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Study Skills

Reading on screens

Reading on screens

We are all reading online much more than ever before, and particularly in the current coronavirus crisis, we are very reliant on electronic materials. Reading on a screen is a different experience to reading print materials, and while this undoubtedly suits some people, many others may find an increase in screen-reading difficult.

Contents
  • Useful guides from Cambridge University Libraries
  • Making reading on screens easier
  • Alternative formats
  • Taking notes
  • Useful links
  • Finding resources to read online
  • Ebook providers and platforms

The purpose of this guide is to identify ways that you can make use of reading technologies and accessibility software to alleviate the effects of reading on a screen, and to ensure that you are able to read as effectively as you would if using a combination of print and electronic materials.

Make reading on screen easier

There are many ways that you can optimise your device, make use of software, or modify your screen, in order to improve the experience of reading online.

Use an e-reader

You may already have access to an e-reader, like a Kindle or Kobo device, and these are better designed for reading than most computer or mobile screens. An alternative is Adobe Digital Editionsa free e-reader that you can download for your mobile phone or tablet, either iOS and Android. It allows you to read anything in an ePUB format and has good search functionality.

Read out loud

There are some excellent accessibility features on Adobe Acrobat, one of which is 'Read out loud', a text-to-speech option which will read out the contents of a PDF. There is also an app called SpeakIt for iOS and Android, which works in a similar way.

Use a reading ruler

If you are a Google Chrome user, you can access a free browser extension for a reading ruler. This highlights the line you are currently reading, and moves around the screen with your arrow keys, so it can help you to keep your place in a long PDF. It can be particularly useful for dyslexic readers.

Modify your screen

Changing the brightness of your screen can make a difference to the experience of reading online. Free software such as F.lux will automatically change the colour of your screen depending on the time of day, to make it easier to read. There is also advice online about calibrating your monitor, such as this post from LifeHacker.

 

Typing on a laptop

Image credit: Alice the Camera

Alternative formats

Converting the format of a document can make it much easier to read. The epub ebook format is more inclusive that the PDF: text can be resized to fit your screen and works well with 'text-to-speech' software.

Disabled readers

The University Library will prioritise services to support disabled readers. If you are a disabled student and have an enquiry or request, you can use the fast-track email disability@lib.cam.ac.uk to request resources in an accessible format.

SensusAccess is a free self-service facility that can help you create accessible alternative formats of inaccessible digital documents. It can convert PDFs, JPEGs and other files into an e-book, text file, audio or braille.

RNIB Bookshare provides UK textbooks and in a range of accessible formats. Users with the following eligibility criteria can contact their librarians to create an account:

  • Blind or partially sighted
  • Dyslexia, Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder
  • A physical disability that significantly affects use of printed materials

Taking notes

Taking notes can help you to absorb more information from reading on screen, and this can be especially important when you don't have a physical location to return to track down the reference you need. Even though most of the resources you have access to reading will now be online, you can still take notes and organise your thoughts by hand. Try making a few bullet points or writing a summary at the end of every article or chapter. You could draw a concept map, or use the Cornell method.

There are lots of ways to take notes online too. You have access to OneNote through your University of Cambridge Microsoft account. This digital notebook will allow you to sort content; tag, annotate, and highlight; record audio notes and insert online videos; take clippings from websites; and share your files. Evernote can also be used as a mobile app, and includes web clipping and annotation functions. Diigo is a free web extension that can help you collect, tag, and annotate resources as you read.

CamGuides provide further information about academic reading skills, including critical reading and note-making

Ebooks providers

Different ebook suppliers offer different functionality. The Ebook platform hints and tips box, from the ebooks LibGuide, can teach you how to navigate a variety of ebook platforms and introduces features that might enhance your electronic reading experience.

Ebook platform hints and tips

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus.
Coverage All Cambridge University Press published (and open access) ebooks and selected ebooks from partner presses such as Liverpool University Press, Edinburgh University Press and Boydell & Brewer.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? No. As with all electronic resources though, you should observe copyright regulations.
Simultaneous user access?

No limit.

 

Formats available All content is offered in pdf format with some also in HTML.
Do I need to create an account? Only if you wish to save searches and bookmark favourite content. Click 'Register'.
Downloading Yes. Chapters or entire ebooks can be downloaded to pdf or sent to Kindle.
Known issues
  • Occasionally content displays as 'Get access' and is locked, when it should be available.
  • We occasionally find chapters missing when trying to download pdfs.

In both cases, please contact us for help.

  •  'Search in this book' searches the book's metadata (title, author, chapter titles and descriptions), not the entire text. To search the entire text for keyword(s), download to pdf and use CTRL + F to search.

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

 

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus. Raven is also required for printing, copying and downloading on-campus.
Coverage Users should be able to access all titles visible on the platform.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? Yes. Restricted printing and copying. Download maximum varies from 3 to 21 days, depending on publisher.
Simultaneous user access? Depends on title. Some ebooks are restricted to a maximum of 3 or 1 concurrent users. When the limit is reached, you will see a message 'Your institution has access to x copies of this book. All copies are currently in use. Please check back later, or search for another book.'
Formats available Read online (desktops, tablets and laptops only, NOT phones). PDF for chapter downloads and EPub for whole book downloads (whole book downloads available on phones).
Downloading

Yes. Book sections can be downloaded as pdfs and kept indefinitely (requires Raven). Some titles offer a full download to EPub of between 3 and 21 days. Please note that for ebooks capped at a maximum number of simultaneous users (e.g. 3-user access), downloading for offline reading can cause bottlenecks at times of high demand. Please avoid downloading the entire book if possible, or select the minimum time period you can manage with to facilitate access for all.

EPub requires Adobe Digital Editions. To download to iOS or Android devices you will also need Bluefire Reader and an Adobe ID.

Accessibility Ebook Central is designed for patrons with accessibility needs, particularly the blind and visually impaired. The platform has an accessibility mode which users can switch on themselves. For further info see this LibGuide from Ebook Central.
Known issues

Raven details are not normally needed to read an Ebook Central ebook on-campus. However, some titles will request Raven authentication the first time they are used. Users without Raven passwords should contact engcc@lib.cam.ac.uk for help in this circumstance.

When using a phone you will need to download the ebooks. 'Read online' is limited to the Detail page, Sign in and Download buttons.

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus.
Coverage Users should be able to access all titles visible on the platform.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? Yes. Restricted printing, copying and saving. Download maximum 7 days.
Simultaneous user access? Depends on title. Some ebooks are restricted to a maximum of 3 or 1 concurrent users. When the limit is reached, you will see a message 'Sorry this book is in use'. Please try again later (you might need to refresh the screen).
Formats available PDF and EPub depending on publisher.
Do I need to create an account? You will need to create an account to download ebooks for offline reading. Follow the prompts after clicking the download button.
Downloading

Yes for most titles. Book sections can be saved as PDFs indefinitely. For some titles the whole book can be downloaded and read offline for up to 7 days using Adobe Digital Editions. An EBSCO eBooks app is available on the App Store® or Google Play™ for reading offline on Apple or Android devices (or use Bluefire Reader).

Watch a short tutorial video on downloading EBSCOhost ebooks.

Please note that for ebooks capped at a maximum number of simultaneous users (e.g. 3-user access), downloading for offline reading can cause bottlenecks at times of high demand. Please avoid downloading the entire book if possible, or select the minimum time period you can manage with to facilitate access for all.

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus.
Coverage Only titles in: Management Studies and Business, Classics, Economics, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Politics and International Relations, Religion, and Sociology, as well as Law content from Stanford University and Chicago University up to present. Biology, Mathematics, Physics, Psychology up to early 2009. Available titles show Image of open padlock denoting owned content
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? No. As with all electronic resources though, you should observe copyright regulations.
Simultaneous user access? No limit.
Formats available HTML and PDF
Do I need to create an account? Only if you wish to save searches or titles that you have previously viewed. See 'My Work' section of Oxford Scholarship Online for more details.
Downloading

Individual chapters can be downloaded to PDF and kept indefinitely. Display the chapter via the Table of Contents and click 'View PDF':

Screenshot of Oxford Scholarship Online showing link to view pdf

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

 

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus.
Coverage Selected book and protocol titles from Biomedicine, Computer Science, Life Sciences, Mathematics and Physics collections only. Unavailable content displays a Image of closed padlock denoting unowned content.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? No. As with all electronic resources though, you should observe copyright regulations.
Simultaneous user access? No limit.
Formats available PDF and EPub. Some content also in HTML.
Downloading Yes. Chapters and entire ebooks can be downloaded to PDF. Entire books can also be downloaded to EPub. Pdf requires Adobe Reader and EPub requires Adobe Digital Editions (or Bluefire Reader if using an iPhone/iPad or Android device).

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

Access and authentication IP recognition on campus. Requires Raven details off-campus.
Coverage

The entire Torrossa catalogue of ebooks is listed in iDiscover, but to activate full text access on the Torrossa platform users must click on the lightbulb icon above the sample page and submit a request. Once a request is approved the ebook is activated and is available for all subsequent users.

Image of button to suggest a title for purchase on Torrossa

 

Digital Rights Management (DRM)?

Yes. Torrossa is 'DRM-lite'. Entire books can be downloaded as PDF files which will expire after 30 days. There is no limit on the number of times you can download titles. Printing and copy/paste is not available.

Simultaneous user access? No limit.
Formats available All content is offered in pdf format (expiring after 30 days)
Downloading

Yes. Ebooks download as PDF files which expire after 30 days. Downloading works much better if you download to Adobe Reader rather than your browser (if you open the PDF in your browser you will see a page of downloading instructions rather than the ebook itself). You may need to change your browser settings to do this:

Firefox:

  • Open the Firefox menu
  • Options >Files & Applications
  • Under Applications, select Portable Document Format (PDF) under Content type and switch to Adobe Acrobat Reader (you may need to look under 'User other') under Action

Chrome:

  • Open the Chrome menu https://www.technipages.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/3-dots-menu-icon.png, then choose Settings
  • Privacy and Security > Site Settings > Additional content settings
  • Scroll down and select PDF documents
  • Switch 'Download PDF files instead of automatically opening them in Chrome' to On
Important Until ebooks on this platform are activated by a user request, only a sample page is visible. If you wish to access an ebook, please click on Suggest this title for purchase button and provide your details. The Italian Specialist will then liaise with you directly. Once a title has been approved and activated the ebook is available for all users and the Download button will appear.

This box highlights functionality for some of our most-used and quirky platforms. Contact us if you have any questions about these or any of our other 60+ ebook platforms.

Access and authentication Requires Raven login on and off-campus.
Coverage Users should be able to access all titles visible on the platform.
Digital Rights Management (DRM)? Yes. Restricted printing and copying. Download maximum varies from 1 to 5 days, depending on publisher.
Simultaneous user access? Depends on title. Some ebooks are restricted to a maximum number of concurrent users (1, 3 or occasionally more). When the limit is reached, the platform will inform you.
Formats available Read online (HTML) and EPUB.
Downloading

Yes. Entire ebooks can be downloaded to  EPUB, which requires Adobe Digital Editions (or Bluefire Reader or the VLeBooks app if using an iPhone/iPad or Android device).

Please note that for ebooks capped at a maximum number of simultaneous users (e.g. 3-user access), downloading for offline reading can cause bottlenecks at times of high demand. Please use 'read online' if possible, or select the minimum time period you can manage with to facilitate access for all.

Accessibility DRM-free PDF downloads are NOT available, but the platform itself has Accessibility Settings where you can e.g. set preferences for font and contrast, and the online reader offers options such as changing background colours and built-in Read Aloud.