Reading electronic materials

Features and guidance

In this topic we will outline some of the specific features and guidance that apply when reading electronic materials.

For most, reading information on a computer screen is more tiring than reading it on paper. There are a number of reasons for this – can you identify some from your own experience?

Often, the information appearing on a monitor is not as clear as the same information in black print on white paper. This could be because of lighting, positioning, screen quality/resolution, font size/style or just physical distance between you and the material.

It is not always easy to get comfortable for a period of time in front of a PC. If you are intending to read a volume of text, sitting at a monitor might prove less conducive to reading effectively than if you settle yourself in a comfortable chair with a book on your knee. 

If you need to study in detail or at length and your materials are in an electronic format, it might be worth printing the document onto hard copy (provided that, if you are at work, your organisation’s environmental policy allows you to do so). 

Having said this, sitting in a formal, upright position in front of a PC may create a certain state of mind or a positive environment that aids effective reading. Or, if you read effectively in a relaxed, less upright position, it may be constructive to have your material on a laptop which will afford you more flexibility.

Perhaps this is the case for you? In any event, identify what works best for you and make improvements as necessary.

Reading at a PC allows flexibility because you may be able to annotate the electronic text with colours or text effects that aid learning and memory.

With e-learning, reading electronic text allows you to interact with the materials and to switch between programmes to supplement learning, for example, going online to check out a website or opening a document to recap on a point of interest.

Good e-learning programmes are devised so that:

  • Information appears in digestible chunks (a number of short paragraphs, manageable sized sections and perhaps some activities or visuals)
  • You can print your materials if you wish

But what happens if your only option is to read from a PC and for you, this is a less effective reading style?

In some cases, it is possible for you to improve the appearance of what is shown on the screen.


Convert the text to a “friendly” font. Sans-serif fonts like Arial or Tahoma are widely regarded as being the most reader friendly. This has to do with the way our brains mange the shape of the letters and are also thought to produce a clearer and sharper image on screen.


As well as increasing font size (which you can set to suit you), it is also possible to use the “zoom” function in Windows. Ordinarily, the default setting is 100% but you can change the size of the document on the screen with percentage increases (or decreases, for that matter).

These are just a couple of simple steps you can take to help increase comfort, avoid eye strain and headache and make your reading more pleasant and effective.