Screen -v- Print Document Design

The multimodality of language articulates meaning exclusive to every reader (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1998). Technology elucidates this multimodality by incorporating sound effects and movement in documents. To prevent misinterpretation and enforce the message intended, designers need to dichotomize between print documents and screen  when designing.

For a printed newspaper article, content can be typographically arranged and elaborated. Verbal imagery – metaphor, simile – is permitted to enhance a message. For online news articles, however, the content must be summarized in order to counter the depleting attention span of a technology mediated generation (Greengard, 2009).  In order to seize and sustain attention, visual imagery – photographs, video recordings – must be inserted because online users generally expect communication through visual, textual, and kinaesthetics (Pravettoni, Leotta & Luchiarri, 2008). Related links must be available to provide context.


As opposed to the linear reading paths of print documents (Walsh, 2006), screen documents require distinct frames to connect related elements together (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1998). The framing devices should provide an elucidated reading path to counter the multiple reading paths available in an online document through interactivity (Walsh, 2006). This complements a reader with short attention span to make sense of the document.


In terms of layout, information value is important for both print and screen documents. However, the infinite distractions online (Greengard, 2009) necessitates a more graphical layout as opposed to print documents. More pictures are required to rank information value through the salience of elements. Elements must be ranked in such a way as to dictate the short attention spanned which and where to read first. Simplification is vital to communicate and sustain attention, particularly online.






1.  Greengard, S., 2009, ‘Are we losing our ability to think critically?’ Society, vol. 52, iss. 7, pp. 18 – 19, viewed 26 August 2011, <>


2.  Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T., 1998, ‘Front pages: (the critical) analysis of newspaper layout’, in Approaches to Media Discourse, eds. Bell, A. & Garrett, P., Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 186 – 219, viewed 26 August 2011.

3.  Pravettoni, G., Leotta, S. N., & Luchiarri, C., 2008, ‘The eye caught on the net: A study on attention and motivation in virtual environment exploration’, European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, vol. 25, no. 9, pp. 955 – 966, viewed 26 August 2011, <>

4.  Walsh, M., 2006, ‘The textual shift: Examining the reading process with print, visual, and multimodal text’, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 24 – 37, viewed 26 August 2011.


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