How Important is Letter Arrangement to Reading?
Difficulty of Project
$1 or less
Approximate Time Required to Complete the Project
- To determine how people recognize words while reading.
- To test whether the order of letters within a word, provided the first and last letters are unchanged, will affect readers.
Materials and Equipment / Ingredients
A paragraph to read
In 2003, a chain letter circulated which made the claim that if one were to mix up the letters within a word, leaving the first and last letters the same, a reader would still be able to read the word easily. Variants of this email cited papers written at the University of Edinburgh, Cambridge, or other English Universities.
While it appears that the papers written at Edinburgh and Cambridge were false claims, the idea itself appears to be valid. Based on an unpublished dissertation on proofreading by Graham Rawlinson (1976), and an article in the magazine “Nature” which was published in 1999, it appears that readers are able to read quite easily if one were to mix up most of the letters in a word. For example, the following was sent via email on 9/16/03:
Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.
If you look closely at this email, it appears that the letters are not completely random. Many times, double letters are kept together. Perhaps there was a trick to this email.
- Can you read words in which all the letters, except the first and last letters, are scrambled randomly, without putting double letters together?
- Can you read these scrambled words out of context, or only within the context of a larger sentence or paragraph?
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
- How do people recognize words?
- How do people read differently when reading individual words and reading paragraphs?
- Find a paragraph that is NOT the paragraph circulated in the chain email (too many people have seen that email and recognize its contents).
- For every word in this paragraph, keep the first and last letters, but scramble the letters in the middle.
- Make a list of long words that you believe people would recognize.
- Scramble the letters (preserving the first and last letters) in the words on your list.
- Gather experimental subjects.
- Ask each subject to read aloud and time how long it takes them to read the paragraph. Then ask the subject to read the list of words. Time them as they go through the whole list. Note any difficulties that they encounter.
Matt Davis’s Webpage at MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit. July 23, 2008. http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/people/matt.davis/cmabridge/
Crowder, Courtney. “If You Can Raed Tihs, You Msut Be Raelly Smrat”. Fox News: SciTech. March 31, 2009. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,511177,00.html
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