Technology may be improving certain parts of our lives by leaps and bounds, but there is at least one part of life that should remain “old school.” That’s writing by hand. This is especially true among young children and students, as the benefits of writing by hand include myriad skills and developments that typing on a keyboard or iPad cannot provide. As pediatric psychologist Dr. Margot B. Stein has famously stated, “Computer keyboarding skills are an excellent adjunct to handwriting, but in most cases they are not a substitute.” Below are 20 good reasons to write by hand, according to science.
Those who write by hand are better able to organize their notes.
According to a joint study done by researchers at UCLA and Princeton, those who take notes by hand are more likely to remember important information than are those who type their notes. The study found that those who type tend to include nearly everything they hear, including a lot of information that just isn’t that important. As a result, those who type do not understand their notes thoroughly. Alternatively, those writing by hand are using their Reticular Activating System, a part of the brain that automatically emphasizes whatever the writer is focusing on at that moment.
This leads to increased memory.
Washington University of St. Louis conducted a study in 2012 to find out more about typing and memory retention. The study found that students who type notes on a computer begin to lose vital information as quickly as 24 hours later. On the other hand, those who wrote notes by hand not only remembered the important information a week later, they demonstrated a much better grasp of the taught concepts.
Writing by hand uses more brainpower.
And this is a good thing. Karin James, a psychology professor at Indiana University, conducted a study in which she asked children to type, trace, or draw a letter. The children, none of whom knew how to read or write at the time of the study, were then given an MRI as they looked over the letters once more. Professor James noticed that the brains of the children who had written the letters by hand lit up in three places, proving that physically writing letters engaged the brain’s vital neural pathways.
Writing by hand improves spelling.
Those vital neural pathways and the improved brainpower that comes with writing by hand are especially beneficial to children learning to read and write.
Writing by hand leads to better composition.
In 2009, researchers at the University of Washington found that elementary-aged students who wrote creative stories with a pen on paper far exceeded the performance of their peers. Not only were the writers able to complete their assignments faster than the typers, but they also wrote longer compositions with more complete sentences. Perhaps this is why so many novelists prefer to compose their first drafts in longhand form — that is, with pencil and paper — despite having access to a computer or typewriter.
Writing longhand keeps the mind sharp.
Writing by hand engages various parts of the brain, memory, and motor skills. All of these are necessary for maintaining a sharp mind as we age. In an article published in The Wall Street Journal, physicians declared that those who wanted to keep their minds sharp should find some type of skill or hobby that included putting a pencil to paper. Ideas included writing short stories, learning a new language with different types of characters, learning to read and write music, or tackling a crossword puzzle.
Students who write by hand do better in school.
Multiple studies have found a positive correlation between handwriting skills and grades. A study was published about this in the Journal of Early Childhood Education and Development. It reported that of the 1,000 pre-K students studied, those who consistently practiced handwriting instruction outperformed children who had not had the practice, or who learned on a digital platform, in both reading and math by grade two.
Writing by hand allows a writer to be more creative.
Writing a story, letter, essay, or article might appear to be easier on a computer, but is it really? When we type, erasing an idea is as simple as pressing the delete button. Writing by hand, however, forces us to cross out rejected sentences. So what’s the difference and why does it matter? Though we may cross out sentences as we write, those sentences remain on the paper and in our brain. This creates a sort of guide in our subconscious, and that guide is necessary to put together our very best work.
Because it requires more thinking, writing by hand is a better tool for teaching kids to articulate.
Communication will always be an essential skill, and one way to build good communication is to compose by hand. As previously mentioned, writing by hand requires thinking about each word that is put on paper. Thus, it ultimately forms the habit of discerning what is important and in what order those important things should be. Writing by hand builds necessary communication skills.
Writing by hand exercises the right hemisphere of the brain.
Writing may seem like second nature, especially the farther away we are from kindergarten, but writing each letter is actually a simple form of artwork. Each letter is a unique design that we must form properly. A series of designs then creates words. As we form letters and create words, the right hemisphere of our brain — that is, the artistic side of our brain which sees in pictures — is activated. This does not happen when we write on a computer.
Proper handwriting technique benefits the whole body.
When a people write by hand properly (that is, with the correct posture and pencil grip), they’re actually exercising and benefitting the entire body. With proper posture comes appropriate, natural strengthening of the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers. Such stability is vital for success in other areas of life, including holding/carrying objects, playing the piano, cutting with scissors, cutting food, etc.) Joints, especially the thumb, move in ways that are natural. Any adult who has spent enough time typing on the computer knows that joint pain and carpal tunnel are very real. Now imagine subjecting those unnatural movements and the resulting pain onto a child whose joints, bones, and muscles are still forming.
The finger movements necessary for writing by hand also light up the brain.
Interestingly, just the ways in which our fingers move when we write by hand have proven to be beneficial to the brain. A 2010 study done by a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin found that “writing entails using the hand and fingers to form letters” and “the sequential finger movements activate multiple regions of the brain associated with processing and remembering information.”
Writing with a pencil on paper builds visual processing skills.
Visual processing skills are important for any child to learn, and writing by hand is an excellent way to develop them. Practicing with pencil and paper will help children develop spatial processing (right, left, top, bottom), spatial awareness (what else can fit on a line?), and executive function skills.
Handwriting helps to capture the “richness of life.”
The abbreviations that come with typing and texting — think LOL, OMG, TTYL — stifle the variety and richness of the beautiful language we speak. They hinder both communication and creativity. Shorthand does exist for convenience. And while handwritten notes are often abbreviated, handwriting encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking in ways typing is unable to.
Writing by hand is much more effective for those with dyslexia.
It is estimated that 15-20% of the general population has a language-based learning disability, the most common of which is dyslexia. Though writing by hand is beneficial for all types of students, it is especially helpful for those with dyslexia to write by hand in cursive. According to academic therapist Deborah Spear, this is because “all letters in cursive start on a baseline, and because the pen moves fluidly from left to right, cursive is easier to learn for dyslexic students who have trouble forming words correctly.”
Speaking of cursive, it should be the preferred type of writing for all students!
Because of its artistic elements, cursive is the only type of writing to stimulate both sides of the brain. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that those who write in cursive almost always write faster and more neatly than their peers.
Writing something down can help you get it done.
Interestingly, positive links have been found between handwriting goals and lists and reaching goals. According to Dr. Jordan Peterson, “It appears possible that writing, which is a formalized form of thinking, helps people derive information from their experiences that help them guide their perceptions, actions, thoughts, and emotions in the present.” Dr. Peterson adds, “Clarifying purpose and meaning into the future helps improve positive emotion, which is associated with movement towards important goals.” Want to go on that vacation next year? Write it down on the calendar. Have a list of tasks you want to get done? Write them down.
Handwriting encourages personal style.
Sure, you can alter the font on your Word document, but for the most part, typing on a computer is pretty standard. Handwriting, on the other hand, has certain rules (i.e. an ‘A’ has to be recognized as such). But handwriting also leaves a ton of room for personal style. Thus, writing by hand allows students to put forth a personal style, and take a sort of ownership over their work.
The practice of writing by hand is calming and therapeutic.
According to handwriting expert Dr. Marc Seifer, writing by hand can be a type of graphotherapy. For those who have a goal they wish to attain, such as being more peaceful, Dr. Seifer recommends writing the goal statement down 20 times each day. Doing so, he says, “actually calms the person down and retrains the brain.”
Paper isn’t linked to Facebook and other distractions.
A 2012 study found that five-minute internet breaks to play a game or catch up on social media actually increased productivity. Still, there’s a reason lockout programs such as Minutes Please and Facebook Limiter are so popular. Distraction is a natural part of learning and working with the human brain, so why would we make it all the more difficult to learn by providing students with a device full of opportunities for distraction?