Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada asked 70 people to read “The Demon Lover
,” a short story by Elizabeth Bowen. One group read it in a traditional linear-text format; they’d read a passage and click the word next
to move ahead. A second group read a version in which they had to click on highlighted words in the text to move ahead. It took the hypertext readers longer to read the document, and they were seven times more likely to say they found it confusing. Another researcher, Erping Zhu, had people read a passage of digital prose but varied the number of links appearing in it. She then gave the readers a multiple-choice quiz and had them write a summary of what they had read. She found that comprehension declined as the number of links increased—whether or not people clicked on them. After all, whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which is itself distracting.