Worth Considering: How we read.

Worth Considering from Matt Hugg

Since the 1500’s and the invention of movable print type, reading on paper has become increasingly popular. Paper was (and is) a great medium for many reasons, not the least of which was that given the right ink and size of print, it was easy for our eyes to see the words.

But like many things in our transitional age of technology, computers have changed all of that. So it should be of no surprise that we read differently “on screen” than we do “on paper.”

It makes sense when you think of it. Reading on screen is tiring. The imperceptible flicker (best seen when you see an active computer screen on television), the lighting, the distance from your eyes, the size and type of the font, and the quality of the computer screen all contribute to the problem.

There is so much of a difference that inventors of “e-reader” devices like Sony’s Reader, Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and others are busy creating “electronic ink” to emulate the paper experience. In the meantime, millions of us print out e-mails for ease of reading and portability – making our e-mails into de facto books.

Given that both parties – the recipient and the sender –  have invested in the infrastructure (computers and the technology connecting them: the internet) electronic information can unwittingly open a floodgate of information at the click of a mouse.

Printing is a much messier, time consuming process that pushes all of the costs onto the creator of the message. Therefore, postal mailing forces the creator to do some much needed editing – for the sake of costs, but also to the benefit of the reader.

What does all of this mean to your fundraising appeals?

Electronic? It’s less expensive to send once you invest in the equipment (which you use for other tasks), making it tempting to send lots of information. 

On the flip side, it turns out that since reading electronically makes your reader more tired, even though someone can send a lot, the reader only wants to read a little. In fact, readers of material on non-e-reader screens tend to read 25% slower than if the same content was on paper.

What’s more, like our mother’s taught us, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.  People who read on screen need simpler fonts – preferably “san-serif” fonts (like Arial) to be able to absorb information more quickly.

They also need shorter paragraphs and bolds and highlights to help discern the important text since there is so much volume hitting the e-mail (or mental) “In Box.”

All of this contrasts with paper – where you can use serif fonts (like New Times Roman). On paper you can tell longer stories that will potentially sit on their desk for more than 30 seconds.

Of course, I’m biased. I can make your case to donors either way, or better yet, both.

But wither you use me or do your writing in house, writing may always be writing, but reading isn’t what it used to be.