Highlighting and taking notes are equally ineffective when Reading paper or eText


The present study examined whether there is a difference in comprehension when reading from computer-based text versus reading from paper-based text and whether there is any benefit from the ability to take notes and highlight text while reading. In two experiments, students’ reading times and comprehension scores were compared between electronic text and paper text excerpted from a popular psychology textbook. In the first experiment, students were only allowed to read, while the second experiment allowed the use of highlighting and note-taking. The results revealed no significant difference in reading times and comprehension scores across conditions. More important, there was no significant difference in highlighting and note-taking across text formats. Overall, comprehension was poor and this may reflect highlighting and note-taking as ineffective or rather the type of behavior when engaging in these types of reading aids should be reconsidered. Alternatively, poor comprehension may have been a result of low motivation from participants.

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Correspondence to Michael J. Stroud.

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• The purpose of the current study was to compare reading comprehension based on paper text versus electronic text when given the option to highlight or take notes.

• In two experiments, participants read a chapter from a popular introductory psychology textbook followed by a set of comprehension questions drawn from the publishers supplied database. In both experiments, half of the participants read from a traditional textbook and half read on a desktop computer. In Experiment 1, participants were only allowed to read and in Experiment 2, they could highlight the text and take notes.

• The findings demonstrated no difference in terms of comprehension regardless of the format of the text or if given the option to highlight and take notes.

• The results of the current study are informative when recommending the type of text format. They should not be taken as a recommendation to not take notes or highlight, but rather the method of taking notes and highlighting should be considered while reading.

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Leonard, S., Stroud, M.J. & Shaw, R.J. Highlighting and taking notes are equally ineffective when Reading paper or eText. Educ Inf Technol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-021-10448-9

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  • E-text
  • Reading
  • Textbooks
  • Highlighting
  • Note-taking