p. 5)

(1) Navigation through paper was quick, automatic, and interwoven with reading. In the On-line condition it was slow, laborious, and detracted from reading. (p. 5)

(2) Two handed movement through paper allowed midem to interleave and overlap navigation with other activities, (p. 5)

(3) Subjects reading from paper used its tactile qualities to support navigation and to implicitly assess document length. Subjects in the On-line condition failed to make use of explicit cues such as page length to assess document length. (4) The fixity of information with respect to physical paper pages supported incidental memory for where things were, which in turn supported search and Rreading activities. The inability to see a complete page may undermine use of this feature on-line, but it appears pictures were used as anchor points. (p. 5)

Spatial Layout (p. 5)

restrictions on field of view for on-line documents meant that subjects either lost resolution through shrinking the documents, or had to use overlapping windows. (2) The layout of paper documents was flexible and dynamic, providing quick access for cross-referencing, and supporting the juxtaposition of documents for reading and writing. In the On-line condition, subjects had to plan in advance how to position and size the windows in anticipation of their future requirements. (3) Paper supported the use of independent reading and writing spaces which could be accessed concurrently and manipulated independently. Because only one window could accept input at a time, subjects in the on-line condition experienced difficulties integrating reading and writing. (p. 6)


But in the support of reading, and more specifically in support of reading for the pu~ose of writing, this study has shown that the benefits of paper far outweigh those of on-line tools. (p. 6)

Rather, the critical differences have to do with the major advantages that paper offers in supporting annotation while reading, quick navigation, and flexibility of spatial layout. These, in turn, allow readers to deepen their understanding of the text, extract a sense of its structure, plan for writing, cross-refer to other documents, and interleave reading and writing. (p. 6)

extract (p. 6)

Recognise that annotation can be an integral part of reading and build support for these processes. (p. 6)

Summary. Laying out pages in space was found to important for gaining an overall sense of the structure of a document, for referring to other documents, and for integrating reading with writing. There were three main differences in the two conditions: (p. 6)

(1) Laying out paper in space allowed the visualization of a great deal of information, and provided a holding space for quick reference to other documents. (p. 6)

The need to support more flexibility and control in spatial layout. (p. 7)

The need to support quicker, more effortless navigation techniques. (p. 7)

we can begin to unravel the complexity of the design challenge, and begin to make some better informed predictions about when and if we can ever expect a paperless future. (p. 8)

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