Let’s learn about reading

Scientists are exploring how to make reading easier for people with and without learning disorders

a teen wearing glasses and a red sweatshirt lies on a hardwood floor to read a book in front of them

Reading can transport us to an imaginary world or help us learn about the real world around us.

Tomas Rodriguez/Getty Images

Reading is an awesome, uniquely human experience. Just by skimming our eyes over some squiggles, we can mentally travel across time and space. We can walk in the shoes of people who lived millennia ago. Explore imaginary realms and befriend fictional heroes. Glimpse the mathematical machinery that runs the universe and peek into the darkest, farthest corners of the cosmos.

But let’s be real. Reading can also be hard. That’s especially true when we’re tired or bored or faced with super dense text. And reading can be a lot harder for some than for others. Luckily, scientists are looking into the ways our brains make sense of written language. And this research has revealed a few tips for how to make reading an easier, more rewarding experience.  

For instance: Read in print whenever possible. There are several reasons for this. One is that our eyes are less likely to skim past printed words than those on screen. Plus, consuming content on a physical page helps the brain make a mental map of the information. That map, in turn, makes it easier to remember details in future.

When you do read on-screen, try viewing text in a larger font. Words are easier to wade through when the letters are less tightly packed.

Finally, when reading something difficult, such as a scientific article, take an active approach. Define unfamiliar words in the margins. Translate complex paragraphs into a form that’s understandable to you. Perhaps most importantly, be patient with yourself. Your brain is taking that jumbled bunch of squiggles and making it mean something. That’s a pretty fantastic feat, no matter how long it takes.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Cool Jobs: Decoding how your brain ‘reads’ Researchers are looking for answers that will help people who struggle to read. (3/22/2018) Readability: 6.1

Will you learn better from reading on screen or on paper? One size doesn’t fit all situations. But for now, experts say, don’t throw away your books. (10/18/2021) Readability: 6.0

Want to improve your reading skills? You might just need more space Students with and without dyslexia read better when letters have extra spacing between. (11/29/2021) Readability: 7.9

The imaginary realms of fiction have incredible power to shape the real world.

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Word find

Looking for a good book, but not sure where to start? Try “What Should I Read Next?” Here, you can search for new book recommendations based on titles or authors you already know that you like.

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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