Engaging with books 2

Alternative formats

It’s important to be able to read and to develop our skills in reading and comprehension. But in addition to traditional print, there are several other formats that books come in, called ‘alternative formats’:

  1. e-books;
  2. audio (audiobooks or live audio);
  3. graphic novels; and
  4. dramatization (audio or audio-visual).

In addition to formats, I find it helpful to think of books in two categories:

  • Original (i.e. the book as it was originally written); and
  • Adaptation (i.e. an adaptation of the original book).

1)     How formats and categories help me

There is overlap between categories and formats. For example, original books can be in print or alternative formats; and graphic novels can be originals or adaptations. This overlapping nature of formats and categories offers rich potential for dyslexics.  For example, ‘The Man in the Brown Suit’ by Agatha Christie is available in its original in e-book, audiobook and print formats; and also in adaptations in graphic novel and TV drama formats.  This means I can:

  •  Choose an alternative format in preference to print.  This lets me engage with the book, whereas I might not do so if print was the only option
  •   Use alternative formats to support my reading e.g.

a)    Watch the TV drama to get the ‘gist’ before reading the print book, or

b)    Use the graphic novel and print version together, so that I have visual back-up of the text

  •   Re-expose myself to the same book in different formats – ‘overlearning’ helps me to learn

2)     Using an alternative format in preference to traditional or electronic print

Most dyslexic people find reading difficult to one extent or another. But if we use alternative formats instead of print, not only is there little or no printed text; in its place is a format that works better for us.

Alternative formats are more dyslexia-friendly in the following ways:

  • The amount of text is either non-existent or minimal
  • In graphic novels, the text is backed up by images
  • They present content through pictures, spoken word and drama, which are more accessible for us than text.

3)     Aural comprehension

In the previous post, we looked at comprehension in the context of reading.  Comprehension can also be aural (i.e. listening).  Your aural comprehension might be much better than your reading comprehension.  So you might take in the content of a book much better and more easily if you listen to it than if you read it in print.

Top tip for audio

When you listen to books and audio dramatizations, try doing some mindless activity at the same time to keep your mind focussed e.g. housework, knitting, or squeezing a stress ball. For more information on engaging with books in audio format, see sections A – C of Accessing Books – A Guide for Dyslexic Adults.


We shouldn’t abandon print format, not least because some books are only available in print. But by using the range of formats available flexibly and strategically, we can enable ourselves to enjoy books.  So let’s:

  • Accept that we need to approach books differently from others;
  • Acknowledge that books are available in several different formats; and
  • Ensure we use alternative formats (as well as print)

How about you?

  • Have you tried all the alternative formats?
  • Which formats work / don’t work for you?
  • What would be your top tip for alternative formats?

In the next blog post:

We’ll be looking at what helps me to engage with non-fiction.


Published by Dyslexia Scotland

We encourage and enable people with dyslexia, regardless of their age and abilities, to reach their potential.

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