Do Students prefer PDFs or Paper Copies?


Haley Blakemore

This book is a required book for World Literature taught by Professor Peter Saffel.

Some students prefer a physical copy rather than a PDF or online version and vice versa. Both options have negative and positive qualities, but I prefer a physical book. A physical book is less staining on my eyes, but I find it easier to take notes in a PDF version of a book.

Anna Griffith, a sophomore majoring in English Rhetoric and Writing, commented on the pros of physical and online/PDFs, “(Online/PDFs are) portable and downloadable. I can read them on my phone wherever I am even if I don’t have service. Digital versions are also usually cheaper than physical books and they take up no space compared to carrying around a stack of books. (Physical) You can take them with you anywhere and they don’t need to be downloaded and will not run out of battery. With physical books, you can tab and bookmark them easier than it would be with digital versions. They are also prettier to look at and can make good decorations and can be good conversation starters.”

Griffith also gave her opinion on the cons of both physical and PDFs, “(PDFs) Can be a pain to read. There can be different formatting options that can be confusing as well as some online books not having the same content as physical novels. Reading novels and PDFs on a phone, laptop, or tablet can also be very harsh on your eyes. As an English major, I am on my computer quite a lot reading many different PDFs. In the past year, I have really noticed the strain it has started to put on my eyes and how harsh it is even with blue light glasses compared to reading a paperback text. You cannot read them when it gets dark without a light compared to reading a digital version. They can be heavy and awkward to carry and take up a lot of space. They are also usually more expensive. Paperbacks are cheaper than most hardcovers but the prices can add up especially if you are an avid reader.”

Even with both pros and cons, she still prefers physical books. Griffith said, “I prefer physical books because they are what I grew up with and I enjoy their aesthetic and their cover art.”

This seems to be a trend for English majors.

Devin Yano, a sophomore history and English major said, “I prefer physical books. Online books are way easier to use and to have on hand and with you, but physical books make it easier to flip through and find information. They also look way nicer and it’s better to have a physical representation of the money I’m spending and have it forever instead of having an Ebook that maybe someday I won’t be able to use for whatever reason.”

Brittany Batton, a senior majoring in secondary English education with a minor in psychology, said, “Physical books for sure! PDFs and online books hurt my eyes and I have a hard time reading them. I like the smell and feel of real books. It creates more of a personal connection.”

However, between online and physical, English professors seem to be at a stalemate.
Professor Drew Banghart said, “I’ve always preferred physical text when possible. Online books and PDFs give more access, though. You can get almost any text from anywhere with online databases, so the opportunities are greater with electronic texts. Also, electronic texts also have features like word searches and hyperlinks which makes moving within and between documents easier. Physical texts are more comfortable to use since you can move them around with your hands — you don’t have to crane your neck to look at a bright screen. They also give a better sense of how much text there is in a given document. Screens don’t give much of a sense of total length, so you may be guessing where the end is. Lastly, I think you remember more when you read off physical texts. The researcher Naomi Baron has actually published studies on how much more we tend to remember with physical texts. I’ve always liked Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. It’s an old and very long Victorian novel. It’s available in many print and electronic formats.”

Dr. Gerard NeCastro said, “If I have a choice, I like the ease of the Kindle Paperwhite. Most books I read, though, come only in paper form. The Paperwhite is so light and useful: it’s the perfect vehicle for me. The downside is that I remember things by their position on the page, so I lose that quality on the screen. As students need to remember what they are reading and to make lots of marks in their reading, I think they are better off with paper.”