Leonard, S., Stroud, M. J., & Shaw, R. J. (2021). Highlighting and taking notes are equally ineffective when reading paper or eText . Education and Information Technologies , 26 (4), 3811–3823. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-021-10448-9

Journal Article

Leonard, S., Stroud, M. J., & Shaw, R. J. (2021). Highlighting and taking notes are equally ineffective when reading paper or eText. Education and Information Technologies, 26(4), 3811–3823. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-021-10448-9


Electronic administration; Extra blank or specialized paper; Highlighting by student; No disability; Postsecondary; Reading; U.S. context





Two studies were described. (Study 1) A digital reading passage and digitally-delivered test items and a textbook (paper-based) reading passage and paper-and-pencil test items were compared. (Study 2) The conditions in Study 1 were presented, along with the opportunity to use a highlighter or digital highlighting tool, and to take notes on paper or using a digital notetaking software tool (Coursesmart).


Two studies were conducted, with two sets of postsecondary participants with a variety of academic major courses of study, at the same small private postsecondary institution in the Northeast (U.S.). (Study 1) A total of 54 students participated. (Study 2) A total of 30 students participated. In both studies, the students were briefly described in terms of ages, and no disability information was reported or analyzed.

Dependent Variable

Two studies were described, with similar dependent variables. Performance data included observed reading time for an eight-page passage from an introductory psychology textbook, and accuracy scores on 20 multiple-choice reading comprehension test items. Participants read an eight page passage from an introductory psychology textbook and answered test items developed from a question bank provided by the psychology text publishers in both studies.


Researchers reported analysis results from each study and from the combination of the data from the two studies. (Study 1) When comparing the digital text mode and paper mode data, results showed no significant differences between reading times for the text passage, and no significant differences in reading comprehension scores. (Study 2) When comparing digital text mode and paper mode data, when students were allowed to highlight and take notes, no significant changes in reading times occurred, and no significant difference was found between group mean comprehension scores. The researchers concluded that there was no evidence of differences in reading time or comprehension between the two conditions. A two by two analysis of variance was conducted and showed that there was no significant difference in reading time between text formats, but it took participants significantly longer when they were allowed to take notes compared to not take notes. The text format and taking notes interaction approached significance. There were no significant differences in comprehension scores between format or between taking notes or not. There also was no significant interaction for reading time between format and taking notes. Implications for practice and study limitations were reported.