People spend less and less time reading

A study we carried out in 2011 concerning the use of documentation for one of our clients revealed a drop in the time people were willing or able to spend reading in the workplace. Is this a trend in our society?

What is the impact for user documentation? How can we work around this to make sure what we build and documentation is read? Lets have a look at some figures first, and see who else is talking about this.

Leisure activities of the american population

We’re not putting forward the american population as a model, but rather using the sources of information we can find. This information is from The U.S. Department of Labor and concerning time spent in leisure activities in 2014. We compared reading, watching TV and computers (and games) on them.

Well, watching TV wins. Reading is surprisingly low and less than games. Remember this is in their leisure time, so is the same trend true for work? Probably not. Leisure reading is not imposed. Reading at work probably can’t be avoided.

The 25 to 44 age group reads less that their seniors (45 to 64) in their free time. Their entertertainment is no longer through reading. This is probably not a surprise, but note that games and pcs have not replaced reading, it’s TV, which is our opinion says a lot about passive consumption.

Average leisure hours spent by various age category on weekdays

Age Category Reading TV Computer/gaming
15 to 19 0.09 2.19 0.75
20 to 24 0.25 2.35 0.82
25 to 34 0.13 1.81 0.33
35 to 44 0.14 1.89 0.28
45 to 54 0.21 2.40 0.25
55 to 64 0.33 2.40 0.35

Workers Spend One-Fourth Of Workday Reading, Responding To Email: Survey


Their findings

Office workers spend an average of 2.6 hours per day reading and answering emails, according to a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute. That adds up to about 27 days per year.

What we think…

It’s a lot of time, we all know that and there’s a phobia around not keeping up to date on emails.

The key question for us is: does this leave our target public (software users) available or amenable to reading what we want to write for them?

Findings of the Reading in Workplace Literacy Programmes Study

From: Allen, G. (2015). Findings of the Reading in Workplace Literacy Programmes Study. Auckland: Workbase Education Trust.

Objectives of the study

The Reading in Workplace Literacy Programmes Study was undertaken to investigate whether providing additional reading materials for interest or enjoyment would help increase the reading skills of participants in workplace literacy programmes, or improve the retention of reading skills after the completion of the programmes. The aims of the study were to explore:

  • does the provision of reading materials for interest or enjoyment (to read in participants’ own time) improve reading skill gains for participants on workplace literacy programmes (as assessed using the Reading Assessment Tool)?
  • does the provision of reading materials for interest or enjoyment improve the retention of reading skills?
  • does the provision of reading materials for interest and enjoyment change the amount of time participants spent reading or the frequency and range of their reading at work and at home?

First findings – initial reading patterns

139 (96%) of participants reported doing some reading for interest or enjoyment, spending on average about 3.5 hours per week.

  • 134 (92%) reported regularly (daily or weekly) reading a newspaper at work or at home.
  • 96 (66%) reported regularly reading magazines for interest or enjoyment.
  • 49 (34%) reported that they regularly read books: novels or non-fiction works for interest or enjoyment.
  • 36 (25%) reported never reading books

So, what can we learn from these stats?

Well, the users we met says they don’t want to spend time reading. What they mean is that they won’t spend any additional time reading (especially if they get frustrated with what they read), If we add the fact that they already spend too much time with their emails and social networking, are we engaging in a losing battle?


Maybe we need to look at attractivity and satisfaction…

Satisfaction is the hard one. Attractivity is maybe the decoration on the Christmas tree,  and maybe not.