It seems to be implicit in information retrieval research that ‘users’ have such a competence in reading that a consideration of reading ability can be discounted from the research analysis. If only that was the case! The reality is that perhaps one in ten employees is on the dyslexia spectrum and in global businesses many employees are writing text and submitting search queries in a second language. In an earlier post I have highlighted the issue of perceptual speed on the evaluation of search results. Even something as basic as line length needs careful consideration of how people read digital content.It may therefore come as surprise that the scope and depth of research into reading can occupy a book of almost 600 pages with contributions from 52 authors. I have found my journey through the 2nd Edition of The Science of Reading one of many significant discoveries, shining light onto issues that I had not even considered before reading the book.
The editors of the book are Margaret Snowling, Charles Hulme and Kate Nation, all three holding senior academic positions in UK universities and in the case of Snowling and Hulme have made significant contributions to a greater understanding of dyslexia.
The 24 chapters are presented in six Parts, Word Recognition, Learning to Read and Spell, Reading Comprehension, Reading in Different Languages, Disorders of Reading and Biological and Social Correlates of Reading. The 1st Edition was published in 2005 and it is clear that there have been some important developments arising from the very considerable volume of research that has taken place in the interim period. Most of the individual contributions have bibliographies of 100 or more research papers. Clearly a significant effort has been made to ensure that the bibliographies are as current as possible given the inevitable challenges of collating and publishing a multi-part work. Each Part has a very good overview of the scope of each of the constituent chapters
The research effort is global. I have a Google alert on dyslexia research which routinely lists research papers from across the globe. One of the chapters I found to be of particular interest considers the challenges of reading akshara writing systems that are used on the Indian sub-content in languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil, all among the top 20 spoken languages in the world. Then there are the Chinese, Japanese and Korean scripts, often collectively referred to as CJK. My reason for highlighting these languages is that the idea that all important content is written either in English or a major European language is a convenient fallacy.
Arguably the most important section of the book for information professionals is Part V on disorders in reading. These could have a significant impact on the use of search systems and other digital workplace applications which have been optimized for users with a primary fluency in English. The impact of dyslexia is given prominent attention. Another section of specific value to the search community is the commentary in Chapter 12 on Sentence Processing about eye movements and reading which goes to the heart of accessibility issues.
Over the years there have been many suggestions on how to make web content more ‘readable’ but these are often based on small-scale research projects and personal experience. Reading this book will help you understand the science behind the advice, and perhaps indicate that the advice is not soundly based on research. Although obviously aimed at academic researchers and educators (there is a substantial coverage of how to teach reading skills) this is also a book that should be available to web and digital workplace development teams. There is an excellent index and the writing style is remarkably consistent across all the chapters. The coverage of a wide range of orthographic language systems is especially valuable.
Wiley kindly made both the e-book and hard copy book available to me for review. The e-book platform is VitalSource and as is the case with many e-book platforms the browse functionality leaves much to be desired. I would recommend investing in the bound version even if it is more expensive but be careful as there are still many links on Google to the 1st Edition.