Explanatory Text

The foundation for the P-I-C-K model for digital information began in 2000 with research of how readers process news text online.  The implication is that if text is part of a multimedia message, traditional reading processes need to tested, applied and perhaps updated before one can assume digital content is indeed understood!  Some might call the traditional reading research from the 80s “ancient,” but the fact is text is comprehended in systematic ways regardless if it appears on paper or on a screen.  The question, therefore,  is which components of text processing are most important for online content?

In Yaros_2006.pdf, an experimental design, theoretically motivated by cognitive models of text comprehension, investigated effects of text structure in complex news (i.e. science) on non experts. Text from two New York Times stories were modified for a proposed explanatory structure building (ESB) model to enhance reader interest in and comprehension of the content. Dependent variables include self-reported situational interest plus a deeper situational understanding of the text using a robust battery of tests.  235 undergraduates were exposed to online text in either the traditional (New York Times) inverted pyramid or the ESB explanatory structure that provided more context and explanation earlier in the story. As indicated by the figures below, the ESB explanatory text significantly enhanced both reader interest and understanding of the science news, as compared to the original New York Times stories.

Interestingly, interest and comprehension wasn’t so straight forward when links were added to the same stories. In a second experiment using the same stories, two link structures were added. The links were either embedded with the text and provided specific explanation of scientific terms OR appeared in the more traditional format of a list of links along one border of the web page.

As published in Yaros, 2011 (in press, Science Communication), the explanatory text alone did NOT produce the greatest reader interest and comprehension.

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