Fun to read or easy to understand?
Establishing effective text features for educational texts on the basis of processing and comprehension research
In this thesis, we related students’ comprehension of their school texts
to the cognitive processes underlying students’ comprehension. This approach
allowed us to answer the question why students in secondary education do or
do not benefit from features that affect the structure and style of a text. Three
experimental eye-tracking studies were conducted to investigate the effects of
layout (continuous placement of sentences versus each sentence beginning at
a new line), the presence of connectives, and the addition of narrative informa-
tion to school texts (only factual content versus embedding factual content in
a narrative text) on text comprehension of school texts in different genres.
On the basis of our results we can pinpoint several text features that
trigger cognitive processes related to the continuous integration of new informa-
tion in students’ mental representation of a text. A continuous layout results
in faster processing of upcoming text information, and faster processing is
related to better text comprehension. The presence of connectives leads to a
higher number of short regressive eye-movements, faster processing of upcom-
ing text information and higher comprehension scores. Furthermore, expository
texts that contain only factual content lead to more inter-clausal integrative
regressions than narratives. Furthermore, expository texts result in better text
comprehension than fictional narratives and students perceive these texts as
more comprehensible than historical narratives.
The conclusions drawn from this study have implications for theories
about the cognitive processing of texts and for the design and selection of opti-
mally comprehensible texts for readers in secondary education.