Poynter unveils tablet research findings

Eyetracking Shows Direct Connection Between Storytelling Form and Engagement

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., Nov. 8, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Poynter Institute has released major findings on how people read news on tablet devices. Results of "Poynter EyeTrack: The Tablet" were unveiled earlier this month at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. Journalists, educators and students gathered as Poynter faculty member Sara Quinn presented the eyetracking and survey findings with a panel of the project's architects, including renowned designer and Poynter affiliate Mario Garcia. The study was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and CCI Europe.

The research shows clear evidence that the way readers select a story influences the likelihood that they will read to completion. The study also reveals the importance of storytelling forms that keep the finger—and the brain—satisfied because most tablet users are actively engaged in touching the tablet screen.

"It's fascinating to see patterns emerge as we watch the people read," said Quinn, who directed this research project, as well as a study of print and online in 2007. "We're able to establish an average number of touch interactions, the number of elements looked at before making a story selection and the average amount of time someone reads before they decide to bail out. These things are enormously helpful to the process of editing and design."

Garcia, who recently released an e-book, "iPad Design Lab: Storytelling in the Age of the Tablet," worked with Quinn over the last year to design the research, which included analyzing how 36 test subjects interacted with real news stories on an iPad. David Stanton of Florida-based Smart Media Creative and Jeremy Gilbert of Medill worked closely on the project as well.

Explained Quinn, "We recruited people in two, distinct age sets: 18-28 year-olds — a group we have been calling 'digital natives' because they are among the first adults who don't have strong recollection of life before digital –and 45-55 year-olds, or 'printnets' referring to one foot in the print world, one foot in the 'Net' world.

Among the findings released are:

The tablet "bail out point"

There was an average point at which people were likely to either commit, or to stop reading a story. Calling it the "bail out point," (78.3 seconds of reading), researchers suggest this might be a good benchmark for establishing a "gold coin" to keep people reading—like a link, a question, a simple pullout quote or an informative visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story.

A difference in age

Younger readers are more likely to be scanners when searching for what to read. Older readers are more methodical. BUT, both groups read deeply, when they found what they wanted. As a matter of fact, scanning readers tend to read a little while longer once they find what they are looking for. This starts to dispel a myth that younger readers have less attention and don't care to read. And it means that the entryway design is strongest when geared to audience.

What people look at before choosing a story

Tablet users look at a large number of things before making a selection. The more individual content items a person looks at, the more likely he or she is to read a selected story to completion. Participants looked at an average of 18 editorial elements before choosing their first story. However, people who did not finish reading their first story had fixated only nine times before choosing.

These findings and many others will be the topic of upcoming training events at Poynter. Next up is a Webinar with Sara Quinn on Poynter's News University. "Tablet Design and Storytelling: 2012 Poynter EyeTrack Research" will be hosted at 2:00 p.m. on November 15. The cost is $29.95. To register, please visit

Poynter will host "Tablet Storytelling," a three-day hands-on workshop at Poynter March 4-6, 2013. The seminar will focus on how to craft stories using the key elements of touch. To apply, please visit

About The Poynter Institute

Founded in 1975 in St. Petersburg, Fla., The Poynter Institute is one of the nation's top schools for professional journalists and news media leaders, as well as future journalists and journalism teachers. Poynter offers training throughout the year in the areas of online and multimedia, leadership and management, reporting, writing and editing, TV and radio, ethics and diversity, journalism education and visual journalism. Poynter's News University ( offers journalism training to the public through more than 200 interactive modules and other forms of e-learning. It has more than 200,000 registered users in 225 countries. Poynter's Web site, ( is the dominant provider of journalism news, with a focus on business analysis and the opportunities and implications of technology. Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times, Florida's largest newspaper.

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