Paper or Digital for College Students? The Answer May Surprise You

ClassroomIn the first class of the semester last week, the time came to review the syllabus. We were in a computer lab because it’s a writing class and the students write and edit materials in real-time as if they were at work in an actual public relations office. And like most colleges, we use an online learning system, so the students, each at their own computer, could have accessed the syllabus online – but I brought printed copies anyway.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said. “I can hand out paper copies of the syllabus, or we can just open it on the computers to review it. What’s your preference?”

“Paper.”  “Paper.”  “Printed.”  “Paper.”  “Printout.”  “Paper….”  It was unanimous. And I was shocked.

The class consists of 14 undergraduate Public Relations majors; young adults studying communication arts in our highly digital world.

If I had bet on the outcome of that quick survey, I surely would’ve lost the bet.

“Hmm, okay, will do,” I said. “I have printed copies for you.”

Intrigued, though, I had to follow up with another question.

“So let me ask you, when you are editing or proofreading a paper before you turn it in, do you read it on the computer screen or do you print it out and go over it?”

“Print it out,” “yea, print it,” “definitely print it.” Wow. Unanimous again.

I’d go so far as to call this a Myth Buster. The students agreed with something that most of my writer friends and colleagues and I have discussed – and agreed upon – before. When examining the printed copy of a document, the eyes, or mind, pick up details that we didn’t see on the computer screen – even after a focused on-screen read-through.

And it’s not just those of us who “grew up with paper,” so to speak. It’s this tech savvy, online, texting generation as well, at least among the serious writers among them. (This is an Advanced Public Relations Writing class.)

I was pleased. I was going to suggest to them that they print out their drafts before they do their final editing and proofing and expected to meet with some resistance.  But they already prefer paper. Who knew?

Do you have a preference for reviewing documents? On paper vs. on-screen? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

About Wendy L. Goldstein

A career communications professional with a deep interest in communications theory, traditional communication, social media and emerging communications technologies, Wendy L. Goldstein offers public relations, marketing and business communication services through WLG Communication,
This entry was posted in Business Communication, Communication, editing, education, paper vs digital, proofreading, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Paper or Digital for College Students? The Answer May Surprise You

  1. Carolann says:

    It’s true! I think that for college students, there is nothing more satisfying than checking off an assignment or reading on a syllabus! You cannot do that online. And, I’m not sure why, but typos, awkward sentences, and misspellings all are much clearer when you look at a hard copy. I’m glad to see that college students still see the value in print!

  2. Suzy Neiswinger says:

    It’s so much easier on my eyes to concentrate and focus on printed documents. I think glare is a definite factor. Working as a medical transcriptionist from my home computer, I found it was difficult to type and edit at the same time because of glare from the computer screen. It was also difficult to proof-read documents for the same reason. I generally placed an anti-glare film over the computer screen–a glare filter–and this did help a lot. I also turned the brightness down as far as I could, and I used high-resolution display backgrounds whenever possible, using the PC’s accessibility features; these options also helped a lot. But after gazing at the computer screen for several hours typing, proof-reading, and editing, PC glare–however minimal–takes its toll. The resulting sensitivity to light and headache makes thinking and reading very difficult. This is why I prefer to read and edit printed documents. It’s so much easier for me

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