Students’ preferences for academic reading

Placeholder ImageBack in October 2015 while attending the European Conference on Information Literacy in Tallinn we became aware of an international study carried out by many of the same participants of the Copyright Literacy survey. Known as the Academic Reading Format International Study (see ARFIS on Facebook) this survey was had been carried out in over 20 countries around the world. On the face of it students’ preferences for reading may seem unrelated to copyright, however in light of the increasing digitisation of readings and growth in e-books, we could be making assumptions about what format students would actually prefer for their course readings.

The UK ARFIS survey was launched in February 2016 and completed by 655 students from different universities around the country. The findings have been analysed by Juliana Rios-Amaya who is working as a research assistant at LSE. They suggest that most UK students still prefer to read in print format for academic purposes. You can read the full ARFIS UK report in LSE Research Online.

The survey found that 42 percent of participants strongly agree to preferring all their course materials in print format, followed by 28 percent who agreed with this statement. This finding is very similar to the one found by Diane Mizrachi who surveyed students in the US (Mizrachi, 2014). When asked about the convenience of reading in electronic format, the opinion of the participants in the UK was divided: 27 percent disagreed with the statement “It is more convenient to read my assigned readings electronically than to read them in print”, while 25 percent agreed with this statement.

In general, the results of the study suggest that there still is a wide preference for print format, especially for the purposes of learning and study. However, this preference can vary according to different factors such as: cost of printing, possibility of remote access or portability of the reading, and availability of print copies, among others. The purpose of the reading can also be very important in terms of influencing students’ preference. As one of the participants said:

“If I read for writing assignments, I like using [the] computer to make notes as words are easier to be moved and organised. Therefore, I prefer electronic copies. But, if I read to prepare for classes only, I like reading with printed copies and I can underline words and make marginal notes.”

In this sense, the preference for one or other format might not be a fixed one. Students might prefer or find it more convenient to use print or electronic formats in different contexts. The option to access readings in both print and digital format seemed to be favoured. The findings also suggested students had a limited understanding of how to manipulate digital texts, therefore training courses or workshops on the various e-book platforms offered by universities and how to use note-taking apps, are recommended to better meet students’ needs.

The results of the ARFIS UK study contribute to our understanding of students’ use of technology in the course of their studies. They also help to inform purchasing decisions being made in university libraries over the acquisition of textbooks, e-books and their digitisation policies. Given the requirements to report items digitised under the CLA HE Licence, and the costs associated with this licence, might it be that students in fact prefer a printed course pack?


Mizrachi, D (2014). “Online or Print: Which do Students Prefer?” In: European Conference on Information Literacy: lifelong learning and digital citizenship in the 21st century. Kurbanoglu et al (Eds). PP 733-742.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.