Let’s face it – we type way more than we write by hand these days. From the small thumb-friendly keyboards of our smartphones and tablets to the laptops and desktop computers of our work and school life, much of our communication is digitally driven. And that’s fine for quick texts, emails, and word processing. But even today, there are still some good reasons to write by hand.
For starters, there’s note-taking for class, work, or when learning something new. According to research from Kenneth Kiewra, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, taking notes can help us process important ideas, and writing them by hand can have more benefit than typing them out on a laptop or device. The goal with notes is not to record things verbatim but to summarize, synthesize, and organize the most important info. When we write by hand, we do a lot of this as we go – underlining, circling, paraphrasing, and adding familiar keywords into the margin. It’s also easier to record things graphically by hand. If we want to copy a chart or figure, we can quickly sketch it. Absorbing important info and putting our own stamp on it makes it ours. This helps us learn.
Next, there’s giving your kid a leg up with writing and reading in school. It turns out writing by hand activates neural pathways in the brain that are not activated by typing or tracing. In a 2012 study led by Karen James at Indiana University, children who hadn’t learned to read or write yet were given a letter or shape and asked to reproduce it by either tracing it, typing it, or drawing it freehand. Children who drew it freehand produced better and stronger results. Another study that followed children from grades two through five found that students that wrote by hand produced more words and more ideas than students that typed, and when it came time to generate ideas for new composition, those with better handwriting practice demonstrated greater neural activation.
Another great opportunity to hand write is when you’re communicating with friends and loved ones. When we write a thank you note, an invitation, or a letter to someone we care about, our handwriting is a gift in itself, a reminder of the time and care it took to pen the message, a welcome break from all the digital text that surrounds us every day. And since everyone’s handwriting is unique and expresses our personality, a warmth and intimacy is shared through our words that would largely be absent if read on a screen. John Kralik, author of 365 Thankyous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed my Life, says true expressions of gratitude are still best shared with pen and paper. “Things we write in cyberspace are so easily deleted and forgotten…In this day and age, a handwritten note is something that people really feel is special.”
Now, what if you’re handwriting sucks? Well, don’t be too hard on yourself for that. After all, you probably didn’t get too much handwriting instruction in school, and in recent years, tech devices have changed the way we communicate. Even our signature, once a unique expression of our personality and penmanship, is getting reduced to a finger scribble thanks to the growing use of digital checkout systems. But all is not lost. Your handwriting is still unique to you, and if you want to improve it, you can. Here are ten tips. Remember, no one else has the same handwriting as you. Be proud of it – it’s as individual as your fingerprints!
And what about cursive versus print? Well, both will give you the mental benefits that come with writing by hand. Cursive has a few added benefits – it’s visually appealing to both writer and reader and it can be a faster way to get your thoughts down. But you don’t have to write in cursive – your own unique handwriting style will do just fine.
Typing certainly has a place in today’s world. Formal documents and email are the gold standards in many cases. And I’m sure our thumbs will stay busy sending text messages and updating our social media platforms for the foreseeable future. But it’s nice to know there are still some opportunities and advantages to using these amazing fingers of ours to produce something unique and remarkable on paper. Give it a try today!