Academic PDF Reader

The Academic PDF Reader is a project I did together with Bertram Bourdrez for the Human Computer Interaction course, part of the Media Technology curriculum, in 2009. It is an exploration on a new way of displaying and interacting with PDF documents, specifically intended for scientific papers. For the project, I researched the specific process of reading a scientific paper. Based on this research I conceptualized some interaction and design principles.

The main finding is that academic papers are read primarily in a non-serial, scanning fashion, and that the readers generally have an accurate mental model of the document’s structure. To better support this non-serial reading behaviour, we designed a PDF reader with a dual way of presenting documents – on the one hand a horizontal, ‘zoomed-out’ view. Providing a structured overview of the document to offer a good overview of an article’s structure, and support the reader’s mental model of the document. And on the other hand, a more classic ‘reading’ mode, serial reading.

The project consisted out of conceptualizing, researching, designing and developing a novel HCI application, and perform user tests to further evaluate our prototype.

The abstract of our paper:

University students read a large number of scientific articles during their stud-
ies. Choosing to read digital texts directly from the computer screen as opposed
to printing them first can be a time and money saving decision. Experienced
readers of academic articles use a similar approach to reading academic docu-
ments: in a non-serial fashion and by knowing the similar structure these art-
icles generally share. We find current PDF readers are insufficiently capable to
support this method of reading. Our PDF reader proposes to support reading
academic papers better, by translating beneficent properties of reading from
physical paper to the display of digital texts. As the reading method applied by
experienced readers is non-serial, it is important to be able to quickly navigate
through pages and get a clear overview of the text's structure. Our PDF reader
offers an alternative method of displaying digital texts, to optimally support the
reading of academic articles.

Download the full paper here: PDF [181kb]

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