Reading Skills: Individual Prescription


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – You’ve heard of prescriptions for glasses, but have you heard of prescriptions for reading? Find out how researchers are using vision science to get you to improve your reading skills.

When you have vision problems, you get a prescription to help you see better. Now, there may be a prescription for you to read better. Scientists are using advanced technology to boost your reading skills.

From computer screens to tablets to your phone, digital reading is embedded into every aspect of our lives.

“How well you read is really your ability to perform in the world,” explains Director of Virtual Readability Lab at University of Central Florida, Ben D. Sawyer, PhD.

(Read Full Interview)

And how you see the words on the screen can make a difference.

“I was walking through my career reading in a format that slows me down by, personally, about 15, 20 percent,” Professor Sawyer says.

But now, researchers are using vision science to find your best reading format.

Research scientist at University of Central Florida, Stephanie Day, PhD, explains to Ivanhoe, “What our research is showing is that when it comes to digital reading, there are formats in which people can read more proficiently.”

Using a test that is similar to an eye vision exam, researchers had participants read passages in different fonts, font sizes, and line spacing. Then the participants answered reading comprehension questions.

Professor Sawyer says, “By looking at speed and comprehension, we’re able to identify which format actually helped them the most.”

Early results show creating an individual text format can speed up some adults’ reading by more than 25 percent and could cut reading times in half. Right now, the researchers are using this test on a trial with elementary school students.

“We’re hoping that we can see even greater boosts for kids who are struggling readers or who have things like dyslexia,” Professor Day mentions.

Once the best format is determined, the goal is to automatically carry that reading prescription with you to all digital devices. The researchers at UCF are partnering with Google, Adobe, and Readability Matters on this individual reading prescription project. To learn more about reading prescriptions and to find your best text format, visit

Contributors to this news report include: Milvionne Chery, Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #5074

BACKGROUND: In the United States, 21 percent of adults are illiterate, and 54 percent of adults have a literacy below a 6th grade level. The COVID-19 pandemic has also set back educational gains as 9 percent, or 101 million students in grades one to eight fell below minimum reading proficiency levels in 2020, with the problem likely not getting better in 2022, according to the United Nations. Low levels of literacy cost the US up to $2.2 trillion per year.


THE IMPACT OF READING FORMAT: Fonts, font sizes, and even line spacing can affect the readability of an article, novel, or textbook. These reading formats can even affect how people perceive information. The New York Times conducted a study in which they loaded the same article in different fonts. At the end of the article, there was a poll asking readers whether they found the statements in the article believable. The results showed that true statements in articles using the Baskerville font were more likely to be accepted and the Comic Sans inspired the least confidence. In another study, 48 participants diagnosed with dyslexia read excerpts from a book in different fonts. The researchers found good fonts for people with dyslexia are Helvetica, Courier, Arial, Verdana and CMU, while italic fonts decreased reading performance for the participants.


READABILITY CONSORTIUM: Adobe, Readability Matters, Google, and University of Central Florida are partnering up on a new effort to personalize digital reading with the goal of improving people’s digital reading proficiency and comprehension. The collaboration is called the Readability Consortium and it aims to adjusting typography to a person’s optimal format, which would be contained in profiles that can be distributed across any and all digital reading surfaces. The consortium is planning to study many different possible implications of personalizing reading formats, including:

  •  Looking at ways to improve reading proficiency in school children
  •  Ways to help physicians improve their reading under time pressure
  •  Understanding how to improve reading in extreme environments, such as Antarctica and space

The consortium has already started conducting studies with elementary students. Readability Matters co-founder Kathy Crowley said, “After hearing struggling children read with greater fluency and expressiveness using small changes to text format, I realized that this could be a game-changer for education. It turns out that personalized reading formats can improve reading effectiveness for both children and adults. Technology can really make a big difference in implementation.”



Robert Wells               Amy Giroux            amy.giroux@ucf

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Ben D. Sawyer, PhD, Director of Virtual Readability Lab and Stephanie Day, PhD, Research Scientist

Read the entire Q&A