What's wrong and who cares? Reader reaction to error

Susan Rashid Horn, University of Rhode Island


As much as readers profess to be bothered by its presence, little is known about error except that it is irksome. This study demonstrates that error has practical consequences. While error may not significantly affect reading comprehension, it does affect reading time and reading patterns, and its presence correlates with a negative construction of the writer. ^ Prior studies about error have been conducted in formats where errors are highlighted and readers are queried about the degree of "bothersomeness." But Williams has demonstrated there is a difference between reading for error and reading for content. So in this study, errors were not highlighted. Readers read for comprehension. They wore an eye tracker, and their ocular reactions were observed to see if error perturbed their typical gaze trail patterns. ^ Eight skilled readers were tested, using a 2x2 design. Each reader read one four-paragraph text without error and one similarly formatted text, on another subject, that contained six errors "most likely to confuse or irritate readers in the academic community." Using the eye tracker as a measuring tool, the researcher observed typical gaze trail patterns of each reader in the text without error, and then observed whether those gaze trails were altered at the error points in the companion text. ^ While readers varied in their reactions to specific errors, they generally demonstrated gaze trail aberrations at error points. The researcher observed more and longer fixations, more regressions, and more off-page pauses that perhaps allowed time for cognitive processing. But while errors might have confused the readers' overall understanding of the text, they did not interfere with the ability to process the passage if the reader focused enough or spent enough time attempting to disambiguate. ^ However, readers generally rated the author of the error text lower on a Liken-style scale. They particularly judged the error author to be hastier, more careless, and not a detail person. ^ While this study demonstrates that errors do have practical consequences, further studies using the eye tracker will require larger samples to determine statistical differences and marked responses to error.* ^ *This dissertation is a compound document (contains both a paper copy and a CD as part of the dissertation). The CD requires the following system requirements: Windows MediaPlayer or RealPlayer.^

Subject Area

Language, Rhetoric and Composition

Recommended Citation

Susan Rashid Horn, "What's wrong and who cares? Reader reaction to error" (2006). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3248240.