Print or Email? Which has Better Retention
The debate has been raging for a long time — which is more effective? Print or email? If you want people to understand and retain information, studies consistently show that it’s print.
“Print and Paper Play a Key Role in Learning and Literacy,” an e-book produced by Two Sides (2015), compiles data from a wide range of studies showing what makes print so different. While many of these studies cover students from elementary through college, they have a direct correlation to consumers reading advertising and marketing information.
What makes print more valuable for information retention and learning? According to the studies, print readers:
- Experience less mental fatigue
- Report significantly less eye fatigue
- Find it easier to concentrate (less distractions)
- Retain more of what they read (see above)
- Score better on comprehension tests
Some of this has to do with mentally “mapping” information in relation to other information or “landmarks” (for example, creases or smudges, page numbers, location of information on the page). Such spatial maps “have been shown to improve learning, retention and comprehension overall.”
Students reading on screen also tend to be more easily distracted. They read more superficially, skim around, have shorter attention spans, and have shorter reading sessions. All of this translates into poorer comprehension and retention of content.
In fact, in a comprehensive study of students at five major universities (Cornell University, Indiana University, University of Minnesota, University of Virginia and University of Wisconsin), most students preferred print textbooks over e-texts. Negative aspects of e-texts included “poor readability, eyestrain, insufficient resolution for graphics, zooming and scrolling difficulties, and difficulty annotating.” Faculty also expressed the belief that e-texts did not “enhance student outcomes” and preferred printed texts for class instruction.
This doesn’t mean that print is superior in all cases to electronic communications. But when you are communicating detailed information that needs to be analyzed and processed, studies show that reading print provides better retention.