Handwriting has been mocked as a dying art. In a world where automation and digital communications are the norm, it certainly seems that way. However, scientific research is finding that handwriting like reading printed books has a number of benefits that give it a bright future.
Reading text printed on a page apparently results in greater information retention than seeing it on a screen. Writing the information down by hand increases that information retention several fold. A percentage of the information is memorized when you read it without distractions or the habitual scanning we do when reading a screen. A greater amount of information is retained when you read it, think about it, and decide what to write down on the page. Handwriting, whether recording every word or creating abbreviated notes, increases how well the person retains the information. It is also far better than the notes created by typing on a computer.
We mentioned the improved information retention of handwriting notes over typing them. This benefit is aside from the fact that someone typing notes on a computer could flip over to browser to surf the internet or be interrupted by an instant message popping up. When you’re writing down notes of oral lectures, printed books or even a video presented to class, you’re free from the distractions that take your mind away from the material. It is easier to concentrate on the topic and remain attentive. In fact, writing down the notes by hand can keep the student engaged because writing gives them something constructive to do with their hands instead of fidgeting and being tempted to start up a game.
The information retention is even greater when students copy their notes several times. This means there is an element of truth to writing out one’s spelling words or key facts several times as a way of drilling it irrevocably into memory.
A student’s overall well-being is improved by setting the computer aside and pulling out a notepad, because they aren’t frustrated by all the competing demands for your attention. You won’t get angry that someone’s instant message asking what you’re doing or requesting help caused you to miss what might have been important. You won’t become stressed out by the competing demands for attention like instant messages, emails, the lecture itself and interrupting pop-ups and system notifications.
Receiving written communication improves one’s mood, as well. A handwritten note or letter is more personally meaningful than an instant message or email, since someone had to invest time and effort into creating it and sharing it. The physical letter, too, creates a deep, emotional connection in a way text on the screen cannot.
When students write by hand, the quality of what they write improves. One study found that students who write on paper wrote more complete sentences, longer works and faster than when they typed. The study suggested that the supposed speed and efficiency of typing is negated by the poor quality of work created by simply typing up everything that pops into one’s head. When you have to compose your thoughts and physically write them down, the end result is generally better. When someone types up their written notes, it also gives them another chance to review what they want to say before they hit send. They’ll certainly put more thought into it than if they hit backspace a few times.
Handwriting improves the quality of one’s writing, the information that one retains while listening, and the focus of the listener. All of this explains why handwriting is not a lost art but increasingly relevant in the digital age.