This post was written by Ryan Graff of the Knight News Innovation Lab and originally appeared on the Lab’s blog.

A team from Medill and Poynter recently presented their findings on an Eye Track Study for tablets, that sought to answer two questions: 1) How do people choose what to read? and 2) How do they go about reading?

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It’s clearly a difficult riddle to unravel, but the team — Mario Garcia, Jeremy Gilbert, Dave Stanton, and Sara Quinn — managed to suss out some themes, interesting ideas, and solid takeaways for designers and developers working on content for tablets.

Among the most intriguing, was the idea that tablet readers typically give a story about 78 seconds before deciding whether to keep reading or to start looking for a new story.

The team suggested designers give readers a “gold coin” at the 78-second mark (what the team called the “bailout point”) in hopes of keeping readers engaged. The gold coin might take the form of a pull quote, picture, graphic, or link to another story, anything to keep the reader reading. By way of example, think about Time.com’s tendency to include graphics and stand-alone links to other stories between paragraphs.

This is an interesting discovery by the Eye Track team and an idea that designers could start using and testing today.

The researchers have written thoroughly on their research and conclusions, but I found the following to be the most interesting bits:

  • Orientation — 70 percent of those in the study preferred a landscape layout, which is a consistent result. Garcia said he’s been involved in six tablet studies and 90 percent all participants start with a tablet in the landscape position.
  • Careful selectors v. not-so-careful — People who went on to read a full story, fixated on an average of 18 different elements on a home page — looking at headlines, subheads, pictures, captions, etc. — before choosing which story to read. People who tended not to read full stories, looked at an average of nine elements before choosing.
  • Navigation — The researchers found that 67 percent of readers used the browser’s controls (e.g., the back button) to get to more content even though navigation tools were built in.
  • Scanners v. methodical readers — About 75 percent of digital natives (those between 18- and 28-years-old) read used a “scanning” style to consume news on a tablet. Interestingly, this doesn’t mean they don’t read or read less, they just have a different search method. It’s style of consumption, not amount of consumption, said Gilbert.

All in all the day included a ton of useful information. Take a look at the Poynter Storify of the day and at a few of the links that Regina McCombs used to explain when and how tablets are used more generally. (Intriguing fact: They’re used with another screen about 75 percent of the time.)

Ryan Graff joined the Knight News Innovation Lab in October 2011. He previously held a variety of newsroom positions — from arts and entertainment editor to business reporter — at newspapers around Colorado before moving to magazines and the web. In 2008 he won a News21 Fellowship from the Carnegie and Knight foundations to come up with innovative ways to report on and communicate the economic impact of energy development in the West. He holds an MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism and a certificate in media management from Northwestern’s Media Management Center. Immediately prior to joining the Lab, Graff led marketing and public relations efforts in the Middle East.

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Established in 2011 with a $4.2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Knight News Innovation Lab is a joint initiative of Northwestern University’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Medill School of Journalism. In partnerships built across the Chicagoland region — from neighborhood bloggers to large media companies — the Lab invents, improves and distributes technology that help build and sustain a better informed citizenry and a more innovative publishing environment.