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What use is handwriting?

Recently I have been teaching a small boy the ancient art of handwriting. Make the small Ts bigger! Careful with those zeros, they’re looking like sixes! Well done, it looks very neat! Yes I know it’s hard, but keep going! And so on. Thank goodness for pencils. But there is a problem here. Is handwriting really that important any more? It was in a comment on that posting from fellow Samizdatista Michael Jennings that the handwriting question recently presented itself to me.

Oh, I am sure that educational experts can correlate handwriting with achievement later on, just as in former times Latin went with being clever. But the fact remains that even highly-educated adults, and perhaps especially highly-educated adults, now hardly make any use of handwriting. We sign our signatures. If we are very pre-computer (as I still am in lots of ways) we write hand-written shopping and to-do lists, but more and more, people surely use electronic organisers for such things, if they use anything at all. And I find that the only stuff I remember now is stuff that I have blogged, because blog postings remain legible and are properly and accessibly stored, unlike my hand-written lists. If we are adolescents or young adults, we still use handwriting to take exams, in great intellectually sterilised halls, into which no information may be taken other than in one’s head. But is knowledge retention now the skill that really matters? Surely knowing how to use computers to acquire knowledge is at least as important.

Recently a friend told me of her worry about her young sons neglecting their homework, but instead becoming utterly engrossed in some immensely complicated and long-drawn-out computer game. My hunch is that they are learning at least as much while obsessing for hour after hour about this game as they would if snatched away from their computer and forced to trudge through yet more school work for a few more tedious minutes each day. But is that right?

I do not need persuading that reading remains an absolutely essential skill, with typing, in one form or another, having become almost as valuable. But: what use now is handwriting? I do not ask this in a sneering, it’s-useless way, as a merely rhetorical question. Maybe handwriting really does still have crucially important uses. If the teaching of handwriting is every bit as valuable as it ever was, I would love to be told this, and told why, so that I can proceed with my own current teaching duties with renewed enthusiasm? But, is it?

50 comments to What use is handwriting?

  • WORDS TWICE

    By coincidence, I just had this exact conversation with my brother a couple of days ago.

    My position is that word processors, etc. will never replace handwriting entirely. Optical sights are not a replacement for proper marksmanship with iron sights and GPS is not a replacement for knowing how to navigate with a map and compass.

    The technology is there to augment a solid foundation in the basics, and if the technology fails, as it is prone to do at the least convenient moment, you can fall back on the fundamental skills.

  • Ham

    I think you’re right that it’s a skill of minor use value in today’s world. It falls into the category of a skill needed in a contingency plan, like being able to fix a car engine or light a fire.

    I think it should still be taught because its an excellent way to create active engagement with the language. The boys — and it usually is boys — you mention who neglect their homework are engaging in a broadly passive experience, one without the active intellectual energy of studying mathematics of literature. Word processors are brilliant tools, but they are do a substantial amount of the work; they relieve one of the proper engagement that is necessary to develop a deep understanding.

  • As it happens, a few minutes after I left that comment on Brian’s blog, I went to a medical clinic for a very minor procedure. (I had to have my ear irrigated to remove some wax that was impairing my hearing). While I was waiting I was required to fill out several forms, giving all kinds of details that seemingly had no relevance whatsoever. Filling out forms for the government or medical bureaucracies seems one area where handwriting skills are still used, although the question as to whether these forms are necessary is another one.

    Whenever I am filling out forms for anything important these days (say, when dealing with a financial institution) they now all seem to be electronic. It seems to be government and medicine that lag. (For what it was worth, the medical clinic I am talking about was actually a private one. The bureaucracy is the same though).

    Why is it that when I say things like this I hear someone from the government saying “Yes. That is why we need ID cards….” in my head. Of course, we are reaching the point where they probably give that response if you observe that it is time for lunch.

  • Being able to read one’s own handwriting is still useful. Jotting notes and shopping lists is often easier than using an electronic gadget, but only because electronic gadgets are not good enough yet.

    Situations in which others have to read my writing are rare. Greetings cards can’t be typed. Perhaps there is a social function: handwriting can be personal. Neat handwriting implies effort.

    Even more interesting is this question:

    But is knowledge retention now the skill that really matters?

    I write software, and knowlege is less and less useful. Being able to understand and solve problems is what is needed. Everything else gets looked up (on the Internet or in the API documentation).

    Better technology — ultimately direct brain interfaces with computers — will make all information instantly retrievable.

    There’s a memorable scene in the novel Accelerando in which the protagonist loses the glasses that connect him to the online world. He all but forgets who he is and feels like he has lost most of his personality.

  • permanentexpat

    Some years ago there was a protracted electricity outage in Northern Germany. Pensioners had to be hauled out of bed to milk cows because few others knew how to ‘give a hand job’.
    ‘Basics’ are important; mostly the three Rs
    Knowledge increases exponentially at a terrifying rate & the clever wo/man is not the one who knows everything….but where to find it.
    As an aside: In the many years that we have been around, nobody has discovered how to raise or educate children properly.

  • Robert

    Funny I was just thinking about this very thing myself.

    I’m sorry to say that my handwriting skills have deteriorated to the point that my writing is barely legible. My C’s look like L’s, my 4’s like 9’s, my R’s don’t resemble anything out of the English alphabet and my K’s aren’t much better.

    In short my handwriting skills have regressed. It occured to me recently that if one were to look at my handwriting you’d be hardpressed to realize an adult was the writer.

    I think I’m gonna have to re-learn how to write.

  • APL

    BM: “What use is handwriting?”

    Well!

    This is similar to one of those things that used to be said when the UK decimilised its currency. “What is the point of knowing how to calculate in duodecimal.

    If I am to believe the folk law, ordinary people had no trouble calculating pounds shillings and pence without need of pen or paper. Today of course 20% of the population cannot even perform mental arithmatic in base 10 with the use of all their own fingers.

    So perhaps being able to write is not absolutely necessary, and over history by and large it never was, but the ability to write should you wish is a skill that can be aquired at reletively little cost at a time in ones life when you really don’t have very much else to do.

    Along with writing goes reading, just because modern computers are graphics rich and use icons, you wouldn’t suggest we do not need to read would you?

  • Jon B

    Handwriting is of practical use in schools because i) small children can write quicker than they can type and ii) administering all schoolwork via laptops is expensive and a hassle. But as an adult it is a skill of diminishing importance. So I’d treat it like learning to sit cross-legged – something that you did a lot of as a kid but you kind of stopped needing when you grew up.

    I’d add written methods of arithmetic to the list of subjects on which too much time is spent. The national numeracy strategy is now 15 years old and needs bringing up to date with the fact that NO-ONE remembers how to do long division (ok wait for it…)

    But on the second point I think knowledge retention is a highly valuable attribute. The information we hold in our brain forms the framework through which we assimilate all further knowledge. We draw comparisons, ascertain relevance, and make new information our own. We do this ONLY through its relationship with things we already understand.

    So the more information we have in our brain – the richer are the uses we can make of new information when it arrives.

    This gets to the heart of what is wrong with the current fad in teaching humanities (i) teaching narrow and deep (for example the obsession with repetitively focussing on WW2 in the history curriculum) and of (ii) teaching skills rather than facts ( you may know that history in UK schools is about learning “how to be historians” – much time is spent on examining sources, little on factual content).

    As a case in point I’d also disagree with Rob Fisher who said knowledge wasn’t important in software. You may not need to remember syntax but you still need to know patterns and practices, and to know the scope of the library and tools. You can only look up APIs or google terms when you know that something exists and approximately what it is that you are looking for. In programming (especially dotNet) we are always re-inventing the wheel because we didn’t know the framework already does it for you, and we all buy programming books and don’t read them. I interview programmers and when they don’t know an answer they’ll say “but I could always look it up in the manual” and that doesn’t cut it.

  • Eamon brennan

    Expat

    Loads of people have learned how to raise and educate children properly.

    It’s just that once you do learn how to, the next little git pops out and you find out that you have to learn the whole thing again.

  • andyinsdca

    Are we talking “cursive” (as we Yanks call it) or just plain old pen & paper writing? I’ve met few people (other than me!) that have the speed for typing to keep up with taking notes in class, for example, so plain old writing is still needed, but not “cursive”. I don’t do ANYTHING in cursive and haven’t for years.

  • Roger Clague

    Hand writting is useful in many circumstances

    it is personal
    Employers often ask for handwritten applications, which tell a lot about the writer. Love letters as a word.doc?

    It needs simple technology, so is cheap and readily available.

    It is has to be rubbed out and cannot be deleted. You can see changes that are made.

  • Handwriting is an essential backup. I am NOT going to carry my technology with me everywhere. And even if I did, I might drop it, or be unable to keep the batteries charged. If I drop a pencil, I can re-sharpen it; if I drop a PDA, I could be in for an expensive replacement.

  • William H. Stoddard

    I find it useful to take notes by hand, and to write short outlines and the like that way. It’s also convenient to leave handwritten messages for other people at times. But I hardly ever use handwriting to do so. My printing is more legible than my handwriting, even to me. I certainly think everyone should learn to print. Handwriting strikes me as more optional.

  • Tanuki

    Retention of knowledge *per se* isn’t the game.

    We should remember where to go to find out the current state of the knowledge. Things change so fast in the technical sphere that ‘facts’ you learned a while back are obsolete to the point of ridiculousness in a very short time. The RFC documents on which the Internet is founded are a brilliant example: they get superseded or extended on a relatively short timescale.

    Do not clutter your mind with detail. Rather, remember the bookmark that points to where the current incarnation of the detail can be found. This is the basis for one of my favourite questions when interviewing techies: ask them a question that relates to a RFC document which has been declared obsolete and see if they appreciate the difference between retained detail-knowledge and where-to-go-to-find-the-detail.

  • Nick M

    I’m utterly amazed that no-one has mentioned handwriting’s close sibling – drawing. Nothing on this planet happens without someone scribbling a rough annotated diagram first. The mechanical pencil is a truly fine invention.

  • mike

    A point about handwriting that I’ve never seen mentioned on a blog is that it is often taught all wrong.

    I can still remember being taught handwriting as joined-up writing – which I dutifully learned to scribble on my books beautifully. I even went so far as to learn the basics of what my English teacher called ‘proper calligraphy’ with a special pen! Yet this kind of writing is impractically slow for writing exam papers and essays under time constraints – as I soon found out. So I decided to revert to handwriting in a basic ‘type’ style – in other words, as I was taught to form letters way back in ‘little school’. And I have retained that style of handwriting ever since – it can be written fast and, provided it is written properly, will always be instantly more legible than the joined-up handwriting / calligraphy nonsense.

    Having said that, I only use handwriting for teaching but use my laptop and PDA for everything else.

    As for the point about what ought to be taught, I’m not sure that the distinction between knowledge retention and problem solving is the most interesting one to draw. You can argue that both are necessary, but I think what is in some ways even more necessary is stretching students’ minds / provoking interest.

    As an example – in a class I taught at the university yesterday about persuasive language… rather than just sticking to rattling off some of the basic features of sales language and political speaches, I also gave two of the most outrageous examples of rhetorical skill from Shakespeare (Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar and Richard 3rd’s seduction of Anne Neville). The whole class was stunned into rapt attention by these examples. If I can help to enrich a student’s appreciation of or perspective on something, then my gut feeling is that that counts for something.

  • RAB

    Pens are your friends!

    Pauline

    League of Gentlemen.

  • Paul Carr

    Try doing mathematical calculations using a keyboard. I don’t start mousing around in Mathematica until I’ve done quite a lot of scratching around on paper, and I make handwritten notes there so I can decipher the symbols later.

    Also, I’d still far rather take notes at meetings and lecture with pen and paper than a laptop.

  • Handwriting is useful for math. I don’t mean arithmetic, but real math. Ever tried to jot down a few equations for a quick calculation on a computer? It is so cumbersome it impairs the thinking, even in good math programs. In some situations you might want to carefully type your calculation or proof (not to mention have the computer check the algebra), but before that stage there is great need for jotting and drawing small diagrams.

    This is where handwriting shines: in the informal, freeform domain. Writing letters in longhand is about as useful as any other form of art. Being able to fill out forms is essential but could be done using typing. But making personal notes, exploring new systems of notation – that is where handwriting is needed. It might not be for everyone, but it is a good thing to have in the toolbox when there is nothing else prepared.

    Too bad that we have to learn to do it in the boring formal “correct” way to get to the point where it becomes powerful. If we could get rid of that (say a Matrix-like download of the skill) much would be won.

  • Nick M

    Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

    He worked it out with a pencil!

  • manuel II paleologos

    My son (thomas II paleologos) has atrocious handwriting (being autistic strikes me as a weak excuse, but it seems enough for his teachers) but it doesn’t hamper his ability to scrawl calculations or make notes. I think it is indeed a largely pointless skill these days, and the arguments against it above sound a lot like the equally vigorous arguments against safety nibs on fountain pens.

    And as for computers being “broadly passive ..without the active intellectual energy of studying mathematics of literature” – that is true of some literature, but I’d choose the rich 3-D interactive World Of Warcraft over a lot of dull clichéd nonsense that passes for literature (Birdsong springs to mind) any time.

  • RAB

    Tsk Tsk, trust you to lower the tone Nicholas ;-)
    Writing and drawing are far more flexible when putting together ideas than a computer currently can manage.
    I can get a pencil, write and draw ideas on a single sheet of paper and juxtapose those ideas into a new synthisis that I would be unable to do with a windows type system.
    If you can draw, then you can describe what you are trying to talk about graphically, to people who do not speak your language. I was doing this in Italy back in the summer.
    If I did not have the skill, I’d have been a damn sight lonelier and frustrated. Wanting to communicate but unable to.
    No point in loseing skills hard won over millenia and which are still of great use to 90% of humanity.

  • Only one person has mentioned cursive writing. Handwriting is an extremely useful skill, however cursive is an outdated methodology. Cursive was developed to address a problem with ink blots while using quills and then fountain pens. The fewer times the pen was lifted from the page the fewer blots that occurred.

  • Nick M

    I have no idea what imp of the perverse came over me there. This is what I mean to type…

    Anders & Paul are on the right lines. Towards the end of his life Richard Feynman was interviewed in his office at Caltech. He was recovering from surgery and had started to get back to work. The interviewer noted the stack of paper which Feynman had scribbled upon and said something ‘nice’ like, “Well, at least you’ve kept a record of your work”. Feynman was indignant insisting that the stack of paper was the work.

    Paul Klee described his art as “taking a line for a walk” and that’s how I feel about the math I’ve done. You never quite know when you start what you’re going to end up with. It’s a creative, free-form process and it is very different from writing prose. I find it truly odd that sometimes even the dullest arts student looks down on math as being rigid and mechanistic. It is anything but, it’s the kinesthetic creation of a bright mind, an A4 pad and a pencil. I have always preferred typing prose to writing it but doing math is something else. It even feels different – the long ‘s’ for integration and the partial sign feel… well, sensous.

    There is nothing quite like playing with those symbols and wresting certainty from the chaos of scrawl in a notebook. It feels like being a magician. I pity the fool who would forgo that to spend three years at University concerning themselves with the repeal of the edict of Nantes or some other ephemera.

  • RAB

    Well David, I was not using quills but just about,
    when I learnt cursive writing.
    I was six, and we still had inkwells and ink monitors to fill them up. Scratchy nibs with wooden handles, that yes would blot whatever you did to them. So you got a fountain pen toute suite
    The thing I found about it was that it is actually faster than other methods, printing each letter individually for instance. The less you have to raise the pen and can do a whole word with one fluid movement-
    Well I found it no contest.

  • Saladman

    I wonder – I don’t know – if learning to write possibly reinforces learning to read phonetically.

    Most students won’t ever use their music lessons in later life, and many won’t use the full measure of their math lessons. We still make them struggle through it.

    My own handwriting is terrible since I mostly type, so maybe I prove your point, though.

  • llamas

    I am an engineer by profession. As others have noted, the ability to quickly and concisely communicate by means of a graphic representation – be it a cocktail napkin, a whiteboard, or one of the fancy new electronic analogues of same – is a vital skill for any practical engineer. Any engineer who can’t explain it to you with a suitable diagram and written notes, is not going to be a very good engineer.

    Handwriting is a vital part of that. If you can’t clearly and unambiguosly annotate your graphics, they are meaningless.

    Handwriting is like riding a bicycle or baking a cake – anyone can do it at all, but to do it well requires a degree of regular practice.

    I find that I am stepping away more-and-more from the electronic alternatives and back to pens, pencils and paper. Reason being that there are now so many good tools for turning pen-and-paper output into electronic data that it’s quicker, cheaper and better to do what you need to do on a sheet of paper and then just scan it. I recently re-activated the Mont Blanc fountain pen that I inherited from my father, and now use it daily in preference to a ball-point pen if at all possible.

    Funnily enough, for those whose business is words, handwriting is likely becoming less-and-less important. But for those whose business is things, it’s as important as it ever was, and likely more so.

    llater,

    llamas

  • RJ

    A couple years ago, a study correlated success in college with taking notes in cursive rather than printing because on average cursive writing is two to three times faster than printing. Students who printed their notes couldn’t keep up with the professor and missed a lot important information.

  • My handwriting, as in cursive, has degraded, badly, but I can still write block characters neatly and often very small which I use in diagrams and mind maps.

    By hand allows you to position and link words and notes which is impossible to do quickly via a keyboard. The very picture of the notes and their linkage helps remembering the information that the scattering of words via a keyboard cannot convey. I mind map/spider all the time and use A3 carried in an artists tube.

    I studied traditional Chinese characters for a bit and did manage to write what other (polite) Chinese said were good characters and proper stroke pressure and flow. That was fun.

  • Bruce Hoult

    This post seems a few years late. I haven’t handwritten anything bigger than a sentence or two since leaving highschool in 1980.

    I didn’t take notes in university, didn’t have essays in exams, and typed up all my assignments on the PDP11 or VAX or (in my final year) a cute new little box called a “Macintosh”.

    The most handwriting I do is at Christmas.

  • Midwesterner

    Cursive (UK joined-up?) writing will be a great loss when it becomes archaic. The stream of thought trailing onto the paper is an oscillograph of the mind. The motions of the hand committing the words to paper is fed through the emotions of the writer. The style and appearance of their script is a product of the writer’s own aesthetic an how much they value it.

    To grossly oversimplify, an irritable person will scratch out their words with irritation, leaving a rather irritated looking mess. An obsessively ordered person will sculpt their characters with an obsessive perfection. A disorganized person in their affairs will be no more organized in their writing. The character we express when we are writing is a portrait of the character we have in our larger existence.

    But mostly I appreciate the aesthetic beauty (or lack of it) in writing long hand. I often gauge my own frame of mind by evaluating my handwriting. It will tell me a lot more about my thought processes on a subject than more direct self appraisal. If I cannot write about or take notes clearly and neatly, I am probably not thinking that way either.

  • Nick M

    Mid,
    During your absence have you been re-reading Holmes?

  • RAB

    ‘Ave you ‘ad a bump on le chapo ?

    Cluseau

  • Russ

    @Jon B: The focus on primary sources is to teach *critical thinking,* something that the high-schools certainly aren’t doing in their rush to turn everything into a multiple-choice scantron world (over here, anyway).

    Handwriting is important for impressing people with how well you write. That’s about it. But in the right place, that can be gold.

  • Midwesterner

    During your absence have you been re-reading Holmes?

    Katie? Wot’d she write? Actually, in the spirit of the season, I re-read something about a Blue Carbuncle last night.

    And no, RAB. No beumps on the hid.

  • Mid: so true!

    RAB: I never learned printing either, and still cannot do it. We started off with fountain pens (although there still were inkwells on our desks – I am talking 1967). Ball pens are less conducive to cursive, unfortunately.

  • Midwesterner

    Alisa,

    I’ve long since forgotten what little Russian I learned but I do remember something interesting. Writing in cursive Cyrillic came naturally to me. Even when I struggled with the meanings and was totally defeated by the pronunciations, the transition from block letters to cursive was easy and cursive Cyrillic seemed far more natural. It is not as continuous as English cursive, having many more lift-offs, but it still has a very attractive look to it.

    The Russian instructor found my writing aesthetically pleasing and seemed a little surprised by that. She seemed to think that most Russians didn’t write particularly well or attractively. She was from east of the Urals. Perhaps it was different in St. Petersburg?

  • Nick M

    Mid,
    I never knew you’d studied the ol’ Russky! My wife is of the opinion that Russian cursive is very pleasing to write – no dotting ‘i’s or crossing ‘t’s.

    Alisa,
    I’m a pencil man myself. All my university exams, labs and coursework were done in pencil. That’s physics for ya. Which reminds me… I apologize for that puerile joke and see that my real comment has still not yet passed smite control.

    Anyhow, best stop this nonsense because “The Outlaw Josey Wales” is on ITV4. Watch it? Reckon so.

    Mid,
    Don’t start… I really dislike Crimble starting in November. Wait ’till Advent at least.

  • I think the idea of abandoning handwriting is insane, as is the idea that we need not remember detail.

    I teach and do original mathematics. To render properly in TeX (the pre-eminent typesetting language written by the master, Donald Knuth, and used by mathematicians, physicists and chemists world-wide) that which takes me twenty minutes to write is the work of several hours. To do it in Word, or similar ghastly word-processing obscenity, with their pull-down menus for inserting `special symbols’, is the work of days. As someone commented earlier, those who merely write mundane prose may be happy to abandon cursive (three times as fast as printing), but to those of us who create with it it’s magical.

    Turning to the memoryless idea-I teach the half-baked results of this idiocy. If you want to teach a cumulative, hierarchical subject, where the second year’s work is harder than the first’s and relies on you remembering much of that first year’s work, having some pig’s bladder informing the student population that they don’t need to remember detail is about as helpful as a bullet in the back of the head.
    I’m constantly having to remind first class fourth year undergraduates (at a top 10 UK university) what the exponential density looks like because “they did it last year so they forgot it after the exam”. If you think this only applies to Maths, ask yourself why linguists bother to remember all that `detailed vocabulary’. After all, it’s only detail: they should just learn the grammar and then look up the vocabulary on the internet when they need it.

    Lastly, long division. I would merely say that for most children it constituted their first introduction to mathematics (as opposed to basic arithmetic). Perhaps it’s not important for anyone who’s not going to become a number theorist (though the world seems to love them), but it is helpful if children can be exposed to some relatively high-level thinking fairly early in their school career. It’s also a wonderful training in precision and without it no-one can actually do the remainder theorem which is one of the few pieces of real maths left in the AS Maths syllabus.

    Craftsmanship is learnt by painstaking attention to the (right) details. Without it you’re just a blowhard. If you don’t need to know the details of what you do, that’s ok with me. But don’t be so arrogant as to announce that nobody needs to know the details of anything.

  • Mid: well, Piter, as it is lovingly called, has always been considered the most cultured of them all, although I suspect at least some of it is due to pure snobbery, of which we are also often accused.

    I had the same experience transitioning from Russian to English handwriting. Nick is right about dotting and crossing, but it is still not such a big deal.

    Nick: I am a pencil woman myself, especially when I was taking heavy math and science classes. I loved that Pilot (?) which let you shake the lead out, rather than having to push the button. I don’t see them in stores any more.

  • Nick M

    Exponential density – oh yeah, it’s there. Probability?

    There is still real mathematics on the AS curriculum? Bloody hell! Math is hard and it should be. Thats half the point! If it were easy the Fields Medal would come in packets of Frosties. My favourite piece of mathematics (well, mathematical physics really) was always Josiah Willard Gibb’s Grand Canonical Ensemble. What a name! What a theoretical structure! What a link from micro to macro! Though I also loved Maxwell’s wonderful equations. I can no longer remember how to derive the wave solution with c=1/sqrt(epsilon0*mu0) though. That’s sad.

  • spidly

    Minuses then D’s as long as I had handwriting but I’ve always been legible and neat. By fourth grade we were expected to write solely in cursive and I still cannot 30 years later (at least not without squinting one eye and sticking out my tounge). quickly developed my own brand of clean printish cursive which merited poor grades as it did not match the squiggles we were suppose to copy. I don’t think I actually know anyone that writes in cursive. My whole family has some bastardized hybrid style as do all the in-laws.

    Handwriting is very overrated, so long as you can tell your upsilons from your mu’s and nu’s and u’s, and mind your p’s and rho’s.

    calculators and spellcheck are the the devil.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Nick M made an excellent point about drawing and its use by scienstists and engineers. I trained as a journalist, and learned short-hand (the T-line system, as it is called) and I can still take notes at up to 100 words or more a minute, a bloody useful skill if I had to sit in a court following the questions of a barrister, etc. In fact, I got so habituated to using shorthand that I would use it automatically even if it was not needed.

    I have a number of fine pens and there is definitely a sensual pleasure in writing well. You can tell quite a bit by a signature: there is even a whole speciality in interpreting handwriting to divine the character of the writer.

    Another thing: I am a left-hander. In times of yore, we “cack-handers” were often forced to write with our right hands and much pain this caused. In the day of the keyboard, this whole nonsense is of course, totally irrelevant.

    Somehow, “the keyboard is mightier than the machine gun” does not quite sound as snappy as “The pen is mightier than the sword”.

  • “As others have noted, the ability to quickly and concisely communicate by means of a graphic representation – be it a cocktail napkin, a whiteboard, or one of the fancy new electronic analogues of same – is a vital skill for any practical engineer.”

    Late-1990 / early-’91: I’m working up the hardware inventory of a touring major stage-lighting company to 3D in AutoCAD. All kinds of shapes and structures and objects. How does that go? Well, you gets up from your desk with a pencil and paper and a tape measure, you goes out to the shop, you takes measurements and scribbles them down next to the rough little sketches on your paper with your pencil, and then walks back to your desk so’s you can make the object in your drawing editor look like the real thing out in the shop.

    Of course, it’s a big help if you can read what you wrote when you get back to your desk.

    I have to say, it’s very remarkable that the general subject of this post should even be open to question. In my own life and time, handwriting is never going to go away.

  • Nick M

    my comment hasn’t yet been un-smited.

  • Aaron

    As a college professor, I agree with you largely; however, there are some areas that need hand-writing: doctors, for example. Doctors are notorious for bad writing skills, but that also allows protection. If someone tries to fake a scrip, it generally does not work.

  • JohnAtlanta

    As a gov’t engineer and planner, I must say I write more now simply because I spend about half my time in meetings. While I make presentations and write official documents in word, I tend to fill up a note-pad every two weeks at least all of it in my own handwriting.

    I also have to echo the comments from the engineers that there is nothing like being able to scribble out a little diagram to explain a concept with annotations in a quick setting. You can always go and pretty it later up in Adobe or CAD or GIS. My pen is my most trusted tool! And I”m only 29. Handwriting still definitely needs to be taught.

  • Lauren

    I am a law student and currently finding handwriting skills VITAL, as I’ve developed repetitive stress injury from too much typing. (Right now I’m using voice recognition software). Plenty of people find themselves unable to improvise (i.e. handwrite) when they get RSI, which incidentally can prevent you from typing for months.

    While handwriting doesn’t need to be the arbiter of professionalism, etc. that it was in the past, we should be able to write legibly and fluidly.

  • Ellipse

    I write extensively with my simple italic Parker Duofold, one reason for the use of this sort of pen is that the numbskulls I work with are baffled by it & never think to take it because they can’t use it. :) My pen was expensive, but ink is very, very cheap.

    For composing documents, computers are wonderful, I work in a bureaucracy and importing loads of standard data saves a lot of time.

    But I transcribe voicemail – because my 21st century secretaries refuse to talk to callers, see if someone can be of immediate assistance, or take a message with our extensive computer system – with my simple fountain pen.

    No one mistakes my reviewing notes on documents for anyone else’s, and they can be read. Get well and thank you cards clearly say what I wish to say, without interpretation from the folks at Hallmark.

    And one of the best things about writing cursive with a fountain pen – there is no shouting all-caps mode. Yes, I can underscore or even use an exclamation point, but no-one would do that for paragraphs at a time.

  • Research (cited on my web-page) shows that the fastest and most legible handwriters avoid cursive. They join some, not all letters — making the very easiest joins, and skipping the rest — and use print-like, not cursive-style, shapes for those letters whose shapes notably “disagree” between the two styles.

    For more on this and related surprises of handwriting, visit http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com