Reading PDF-Only Publications: On-Screen or Printout?

My forthcoming work “The Structure of M&A Contracts” will be a PDF-only West publication. That raises an obvious question: will people be reading it on-screen, or will they read a printout?

If I get my wish-list, the PDF will contain hyperlinks to cited authorities, the text will be hyperlinked to the endnotes and vice-versa, and all cross-references will be hyperlinked. That would add a measure of convenience to on-screen reading.

On the other hand, the text sure won’t be light reading, and it will roll in at about 80 to 90 pages. I’m willing to credit that as a general matter reading something lengthy on-screen is more tiring and slower than reading the same thing in paper form and is likely to result in a more superficial understanding.

But there’s on-screen reading and on-screen reading. Reading something on an iPad is presumably more like reading it on paper than is sitting at a desk gazing at a monitor a foot away from your face.

The literature on reading on-screen versus reading paper is vast. Click here for just one item, a recent article in PCWorld.

So if you were to purchase “The Structure of M&A Contracts,” would you read it on-screen or would you read a printout? Take the handy poll below. How people are likely to read it may influence design of the PDF, although some of the design suggestions offered by D.C. Toedt are probably a bit too assertive for our needs. And if you have any suggestions, I’d be pleased to hear them.

About the author

Ken Adams is the leading authority on how to say clearly whatever you want to say in a contract. He’s author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, and he offers online and in-person training around the world. He’s also chief content officer of LegalSifter, Inc., a company that combines artificial intelligence and expertise to assist with review of contracts.

6 thoughts on “Reading PDF-Only Publications: On-Screen or Printout?”

  1. Would be helpful if you changed "only" to "mainly." I would be likely to use the PDF to skim the document and then print out individual chapters.

    Note that people don't really expect their PDF reader to open up webpages. I know it's possible, but it's a bit shocking when it does happen. Also, are you prepared to keep those hyperlinks up-to-date? Over time, those links will become stale. Perhaps that wouldn't happen if you hosted the authorities on your own website, but then the book depends on your keeping your website alive.

    • Chris: Your first point is a good one. In an attempt to address it, I supplemented the third answer in the survey.

      And I'll have to think about the risk of having links die on me …


  2. In general discussions with friends, it seems that whether you read on screen or prefer to print out and read on paper seems to break along generational lines, with people about my age (age 45) as the last of the people who print out any document longer than a couple of pages to read.

    My younger brother (age 38), his wife, and their friends seem to feel perfectly comfortable to read everything on a screen. By contrast, no matter how many times I proofread a document, the minute I print it out, I inevitably find things I missed on screen. By the same token, if I need to read something of substance, I will print it out.

    So from my point of view, the answer to your question will skew depending on the demographics of your readers.

  3. I would print it out, and I'm under 30. I find that I can focus on the text much more easily when I have the paper in hand, and I find it easier to flick backwards and forwards. However, I would use the PDF for the hyperlinks and see that as a significant advantage of publishing the piece in PDF.

  4. Printout is crucial for tabbing relevant and important sections, saving the document for later reference, and utilizing side-by-side current work. For what it's worth, I'm 34 and can't really focus without a paper document. Plus, I'd prefer to save my eyesight for retirement.

  5. I look forward to reading this ebook on my Amazon Kindle. The built-in cross reference functionality works brilliantly, and it has an easy form factor. I just hope your book is available to buy on Amazon for ease of purchase, or if not, West's DRM does not block my converting it into the Kindle format to read.


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