Title:  The Effects of Computer-based Text Spacing on Reading Comprehension and Reading Rate
Session ID:  37-PR.a
Scheduled:   10/30/09
Session Time:  3:30 PM - 4:30 PM - 30 Minutes
Note: This session is paired with 37-PR.b
Description:  The days of reading text printed on paper are becoming fewer as the pervasiveness of online reading increases. Now, it is common practice for learners to do research, reading, and writing, in an online environment. Even the task of applying to graduate school requires potential students to take the computer-based Graduate Record Examination, which assesses students? reading comprehension within a strict time frame. Does the formatting of the text affect the students? reading comprehension and reading rate? Do the number of spaces following the sentence periods in text affect the students? reading comprehension and reading rate? The main objective of this study is to assess the effects that the spacing following a sentence period (one space, two spaces or three spaces) has on reading comprehension and reading rate when reading on-screen texts.
Abstract:  (Click here to enhance readability)
  Introduction The pervasiveness of technology-based learning environments has created situations in which learners participate in research, reading, writing, and assessment on computers or other electronic devices. While reading from computer screens is a common event, relatively few empirical research studies have been conducted to inquire about the ways in which general on-screen text layouts influence reading tasks. Specifically, computer screen text formats have categorically moved from the typical two spaces after the period in a sentence to a single space after a sentence period. Published findings that focus on the effects of the number of spaces following a sentence period on reading comprehension and reading rate are nearly non-existent. However, a simple Internet search shows the confusion related to the subject of sentence period spacing. The ability of potential graduate students, professional students, and professionals to successfully read and comprehend in an online environment can have a profound effect on their future. Based on the 2006 American Community Survey, completed by the Census Bureau, the median earning of people with bachelor?s degrees ($45,221) and those with graduate or professional degrees ($59,804) differs by $14,583. Many graduate schools in the United States require students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as part of the application process. The GRE is a computer-based test requiring test takers to complete on-screen reading tasks. However, the impact of the on-screen text formatting on reading rate and reading comprehension, particularly the spacing following a sentence period remains unknown. Known achievement factors such as reading comprehension and reading rate have been relatively unexplained in terms of sentence period spacing in a computer-based environment. The purpose of this study is to examine the effects the amount of spacing following a period (single space, double spaces or triple spaces after a sentence period) of on-screen texts has on reading comprehension and reading rate. The results of this study have the potential to impact the future of computer-based assessment, publishing, e-learning, and other computer-based reading activities. Rationale Traditionally, especially for those of us who learned how to type on an old-fashioned typewriter, a period at the end of a sentence was followed by two spaces. Typewriters used mono-spaced letters, meaning every letter was the same distance from every other letter. Two spaces were necessary to visually break up the space and reinforce the end of a sentence. Now that we use computer-based word processors that use proportionally spaced fonts, most style manuals recommend the use of only one space following the period (APA, 2001; Chicago, 2003; MLA, 2003). However, what data was used to inform their decision? Proportionally spaced fonts adjust the space around the letter based on its shape. The problem is that it is unknown whether the lack of a second space following a period affects a reader?s ability to accurately interpret text in a timely way. Therefore, the primary question becomes: Does sentence period spacing affect the reading rate or reading comprehension of the reader? Conventional practice has been to use double spacing after a period. However, today?s most popular word processing software, as well as recent American Psychological Association (APA) format, challenges this tradition by putting just one space at the end of the sentence (Loh et al., 2002). Dyson, 2004; Bernard, Linda, Riley, Hackler & Janzen, 2002; Kohlers, Duchnicky, & Ferguson, 1981; and Kruk & Muter, 1984, indicated that on-screen typography revealed that most previous studies regarding screen text spacing typically addressed effects associated with leading (the space between lines of text), kerning (the adjustment of letter spacing in a proportional font) and justification (the horizontal positioning and alignment of text within a line). Studies about inter-sentential spacing, however, are few. The majority of screen layout research concerns the effects on reading time; however, studies on reading comprehension remain relatively uninvestigated. Because screen texts are being used more frequently for assessment and online learning, the need for studies of reading comprehension must grow. Sentential spacing and reading comprehension are the focus of this study for these reasons. This study extends the work already completed by Loh, Branch, Shewanown, & Ali (2002), Clinton, Branch, Holschuh, & Shewanown (2003) and Ni, Branch & Chen (2004). Loh et al. compared the differences of reading time between groups, each geoup reading single spaced or double spaced passages, while Clinton et al. extended the research to three groups, single spaced, double spaced and triple spaced, and used the content of GRE test as the content of the reading passages. Neither study reported significant differences between groups. Ni et al. added reading comprehension as the response variable to control the effects of reading strategy; however, there was still excessive within-group variance and as a result, no statistically significant results were found. The Ni et al. (2004) study was interested in testing the differences among groups of students randomly assigned to the same reading materials, but with different spacing after a sentence period. Ni et al. also resulted in a lack of statistical significance. Importance of the Study Online instruction and the use of web-based resources are becoming more pervasive throughout all levels of education. The results of this study have the potential to impact the future of online instruction, web-based assessment, on-line publications, and other on-screen document formats. The Sloan Consortium (TSC) reported that virtually all types of institutions of higher education have shown substantial growth? (2007, p. 1). The TSC state that, ?for the past several years, online enrollments have been growing substantially faster than overall higher education enrollments. The expectation of academic leaders has been that these enrollments would continue their substantial growth for at least another year? (2007, p. 1). During the fall of 2006, nearly 3.5 million students were taking at least one online course?almost a 10 percent increase from the previous year. Wells and Lewis (2006) state that, ?in fall 2005, nearly 100 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet? (p. 4), and, ?94 percent of public school instructional rooms had Internet access? (p. 4). Schools are using computers and web-based resources for course instruction, student work, instructional planning, and professional development. Research Questions Building on the methodology established by previous studies and the rationale of the present study, the research questions are: 1. Does the use of one space, two spaces, or three spaces following the period at the end of a sentence in computer-based text layout affect the reader?s reading rate? 2. Does the use of one space, two spaces, or three spaces following the period at the end of a sentence in on-screen text layout affect the reader?s reading comprehension?
Sponsor:  IVLA      Session Type: Concurrent
Keywords:  Interdisciplinary,
    Key Presenter:  Kristi Leonard, University of Georgia
Copresenter(s):  Anita Zgambo, University of Georgia | Robert Branch, University of Georgia | Diane Igoche, University of Georgia
Facilitator:  Thomas Hergert, St. Cloud State University