Learning Technology

Working online more comfortably #2: What can you do if you’re struggling to read text on the screen?

January 18th, 2019 at 10:01

Sally Hanford writes: We spend an increasing amount of time looking at screens and there is an expectation that processes that were previously carried out on paper will be transferred online in the future.  Many people struggle to read text on screen for prolonged periods of time for various reasons and this can become a serious issue.

Even if this is not a problem for you at the moment, at some point in the future you may find yourself needing to adjust how you work or the technology you use as a result of issues arising from prolonged periods spent reading from a computer screen.

This blog post suggests adjustments that you can make to ensure that the time you spend looking at a screen is more comfortable for you.

In the first instance, take a look at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) webpage ‘Working safely with Display Screen Equipment‘ and if you are an employee of the University of Nottingham and have not done so already, complete the DSE checklist and the Safety office training.

Take regular breaks
Try to break up long periods at the computer with different tasks as much as you can. Try to take a couple of minutes break every 30 minutes and at least 15 minutes break every 1.5 hours

Your screen
A larger screen and/or multiple screens can help. Importantly, screens must to be set up and adjusted correctly. If you’re unsure if yours is, contact your local IT support team for advice.

Your environment
Glare from lights or from a window can be problematic. Be aware of your environment and experiment with changes that might help you feel more comfortable looking at the screen.

For prolonged use of your laptop, use a docking station. Using a separate screen, keyboard and mouse will generally help.

Browser adjustments
On the web (including the moodle website), you can increase or reduce the text size by using your browser’s zoom function. Our accessibility page details how to do this.

If the colours that are used make text difficult to read, you can change these settings in your web browser too. The Web Accessibility Initiative provides detailed instructions for each browser.  (See our previous post in this series for the Chrome options:  Working online more comfortably #1: Accessibility options in Chrome)

Operating system tools
In Windows there are ‘Ease of Access‘  options that enable narration (the text on screen is read out to you), magnifier (an on-screen magnifying glass), high contrast setting and on-screen keyboard. There are similar tools in Mac OS.

Software features
In MS Office (Word, Outlook and OneNote) you can use the immersive reader. With Immersive Reader you can choose to hear the text read out loud. It also includes tools for changing the spacing of lines and words to make them easier to read and to highlight parts of speech and syllables. Line Focus lets you narrow the focus of your attention by highlighting sets of one, three, or five lines.


If you are marking on screen using Turnitin, there is a zoom option (bottom right) when you are marking and providing feedback so that you can increase the text size of the submitted document.

Quickmarks let you create pre-set comments that you can simply drag onto the submitted document to annotate it which reduces the number of times you have to type the same thing.  The feedback tool also lets you easily make in line comments, highlight text and provide audio feedback without having to download the submitted work. There is also an iPad/iPhone app for marking offline, providing greater flexibility for working location.

Moodle Assignment
If you are marking on screen using moodle assignment, after downloading the student submissions, if you wish you can use a device with a pen (for example the MS Surface) to annotate directly onto the document.   Or you can annotate with Track Changes in Word, or a PDF annotation program, and use whatever tools make this easier for you.

By using Moodle Assignment, after you have finished marking you can upload the documents you’ve been working on, as feedback. You can do this individually or in bulk.

This is also likely to be useful to you if you’re marking non-text based coursework (for example submitted work that includes mathematical notation or diagrams).

Sally Hanford

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