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Reading to Remember: Paper or Electrons?

After a few years of decline, sales of paper books are inching back up again. While people like e-books for their convenience and portability, there are a number of studies that show better comprehension and retention from paper books.

Oz, Chloe, Bookshelf

We should make room for paper books?

E-books are great for travelers. They don’t weigh anything (by themselves), they don’t fill up your carryon bag, and you can put enough of them on your e-reader to get through any length of trip.

But here are a few reasons to fork over a few more dollars for actual, paper books:

  • Memory. We remember more of what we’ve read in a physical book. There’s something about the placement on the page and the sense of where the page is in the book that assists with memory.
  • Effort. We invest more effort in reading a print book. We’re less prone to skim, and more likely to approach reading as an undertaking that requires some engagement from us (hence, increasing learning).
  • Distractions. If you’re reading a paper book, there are no links to click and no pop-ups to tell you to attend to something else. It’s easier to concentrate with a paper book.
  • Sleep. This is not strictly about learning, but it’s easier to sleep if you read a paper book. Digital readers have a way of telling our brains that it’s not time to relax yet. Getting enough sleep, and sleeping more soundly, can both improve our ability to learn.

Many people have a definite preference for paper or for e-books, and some prefer one over the other for different times and contexts. Being able to search for specific words or phrases only works for the electronic versions. Plus, it’s great to be able to display your highlighted sections and comments all in one spot at the touch of a button. But, if you want to remember, study, relax, reduce stress, and sleep well, selecting the paper version may be a better answer.


Post | Catalano (2015). Paper is Back: Why “Real” Books Are on the Rebound

Post | Tan (2014). College Students Still Prefer Print Textbooks

Article | The Guardian (2014). Readers Absorb Less on Kindles Than on Paper

Article | Jabr (2013). The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper versus Screens

Post | Grate (2014). Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books

Post | Thompson (2014). Tablets and E-Readers May Disrupt Your Sleep

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