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Reader expertise and the literary significance of small-scale textual features in prose fiction

Parente, Fabio; Conklin, Kathy; Guy, Josephine; Carrol, Gareth; Scott, Rebekah


Fabio Parente

Professor of Modern English Literature

Gareth Carrol


We use eye tracking to investigate the attention readers pay to different textual features to determine their significance in the appreciation of prose fiction. Previous research examined attention allocation to lexical and punctuation variants, and the impact on reading dynamics for the remainder of the text, demonstrating that readers “notice” both kinds of variants but assign less value to the latter (Carrol, Conklin, Guy & Scott, 2016). Here, in two experiments, we examine two conditions that may affect attention allocation: we investigate the influence of reader expertise (Experiment 1) and whether performance is influenced by a task-specific “spot-the-difference” effect (Experiment 2). We found that expertise plays little role in readers’ greater sensitivity to lexical rather than punctuation changes, and that the advantage for lexical changes persisted when the time interval between exposures is increased. These results confirm earlier findings: that small-scale features may not possess the creative significance predicated of them by critics and text-editors.


Parente, F., Conklin, K., Guy, J., Carrol, G., & Scott, R. (2019). Reader expertise and the literary significance of small-scale textual features in prose fiction. Scientific Study of Literature, 9(1), 3-33.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 16, 2018
Online Publication Date Feb 4, 2020
Publication Date 2019-12
Deposit Date Feb 18, 2020
Publicly Available Date
Journal Scientific Study of Literature
Print ISSN 2210-4372
Electronic ISSN 2210-4380
Publisher John Benjamins Publishing
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 9
Issue 1
Pages 3-33
Keywords eye-tracking, prose-fiction, reader expertise, small-scale textual features, punctuation
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