Are you a poolside, on a beach, or in a hammock bookworm, or an avid audiobook listener? And do you pack an e-reader rather than a tonne of books in your suitcase? They certainly are convenient devices. However, digitally reading and listening require more than you might think, says associate professor Maria Engberg.

The digital consumption of literature is increasing – everything from podcasts and e-books to interactive reading experiences. There are many positives for reading digitally, including for people with reading difficulties and disabilities. But such technologies require that we better understand and adapt to this kind of medium, says Engberg.

“When you read a physical book, the brain decodes the letters, but reading is much more than that, and can be multisensory with images, sounds and things we can interact with; these activate our senses in different ways,” she explains, and continues:

“These digital experiences mean that we must be active in a different way to understand and take on what we read.”

Through the research study Reading Between Media, Engberg and her colleagues have investigated how children experience digital tools such as audio books. The results surprised them.

“We assumed that many students would think an audio book was easier to absorb than reading a physical book, but that was not true – many lacked the tools to listen properly, they had difficulty concentrating and did not know what to do while listening. Reading with an audiobook or an interactive app required more from the user, even though one might think that it is 'easier' to read that way.

As part of the project, the research group has developed a 'screen and listening academy' for digital reading. Here are their top tips, which can be used by both adults and young people:

Set yourself up to listen and read actively

If you use a phone or tablet, it is good to 'switch' when you start reading literature. Maybe you usually scroll on the phone and read the content quickly, but if it is a book, you need to adapt and prepare for that kind of reading.

Listening to a book stimulates other senses, and it can be hard to keep up when one’s eyes are not focused on a text. Try to find what works for you, you may be disturbed by background noise or need to do a certain activity while listening. The main thing is that you think about how digital reading works for you and what you can do to get the best experience possible.

Orient yourself around the text

With a paper book in hand, you easily get an overview of what you are reading – you feel how thick the book is and can flip through to get an idea of who it is aimed at or what it is about. With an e-book, it is good to orientate yourself in the same way before you start reading and, for example, check how long it is so you know what to expect. It will enhance the reading experience.

Turn off distractions

Text messages, news and alerts on the screen or in the headphones can make you lose concentration and distract you from the content. Turn off notifications so that you have a quiet moment to really take in what you are reading.

Optimise the text

Set the font and background colour you prefer for an optimal reading experience. Try your hand at what's most comfortable – this is something you cannot do with a book, so take advantage of that opportunity!