I've noticed that as a student when reading material, there is a choice between reading from the screen or reading from paper. When reading from paper I find that I concentrate more and that comprehension is much better. I can partially memorize the material rather than reading from screen. In addition, I find reading from screen is more tiring. When I feel tired reading from the screen I often print to paper, and it provides relief.


  • Does research support this observation that reading from paper results in less strain and greater comprehension?
  • Are there any techniques to improve reading from screen?

3 Answers 3


Research would suggest that reading from (well printed) paper is easier; due to ease of making annotations, navigation and the lower risk of eye strain that can be caused from VDUs.

There are ways to minimise potential eye strain on VDUs, due to lighting and positioning.

Friendly User Interfaces would ease navigation, and the development of new technologies for monitors, would assist in visual acuity and reduction in potential eye strain and problems associated with glare.

We report on a laboratory study that compares reading from paper to reading on-line. Critical differences have to do with the major advantages 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, create a plan for writing, cross-refer to other documents, and interleave reading and writing. We discuss the design implications of these findings for the development of better reading technologies.

A Comparison of Reading Paper and On-Line Documents
Kenton O'Hara & Abigail Sellen

Rank Xerox Research Centre (EuroPARC)
61 Regent St.
Cambridge, CB2 1AB, U.K.

The advent of widespread computer use in general and increasing developments in the domain of hypertext in particular have increased awareness of the issue of reading electronic text. To date the literature has been dominated by reference to work on overcoming speed deficits resulting from poor image quality but an emerging literature reveals a more complex set of variables at work. The present review considers the differences between the media in terms of outcomes and processes of reading and concludes that single variable explanations are insufficient to capture the range of issues involved in reading from screens.

Reading from paper versus screens: a critical review of the empirical literature
Volume 35, Issue 10, 1992

Proof-reading: VDU and paper text compared for speed, accuracy and fatigue Behaviour & Information Technology
Volume 6, Issue 2, 1987

Visual strain during VDU work: the effect of viewing distance and dark focus
Volume 31, Issue 10, 1988

  • $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity, do these results also hold for readers with dyslexia? $\endgroup$
    – senderle
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ @senderle interesting question, they didn't specify, you could ask this as a separate question. I would add a link to this $\endgroup$
    – user10932
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 22:07

Question: Are there any techniques to improve reading from screen?

Yes! I employ many different "techniques" myself:

  1. Temporary on-the-fly changes to websites which I do not frequent.
  2. Cut-N-Paste content to a text editor.
  3. Temporary changes for my viewing needs.
  4. Permanent changes for my viewing needs to sites I frequent.

You bring an important point regarding readability. It is such a problem for those of us who work at a computer most of the day, that many programmers have come up with some tools to help with the readability of websites which we frequent.

(1) While most web browsers support increasing/decreasing font size (Ctrl+ / Ctrl-), they do not allow easily changing actual font or colors on websites. Ignorance of html/css programming by non-programmer "web designers" have recently lead to many websites inadvertently not even allowing the above-mentioned font-size changes!

(2) If I'm on a website which does not allow quickly changing text size, I simply cut-n-paste the text into a text-editor. I can then easily change font-size there. That also allows me to save the URL of the site where the information was found. I suppose this dates, me but this is a twist on technique of using index cards for term paper research. It saves you from trying to figure out where material originated from. If you are like me and prefer hard-copy, placing file-path & file-name on the bottom of your page, can help you find your saved copy (as often websites disappear or change content).

(3) I use a debugging add-on tool within firefox (called "Firebug") to make temporary changes to a page I am viewing. If I frequent that page, I can make those changes more permanent by putting those changes in item 4 below:

(4) Changing the way text is displayed helps so much with readability, that there is an add-on for Firefox which allows just that: "Stylish". It is extremely useful for people who have problems due to color-deficiency(color-blindness).

This particular forum (and other stackexchange forums), does allow the Ctrl+/Ctrl- font-size changing! Adjusting font-size helps; however it is not always enough. Personally, I find that adjusting the font, color, and background increase readability dramatically. Since I spend so much time on-line for work, I use Firefox web browser, along with and add-on called "Stylish" which allows me to customize frequently-used websites to make them more readable to me!

For websites/forums which I frequent, then creating a special "Stylish" modification for that site makes sense to me. I can modify the actual font, as well as the font-color and background on which the font is displayed for websites which I visit frequently. Knowing html/css allows me to customize a websites readability to my preferences!

I actually used Firefox with "Stylish" add-on modifications for a client who had an older employee with vision problems. The web-based hotel reservation software had poor readability on a couple of screens for which I had no direct control of. The software has since been modified, allowing each individual user to select background color in those text areas.

There is now an updated version of Stylish For Firefox. Also, there is now a version of stylish for Chrome as well...

Also, you no longer need to have extensive css/html background to use Stylish. Along with the new Stylish version, there are numerous pre-made Stylish Alternative Themes/Skins for many popular websites.

Many of the alternate "themes" are specifically geared towards helping with eye-strain -- look for the word "dark" in their name.

https://userstyles.org If you use openid, you can use your stackexchange openid You can use your openid login by choosing "login" then "openid", then https://openid.stackexchange.com An example of an alternate "theme" which will help with eye strain is here: Youtube - Lights Out - A Dark Youtube Theme This dark grey background with light text is much easier on the eyes.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ This is anecdotal evidence only - the OP asked for scientific evidence. Not that any of these things are bad, just wondering if you could possibly add to it? $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ My answer (above) was only in response to the second question only regarding techniques to improve reading from computer screens. It was only based on my personal experience. My post was not in response to the first question regarding research. Till now, I did not have anything to add regarding research. I recently found a study published since then. $\endgroup$
    – CutNGlass
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 17:59
  • $\begingroup$ Understanding that the answer to the first question informs the answer to the second question, I don't think it makes sense to answer only the second while leaving off the first :) $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Commented Oct 17, 2017 at 21:18

In response to the First Question Only:

Does research support this observation that reading from paper results in less [eye]strain ...?

This study which seemed to be focusing on finding an objective measurement of eye strain does seem to show that reading from paper does result in less eye strain than reading from a VDT.

Objective evaluation of eye strain using measurements of accommodative oscillation Ergonomics Vol. 30 , Iss. 3,1987

Accommodative oscillations occurring during eye strain induced by two different types of experimental visual search task—visual display terminal (VDT) work and conventional hard-copy (paper) work— were objectively measured using infrared optometry.


The low-frequency component (0 to 1-5 Hz) of the accommodative oscillation was found to be significantly increased after the VDT work, but not after the paper work.


In a questionnaire survey the subjects using the VDT complained more than the subjects given paper work of ocular symptoms such as eye strain and blurred vision.

Related to both questions, this more-recent study shows that "book-like positioning" of the VDT makes a difference in eye strain:

Reading from computer screen versus reading from paper: does it still make a difference? Ergonomics Volume 59, 2016 - Issue 5

Four experiments were conducted to test whether recent developments in display technology would suffice to eliminate the well-known disadvantages in reading from screen as compared with paper.


Given the developments in screen technology, a re-assessment of the differences in proofreading speed and performance, well-being, and preference between computer screen and paper was conducted. State-of-the-art TFT-LCDs enable unimpaired reading, but a book-like positioning of screens seems necessary to minimize eyestrain symptoms.


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