Does Handwriting Have a Place in the Digital Age?

Handwriting is a difficult skill to master that involves linguistic, cognitive and motor components all of which must be brought together to create an expression of language on a page. For some people it is an art form to be mastered, for others simply a functional tool. However you view it, handwriting is personal to the individual and everyone’s handwriting is different as proved by computer scientists at the University of Buffalo.

The art of handwriting is slowly being lost thanks to the advance of digital alternatives such as the computer, tablet or Smartphone. Research carried out by Docmail shows that the average adult hadn’t written by hand for an average of 41 days and a third of adults hadn’t had cause to write anything ‘’properly” for six months. The research also showed that over half of people asked considered their handwriting to be in decline and 1 in 7 were ashamed of the quality of their writing.

Ballpoint Pen

This rather damning assessment of the state of handwriting in UK adults seems a world away from the way many of us were religiously taught to write at school. Writing largely in pencil, as we would all have ended up covered in pen otherwise, we were shown how to write letters and then asked to repeat them again and again ensuring they remained between feint lines on the page. Eventually, when we were ready, we all took the big step to joined up writing and then for the rest of our school lives, no matter what the subject, the quality of our handwriting was commented on by every teacher.

So where has it gone wrong? The rapid growth of technology that allows us to either type or text our musings rather then write them down has meant we simply don’t get the practice that we used to with the pen.

What does it matter if our handwriting looks like a drunk spider has ambled over the page, if digital forms of communication are taking over then we don’t need to worry about neat writing do we? There are many who do worry and who believe handwriting is a key skill that needs to be learned. The National Handwriting Association is a charity that aims to promote the importance of handwriting to literacy and learning and who aims to develop good practice for the teaching of writing.

Smart Phone

Writing is still important for many aspects of modern day life, from simple tasks such as writing shopping lists or Christmas and birthday cards to more important jobs like filling in a form, which are often still required to be completed by hand. Within education many exams are still carried out in large halls with students being required to complete hand written exam papers. Without fast and legible handwriting students may lose out on marks not through lack of knowledge but through the inability to commit the knowledge to paper.

There is a proven link between writing and the improvement of hand-eye co-ordination and studies have also shown a link between writing and leaning. Experiments on students attending the same lecture with half making written notes and half using a laptop to type notes showed the first group achieving a higher standard of learning. Writing appeared to be a better method for storing information and initialising ideas whereas typing seemed to impair the learning process.

Handwriting, although on the decline in daily use, is still important in the new tech savvy world so what can be done to ensure you don’t lose the ability to write. The answer may lie in technology with many new computer programs now being made available that translate your written word into typed text. There is also a German company developing a new digital learning pen which vibrates to alert the user when a letter is not properly formed. Failing this the there are lots of great tutorials online on sites such as YouTube that take all ages through the basics of handwriting and letter formation. Or you could simply pick up a ballpoint pen, find some lined paper and get practicing as you did when you were seven.


Carl Barton is a director of Office Allsorts who has worked in the office products industry for 15 years.

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