Online Readers Pay More Attention?

The Poynter Institute‘s EyeTrack07 study keps track of how 600 test subjects read broadsheet, tabloid, and online publications and found that online readers actually read 77 percent of what they chose to read. In comparison, broadsheet readers only took in 62 percent of what they chose to read, while tabloid reader read just 57 percent.

The study results fly in the face of well-accepted notions that online readers have short attention spans and quickly jump between stories, taking in only a small portion of the content available.

The Poynter study tracked the eye movements of test subjects in Minneapolis, Denver, Philadelphia, and St. Petersburg during 15-minute reading sessions of varying publications, using two cameras mounted above the subject’s right eye. While subjects read, testers kept track of how long readers spend on stories they chose, and also collected data on reading patterns and how readers visually assess material.

“Nearly two-thirds of online readers, once they chose a particular item to read, read all of the text,” said Sara Quinn, director of the Poynter EyeTrack07 project. “Isn’t that incredible?”

The study also found readers paid more attention to items written in question-and-answer formats, lists, and preferred documentary news photographs over images shot in a studio or staged for the benefit of the camera.

The study did find that some 75 percent of print readers are methodical—that is, they largely proceed from top to bottom without a great deal of scanning around the page. Online readers, conversely, were split evenly between methodical readers and “scanners” who jump around content looking for interesting items.

The Poynter Institute is a journalism school based in Florida.

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