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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Rational analysis of reading: Identifying optimal representations and the implications for reading instruction

Grant reference: RES-000-22-2448

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Journal article details

Simplifying reading : applying the simplicity principle to reading
Debates concerning the types of representations that aid reading acquisition have often been influenced by the relationship between measures of early phonological awareness (the ability to process speech sounds) and later reading ability. Here, a complementary approach is explored, analyzing how the functional utility of different representational units, such as whole words, bodies (letters representing the vowel and final consonants of a syllable), and graphemes (letters representing a phoneme) may change as the number of words that can be read gradually increases. Utility is measured by applying a Simplicity Principle to the problem of mapping from print to sound; that is, assuming that the “best” representational units for reading are those which allow the mapping from print to sounds to be encoded as efficiently as possible. Results indicate that when only a small number of words are read whole-word representations are most useful, whereas when many words can be read graphemic representations have the highest utility.

Primary contributor

Author Janet Vousden

Additional contributors

Author Michelle Ellefson
Author Jonathan Solity
Author Nick Chater


reading acquisition; simplicity; reading instruction; grapheme-to-phoneme correspondences

Additional details

01 January 2011
Cognitive science : a multidisciplinary journal

Cite this outcome


Vousden, Janet et al (2011) Simplifying reading : applying the simplicity principle to reading. Cognitive science : a multidisciplinary journal. 35 (1), pp. 34-78 Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.


Vousden Janet et al. Simplifying reading : applying the simplicity principle to reading. Cognitive science : a multidisciplinary journal 2011; 35 (1): 34-78.