Lightning Learning with Susanne Nobles, PhD
Chief Academic Officer, ReadWorks



Is it important that a student can increase her reading speed and comprehension by 33% when simple changes are made to her reading text format?


Dr. Susanne Nobles says yes.

Susanne joined cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Shannon Sheppard (Chapman University) and Dr. Sofie Beier (Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Design) to research the implications of text formats on reading comprehension.

In a 5-minute video summary of research results, Susanne shares the group-level results: average increases of 21% in reading speed and 21% in comprehension on the passage task. The study used a single font, with changes to character width and character spacing, to evaluate changes to reader efficiency. She reports, “In the passage task [character] width became more important, it … became more a part of the student’s best format than spacing.” These readability features are easy to manipulate for digital reading.


Readability Story: 7th grader gains 33% in reading speed (WCPM) and gains 34% in passage accuracy

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Susanne discusses academic implications for a specific student. “[The student] increased her speed 33%, and she increased her passage [comprehension] accuracy by 34%. From an education lens, that’s a D to an A.”



Readability Impact on Education: When Readability Format becomes a support rather than a barrier, students can build and leverage their reading strengths across all of their education

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Does better reading mean better or more engaged learning? “One of the things we know from research is that if students find more success as readers, they get more motivated. It is an exciting virtuous cycle of success, motivation, more reading, more success, more motivation,” Susanne reports.

Susanne summarizes the research results this way (1) There is no best format for all readers. (2) Subtle changes to text format create meaningful changes in speed and comprehension. (3) Personalized reading formats significantly improve reading comprehension across age groups.

In the same way that a text format can aid a student’s reading speed and comprehension, a text format can hinder a student’s reading. Consider the above student; if the text is presented in a one-format-fits-all model, she may experience a significant negative impact. Text readability has critical implications for education. As Susanne summarizes, “When Readability Format becomes a support rather than a barrier, students can build and leverage their reading strengths across all of their education.”


See Susanne’s video summary of the research here:

See the SSSR poster on the research:
See the full set of Build Better Reading videos from Skoll World Forum:



Susanne Nobles, Chief Academic Officer of ReadWorksABOUT DR. SUSANNE NOBLESDr. Susanne Nobles is Chief Academic Officer at ReadWorks. The mission of the nonprofit ReadWorks is to support the growth of successful, joyful readers by providing K-12 teachers with what to teach and how to teach it—online, for free, to be shared broadly.