University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine
Illustration of a book and e-reader (31% Depends), stack of books with a mug of coffee on top and paper notes (49% Print), and a laptop with a pair of glasses on top (20% Online)
Illustration: Alina Skyson

Poll: Do You Generally Prefer to Read Text in Print or Online?

U of T students have spoken: Print is far from dead, but online has its place, too

When it comes to all forms of books – from novels and non-­fiction to textbooks – most U of T students prefer the tactile pleasure of turning pages over scrolling onscreen.

Amanda Whittaker, a PhD candidate in history, says, “I prefer reading in print because you have that actual touch of the book – you feel it – and that connection is something you lose when you’re looking at it online.” Eighty-seven per cent digest textbooks in print, finding it easier on the eyes – as well as easier for anno­tating and highlighting.

Of course, not all print is equal. While there was a fairly even split when it came to magazines (43 per cent of students preferred a hard copy, while 57 per cent read them electronically), eight in 10 readers get their news online. Students enjoy the convenience, lower cost and environmentally friendly aspect of online sources – especially for shorter articles. Second-year UTM student Belal Faquiri says: “Instead of wasting paper, I can just access it online.”

This highly unscientific poll of 100 U of T students was conducted at Robarts Library in October.

What four students had to say: 

Photo of Belal Faquiri outside Robarts LibraryBelal Faquiri
2nd year, political science, UTM

I prefer to read online because it’s more accessible. If I’m on the road, I can go on my phone; if I’m at home, I can use my laptop. Instead of wasting paper, I can just access it online.

Photo of Marie Song outside Robarts Library

Marie Song
1st year, English, Victoria College

It’s a lot nicer to be able to “interact” with the text  – marking it up and highlighting it – especially as an English major. If I don’t do that, it feels like there’s much more distance between me and the text I’m reading – and the messages in it. Reading in print makes it easier for me to access the wealth of information in it.

Photo of Salma Geissah outside Robarts LibrarySalma Geissah
1st year, life sciences, Woodsworth College

Mostly I read my textbooks and lecture notes in print. I also read research articles, because I’m looking for a field of research to go into next year, and novels. My head hurts when I read onscreen for a long time – and we have a lot of readings.

Photo of Zihan Cai outside Robarts LibraryZihan Cai
3rd year, environmental science,
Innis College

I prefer to read in print because it doesn’t hurt my eyes, and I can read on the TTC. In print, I read textbooks and course readings – stuff I have to study. Online I read things like articles or newspapers for my own pleasure.  I also read scientific papers online because sometimes I have no choice or it’s convenient.

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