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Study Skills

Reading on screens: Home

Reading on screens

We are all reading online much more than ever before. Reading on a screen is a different experience to reading print materials. While this undoubtedly suits some people, many others may find an increase in screen-reading difficult.

The purpose of this guide is to

  • Identify ways that you can use reading technologies and accessibility software to alleviate the effects of reading on a screen
  • Ensure that you are able to read as effectively as you would if using print or 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.

 

Taking notes

Why take notes?

Taking notes can help you to absorb more information from reading on screen. Your notes will also help you later when you need to track down a reference. It can be harder to locate specific bits of information in an electronic text because you don't have a physical place to return to. Remember to note the page number or another landmark (chapter, paragraph number etc. - not all electronic texts have page numbers) for key information so you can easily find it again.

How?

Even though you are reading 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

Help

Your college might run sessions on note taking. Contact your college library for information.

Disabled students

If you have a print disability and are registered with the Disability Resource Centre, there are some options available to help you with reading on screens or from digital texts.

A print-disabled person is:

a person who has a physical or mental impairment which prevents the person from enjoying a copyright work to the same degree as a person who does not have that impairment

Alternate formats

The Libraries Accessibility Service can provide electronic alternate formats of books in Cambridge libraries, under the Copyright and Related Rights (Marrakesh Treaty etc) (Amendment) Regulations 2018.

We can get electronic alternatives to:

  • print books held in any Cambridge library
  • ebooks with restrictions which make them difficult or impossible to use

Files are usually in PDF or Word. In some cases we can only get epubs.

You must have registered with the Disability Resource Centre to use this service.

Contact the Libraries Accessibility Service to request files.

SensusAccess

SensusAccess is a free, self-service facility. It is designed to allow disabled students and staff (or those supporting them) at the University of Cambridge to create alternative formats of digital documents. Using SensusAccess you can convert PDFs, JPEGs and other files into an e-book, text file, Word file, audio or braille. Further information and e-training is available. There is no need to register for this service.

Assistive Technology

The Disability Resource Centre can advise on assistive technology for students who need it.

The University Library (UL) has a PC running Dolphin Supernova and Dragon Professional Speech-to-Text. It is located in a private, bookable study room, which is part of the South Wing 3 Study Hub.

To use the PC you need to book the assistive technology room and email the Libraries Accessibility Service so that we can activate your account.

Free software

NVDA is a fast, functional and free screen reader. It is portable on a USB stick if you want to take it from place to place. You can use it read out websites, PDFs, Word, Powerpoint and more.

Microsoft Windows has a built-in screen reader called Narrator. There are lots of other assistive tools which come with Windows and Office software which can help you to read on screens, such as the Immersive Reader for Word documents.

macOS has a built-in screen reader called VoiceOver.

Most browsers offer a read aloud add on which can provide reading support by reading out accessibly designed websites and PDFs. Search for your browser name and read aloud to see what is available.

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 the most-used and quirky ebook platforms. Contact the ebooks team 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.
Accessibility Read the accessibility statement for Cambridge Core.
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 information 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.

Accessibility Read the EBSCO eBook Accessibility User Guide and FAQs

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: Archaeology, Biology, Business & Management, Classics, Computer Science, Economics, Education, History, Law, Linguistics, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Religion, and Sociology.

Temporary access to titles in: Chemistry, Clinical Medicine & Allied Health, Earth Sciences & Geography, Environmental Science, Mathematics, Neuroscience, Palliative Care, Physics, Public Health & Epidemiology and Social Work.

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 'Personal account' section on Oxford Academic for more details. 
Downloading

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

Accessibility Read the Oxford Academic Accessibility Statement.

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 locked padlock 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" under the lightbulb icon 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.

Image of button to suggest a title for purchase on Torrossa

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. For further information see this VLeBooks Accessibility Statement.
Known issues

Some iPad, iPhone and iMac users have been unable to access ebooks in VLeBooks' “Read Online” mode, as many iOS devices block pop-ups by default. You may need to enable pop-ups to access ebooks in “Read Online” mode.

To enable pop-ups on your Safari browser (on iOS):

  1. Click on the Settings app icon.
  2. Under Settings, click on the Safari icon.
  3. Under General, swipe left on Block Pop-ups to turn pop-up blocking off.

Please also ensure that you are using Safari 5 or a more recent version.

To enable pop-ups on your Google Chrome browser (on iOS):

  1. Open the Chrome iOS app.
  2. Click the ‘More’ button (3 dots)
  3. Click the Settings menu.
  4. Scroll down and click on Content settings, and then select Block Pop-ups.
  5. Turn Block Pop-ups off

Useful Guides from Cambridge University Libraries

Useful links

Finding resources to read online

The University Library ebooks and ejournals teams are dedicated to finding and promoting new resources for you to read on screen. Follow their blogs to get updates on the latest acquisitions. 

Follow ebooks@cambridge on WordPress.com
Follow ejournals@cambridge on WordPress.com
Student working

Image credit: Alice the Camera

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