Online readers last longer

Source: Poynter Institute EyeTrack07 study 

Readers of online news read much further into stories than readers of print news, according to the latest Eye Track study by the Poynter Institute. 

The 600 readers in the study, which was conducted in four US cities, were each given 15 minutes to read whatever stories they wished, while their eye movements were electronically recorded and analysed.

Researchers found that online readers read, on average, 77 per cent of the way through each story they chose to read. Readers of tabloid newspapers read 57 per cent of each story they started, and broadsheet readers 62 per cent.

[It would be helpful to know how the online stories compared in length to those in broadsheet and tabloid papers. It is possible that they were shorter, due to the online practice of chunking content – breaking it into more digestible pieces. On the other hand, I’ve seen plenty of online stories that were longer than their print counterparts. This can happen when a story originating in a newspaper is enhanced and updated for the online edition where space is virtually unlimited.]

Study director Sara Quinn also noted the effectiveness of “alternative story forms”, things like a Q&A, timeline, sidebar or list. These were assessed in a prototype section of the EyeTrack research:

Subjects were asked to read one of six different versions of a story about the spread of bird flu.

Three versions were print and three were online. What you see here are the print versions.

Each included identical information — fact for fact — but the story structure differed.

At the end of the test, subjects were quizzed about the story in an exit interview.

In both the print and online, subjects who answered the most questions correctly had read the version of the story with the most alternative structure — no traditional narrative.

These and other highlights of the research are in this video summary and in text form. The full report will be available in June.

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