Man with iPad Credit: C. Regina on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
US journalism organisation Poynter this week shared findings from its latest eye-tracking research, which is looking at the ways users engage with news on tablet devices.

Sara Quinn, director of the research, told Journalism.co.uk that Poynter has carried out a number of eye-tracking projects in recent years, looking at print and online, and late last year it announced plans to use eye-tracking research "to determine best strategy for news on tablets".

In May Quinn shared some findings from an initial study - used to inform its later research - which included that "iPad users have an overwhelming instinct to swipe horizontally through a full screen photo gallery, regardless of portrait or landscape orientation".

"Our Poynter research team thought this was the case. But we couldn’t say with any certainty until we’d observed about a hundred people in an initial, small slice of the study at multiple sites around the US," she said at the time.

And this week, she shared some further results and interesting statistics based on the use of three prototype tablet news products following traditional, carousel and tile designs.

Writing on the Poynter website she explained that this part of the research used "eye-tracking gear, observation and exit interviews" with 36 users who "interacted with real news stories on an iPad".

"We closely analysed their reading patterns after they looked at one of three prototypes created for the project."

And one of the most interesting findings for the team related to the level of engagement and touch a user had with the prototypes.

"We're really intrigued by the things that really get people focused and engaged and how they focus their attention," Quinn told Journalism.co.uk.

"It's fascinating because you just start to see these patterns emerge like at what point does somebody bail out of a story? Is there an average time? Is there an average number of touch interactions, or length of time, or volume of text that they read before they tend to leap out?"

According to her post 61 per cent of the testers were what she defined as "intimate readers", those who maintained "nearly constant contact" with the device. Others were instead said to have "carefully arranged a full screen of text before physically detaching as they sat back to read".

Other findings include that 98.3 seconds was the average time recorded for consumption of the first article. And "of the people who did not finish reading a story, they read for an average of 78.3 seconds before leaving the story entirely".

In the post, Quinn refers to this time as the "bailer's point", which she adds "might be a good benchmark for establishing a 'gold coin' like a simple pull-out quote or visual element that keeps the reader engaged about halfway through a long story".

Speaking to Journalism.co.uk she said the research broadly asked what news outlets considering a tablet-related project "need to be thinking about".

[pull quote (style 1): We want to make it something that's not just a series of numbers but that has really good points of discussion and we're going to continue to analyse it:::Sara Quinn, Poynter]Although some findings have been shared, more will follow in the coming weeks as "a little more research" is carried out, she added. The analysis still to come includes looking at whether there were differences based on age or gender.

"The analysis is ongoing, especially when it comes to what can a news outlet do, what can design do, what can a web developer do?" Quinn said.

She added that the research is not trying to say one tablet design is better than another, "because it really depends on who your audience is".

But she said "we want to make it something that's not just a series of numbers but that has really good points of discussion and we're going to continue to analyse it".

The research is being shared at a conference today at Medill School of Journalism which is being livestreamed here. An overview of the project is being delivered at 11.30am CST (5.30pm BST) and the findings are being outlined at 2pm (10pm BST).

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