Present long, complex or new information on paper
Headlines in communication journals moan and whimper:
- “Is Print Obsolete?”
- “If Print Is Obsolete, Why Won’t It Go Away?”
- “Print Still King”
- “They’re Finally Killing Print”
- “Reports Of Print’s Death May Be Greatly Exaggerated”
- “Is The Employee Publication Extinct?”
- “In Rousing Defense Of Print”
And, my favorite:
- “Dead Papers Walking”
But don’t kill off paper yet. It boasts a superpower that electronic media doesn’t. And that’s a force that communicators can’t afford to work without.
Paper’s strength is comprehension.
“People use the Web,” says TJ Larkin, founder of Larkin Communication Consulting. “They read paper.”
Use print for complexities, ‘think’ pieces.
Websites are best for giving visitors specific nuggets of information — the weather in Chicago, maybe, or how many vacation days they have left this year.
Websites aren’t so hot at helping people understand long, complex information and ideas — the CEO’s new vision, for instance, or the state of the industry.
One reason: Navigating links may divert mental energy that people might otherwise spend understanding complex ideas.
For long, complex information, use print instead.
When not to use print
Don’t choose print over electronic media because of demographics. Age is no longer much of a digital dividing line, says the Pew Charitable Trust.
(You should see my 85-year-old Dad watch YouTube on his iPad. And you should see my 3-year-old niece take photos and email them to her mom with my iPhone.)
And if you’re not trying to help people understand?
- Print is best for understanding.
- The Web is best for finding.
- Face-to-face is best for getting buy-in.
Learn more about media characteristics.
Sources: Lori Bergen, Tom Grimes and Deborah Potter, “How Attention Partitions Itself During Simultaneous Message Presentations,” Human Communication Research, Vol. 31, No. 3, July 2005, pp. 311-36
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, W. W. Norton & Company; June 7, 2010
L. Gordon Crovitz, “What Is Changing — and What Isn’t — In The Wall Street Journal,” The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 4, 2006, p. A-17
Andrew Dillon, “Reading from paper vs. screens: a critical review of the empirical literature,” Ergonomics, Vol. 35, No. 10, 1992, pp. 1297-1326
TJ Larkin and Sandar Larkin, “What Each Channel Does Best: Web, Paper, Face to Face,” IABC 2005 World Conference, June 28, 2005
David S. Miall and Teresa Dobson, “Reading Hypertext and the Experience of Literature,” Journal of Digital Information, Vol. 2, No. 3, 2000, 237-55
William Powers, “Hamlet’s Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal” (PDF), Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Discussion Paper Series, 2007
Karl L. Smart, Matthew E. Whiting, Kristen Bell DeTienne, “Assessing the Need for Printed and Online Documentation: A Study of Customer Preference and Use,” The Journal of Business Communication, Vol. 28, No. 3, July 2001, pp. 385-314
Nicole K. Speer, Jeremy R. Reynolds, Khena M. Swallow and Jeffrey M. Zacks, “Reading Stories Activates Neural Representations of Visual and Motor Experiences,” Psychological Science, vol. 20, No. 8, 2009, pp. 989-99.