While some editors might wonder about the consequences of digital editing on their performance, one study found that there is no need to worry. 

As technology has become increasingly prominent and digital texts have become more widely accessible, most editors have begun to complete the majority of their work online. While editing professionals are usually proficient at using these online methods, some could have lingering concerns about whether their performance is negatively affected, especially because some researchers have demonstrated a difference in readers’ comprehension of printed and digital texts. But how do these studies on reading comprehension relate to editing? Is editing performance really suffering because of digital format? 


In their 2013 article “The Effect of Format on Performance: Editing Text in Print versus Digital Formats,” Sigal Eden and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai explore how using a digital format affects college students’ ability to actively read, which the researchers defined as “the reader’s ability to edit a given text and demonstrate comprehension by identifying and correcting text errors” (848). To examine the effects of digital formats on active reading, the researchers introduced several errors into two papers of equal length. Then, 93 undergraduate students studying social sciences were given 20 minutes to read and correct each paper—one paper with a pen, and the other with the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word.

The students’ work using the two methods was scored based on the quality of their editorial changes and the number of errors the students corrected. The researchers observed no significant difference between the average scores of the participants (30.40% for print and 30.10% for digital). Each participant performed similarly in editing both print and digital documents; if participants received a high score on the print section, they received a similar score on the digital section. In Eden and Eshet-Alkalai’s own words, “Despite the previously cited wide range of research reports on differences between print and digital reading, findings of the present study clearly suggest that there is almost no performance difference between these two formats” (853). Unlike previous studies, in which participants were simply asked to read the text and then answer comprehension questions, Eden and Eshet-Alkalai’s findings indicate that digital formats do not affect performance when readers identified and corrected errors in a document. 

“Despite the previously cited wide range of research reports on differences between print and digital reading, findings of the present study clearly suggest that there is almost no performance difference between these two formats.”

—Sigal Eden and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai (2013)

Eden and Eshet-Alkalai theorize three possible explanations for these results. First, as mentioned earlier, they employed different methodology by studying active reading conditions rather than passive. Another potential reason for the discrepancy is that as technology use has become more widespread, young readers are equally proficient in reading both print and digital text. Last, using information economics, the researchers speculate that the readers had similar performances in both formats because they considered the two papers to be of equal value. 


Since this study suggests that digital format has little effect on a person’s ability to comprehend and edit text, editors may find that they are able to accomplish their work regardless of whether they choose to edit in print or online. Because the research participants were college students, these results are more likely to apply to young editors who are familiar with technology; however, further research could indicate a similar trend in the industry. Additionally, editors who have been hesitant to transition to online editing may be able to ease their fears that it will disrupt their performance—once they learn how to navigate the online platforms, they can count on being able to work as effectively as they always have. 

To learn more about how digital formats affect editing, read the full article:

Eden, Sigal, and Yoram Eshet-Alkalai. 2013. “The Effect of Format on Performance: Editing Text in Print Versus Digital Formats.” British Journal of Educational Technology 44 (5): 846–56. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01332.x.

—Emma Franklin, Editing Research 


Find more research

Check out Madeline Hill’s Editing Research article to find out how technology has influenced future editors: “Online Editing: The Effects of Technology on Future Editors.” 

Read Jun Liu and Randall W Sadler’s (2003) article to learn how technology affects the peer review of second language writing: “The Effect and Affect of Peer Review in Electronic versus Traditional Modes on L2 Writing.” Journal of English for Academic Purposes 2 (3): 193–227. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1475-1585(03)00025-0