Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication


The empirical study that is the subject of this essay extends work on readability with an explicit focus on whether readers report difficulty understanding health information in print versus on screen. The central concern of this essay, then, is not a matter of reading levels or penetrability of the text, but of how the delivery mechanism interferes with or enhances a person's reading experience through their perception of its difficulty. Though the study relies on convenience sampling with a limited number of participants, findings suggests that some first-year college students perceive online PEMs to be more difficult to read than print-based ones—even when the reading level of the PEMs is similar. While further study will be needed to confirm the results in randomly sampled populations, demographic information about the sample’s high levels of digital literacy suggests that other populations might also perceive online PEMs as more difficult to read than print-based equivalents. Patients’ perceptions of the difficulty of patient education materials (PEMs) influence their ability to effectively learn from those materials. This work, thus, concludes with a call for more research into patients’ perceptions of difficulty of PEMs in print versus on screen.