January 23, 2022

Journal Article: “The Impact of Skim Reading and Navigation When Reading Hyperlinks On the Web”

The following article was published online today by PLOS One.


The Impact of Skim Reading and Navigation When Reading Hyperlinks on the Web


Gemma Fitzsimmons
University of Southampton

Lewis T. Jayes
University of Surrey

Mark J. Weal
University of Southampton

Denis Drieghe
University of Southampton


PLOS ONE 15(9): e0239134
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239134


It has been shown that readers spend a great deal of time skim reading on the Web and that this type of reading can affect lexical processing of words. Across two experiments, we utilised eye tracking methodology to explore how hyperlinks and navigating webpages affect reading behaviour. In Experiment 1, participants read static Webpages either for comprehension or whilst skim reading, while in Experiment 2, participants additionally read through a navigable Web environment. Embedded target words were either hyperlinks or not and were either high-frequency or low-frequency words. Results from Experiment 1 show that while readers lexically process both linked and unlinked words when reading for comprehension, readers only fully lexically process linked words when skim reading, as was evidenced by a frequency effect that was absent for the unlinked words. They did fully lexically process both linked and unlinked words when reading for comprehension. In Experiment 2, which allowed for navigating, readers only fully lexically processed linked words compared to unlinked words, regardless of whether they were skim reading or reading for comprehension. We suggest that readers engage in an efficient reading strategy where they attempt to minimise comprehension loss while maintaining a high reading speed. Readers use hyperlinks as markers to suggest important information and use them to navigate through the text in an efficient and effective way. The task of reading on the Web causes readers to lexically process words in a markedly different way from typical reading experiments.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.