Remember the days in elementary school when you had to practice your penmanship?
For all the time you spent on handwriting exercises, you probably rarely use these skills today.
We’re so used to typing with a keyboard, whether on a phone, tablet, or computer, that we rarely write by hand anymore. It’s a shame, because while typing is certainly efficient (and cleaner if your penmanship is a bit lacking), there are some key benefits of writing by hand.
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What makes writing better than typing?
Writing by hand is more complex than it seems.
According to research, you’re not simply putting words on paper. When you write by hand, you’re engaging multiple parts of your brain. You’re recalling your penmanship skills while utilizing your hand-eye coordination. Plus, there’s a much stronger tactile sensation with pen and paper than with a digital device.
All these lead to several potent neurological and mental effects that make writing better than typing. Let’s break it down.
It improves information recall
Research suggests that the multifaceted process of handwriting actually activates the memory-encoding parts of your brain.
One study conducted at the University of Tokyo found that people who used paper planners demonstrated higher neuronal activity in their frontal cortices, precuneus, and hippocampus. In English, that means the areas of the brain that store and retrieve memories get turned on when you write by hand.
Typing does encourage you to take more notes because it’s easy to get words down fast. This isn’t necessarily a good thing! When you type, you’re more likely to jot down information without processing it. By contrast, writing by hand is more deliberate and thoughtful.
Research at UCLA found that students who took notes by hand were more likely to use generative note-taking. They summarized and analyzed information in their own way as they wrote notes. In other words, they got a head start on their studying, unlike the students who frantically tried to capture the entire lecture on their laptops.
So, you’re not only better able to retain the information you write by hand, but also better at remembering in general!
It increases your focus
Let’s face it: digital devices are distracting. They’re designed both to get you addicted to notifications and make you want to use them constantly. Naturally, that means writing on them comes easily. Most even come with auto-complete and autocorrect features so you barely have to think about what you’re writing.
One of the best benefits of writing by hand is that you must focus on the task. You’re pulling your hand-eye coordination skills, penmanship practice, and all your spelling/grammar knowledge together. This combination requires concentration. This not only helps you better retain the information you’re writing, but also trains your brain’s focus “muscles.”
And of course, your paper notebook isn’t going to suddenly alert you that Bobby Smith liked your post or that there’s a hot new video on TikTok.
Writing is more accurate
We’ve all had autocorrect blunders, like missing the “i” in “public” or having our clever wordplay turned into a nonsensical word.
Obviously, writing by hand doesn’t come with autocorrect, and you’re less likely to make embarrassing typos — definitely a major reason writing is better than typing.
You’re also less likely to make mistakes in general. This comes back to our point that writing by hand requires thoughtful focus. You’re not only forced to draw from your mental repository of spelling and grammatical rules but also better able to recall relevant facts and memories.
So, writing is better than typing because it helps you synthesize information, remember your spelling/grammar lessons, and draw better conclusions. By contrast, typing lets you rely on autocomplete as you regurgitate information. If you want to take this to the next level, try shorthand writing as a middle-ground between memory-boosting writing and faster typing.
Bonus: It also boosts creativity
All those benefits of writing by hand work together to get your brain’s juices flowing. That means you’ll feel more confident, capable, and yes, creative! Think back to the days when you took lecture notes by hand or set up your bullet journal or paper planner. You got to play with different penmanship styles and colors. Your notes may have been your own world of ideas, reflections, and inspirations.
And let’s not forget doodles. Whether it was your crush’s name in a heart or your own rendition of mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell!), doodles made your notes more special and impactful. In fact, the act of doodling has similar benefits to writing by hand!
Remember, many of history’s most influential writers all wrote with pen and paper. Imagine the planning and care that had to go into their creations. For them, writing was an important skill that needed regular practice in order to produce their masterpieces. You can harness that focus by writing by hand — and leaving the distracting digital devices aside.
How to write more
Eager to reap the benefits of writing by hand? It’s surprisingly simple to break free of your digital habit.
Start taking handwritten notes during meetings, lessons, and lectures instead of typing. If you don’t have those events in your life, watch TED talks or Netflix documentaries and write notes.
You can also start a journal for reflecting on films you watch, books you read, or general observations about life. If you’re in the waiting room or on the bus, don’t whip out your phone: doodle in a small sketchbook or write a short essay or poem.
As a bonus, it can also help you get past writer’s block by activating different parts of the brain!
You never know what ideas you’ll spark once you get those creative juices flowing — all thanks to the benefits of writing by hand.