Bad news: Handwriting may soon become a thing of past


People may soon forget how to write.

The days of using pen and paper may be numbered and the traditional way of jotting down a hand-written note appears to be becoming redundant, a new study has suggested.

In a world where we increasingly tap out our thoughts, messages and reminders on a keyboard or a touchscreen phone, writing notes by hand is decreasing at a faster pace, with a typical adult not having written anything for almost six weeks, the study said.

The research, commissioned by online stationer Docmail, revealed that the average time since an adult last wrote by hand was 41 days. But it also found that one in three of us has not had cause to write anything ‘properly’ for more than six months.

Handwriting

Also Read: We stand to lose a lot if we stop teaching handwriting to children

Two thirds of the 2,000 respondents said that if they do write by hand, it’s usually something for their eyes only with hastily scribbled reminders or notes most common.

More than 50 per cent of those polled admitted their handwriting had noticeably declined, with one in seven declaring they were ‘ashamed’ of their written word.

And four in 10 said they relied on predictive text for spelling, with one in four regularly using abbreviations or ‘text talk’, it said, concluding that perhaps the next generation will be almost entirely keyboard-dependent, the report said.

Also Read: 4 reasons why students above 16 should change their signatures

Gone are the days of handwritten phone-books, writing reminders or noting something on the calendar, with technology now making these practices redundant for most of us.

Dave Broadway, managing director for Docmail, said: “It’s a shame handwriting is in general decline, but that’s come about from the need for convenience and communication that is clear and quick.

“People by habit will always look for shortcuts or to make their life easier, and that’s the reason technology is so prominent in our everyday lives.

“Handwriting will always carry a sentimental value but inevitably makes way when it comes to the need to be efficient,” he added.

Also Read: Stressed and tired? Graphotherapy exercise can make to feel better

The decline in handwriting quality was blamed mostly on the lack of a place for it in the average modern life, with the need to be able to reach many people and constantly edit documents quickly crucial, it said.

About 40% of people claim that when they do have to write it never needs to be neat, so they stop trying.

And one in three said they used to have smart handwriting but that today their style is much scruffier- the same number would get someone else to write for them if it had to be smart and presentable, the study suggested.

This clearly sounds like bad news unless we read another report.

Some psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Child's handwriting

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

Also Read: Easy guide to understand what all your handwriting reveals about you

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

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  • pankaj saxena

    Call me optimistic but I’ll go with those who says that, ‘it is far too soon to declare handwriting a notes crelic of the past.’ Agreed, there is clearly a decline in number of people writing with hand compared to hitting the keys on a keyboard and the need of clear and quick communication is taking over but then perhaps, the joy of passing quick handwritten notes in a classroom at the back of teacher alone, will be a strong reason that people will continue writing using their hand, pen and paper! Jokes apart, ask anyone, that from now onward he/she will not write anything using a paper and pen and see the horrified expression on the face. Tell me, if you will accept such a condition. If your answer is ‘No’, there is no need to worry that paper and pen and with that, handwritten notes, are going to die soon.

  • KateGladstone

    Handwriting matters — but does cursive matter? The research is surprising. For instance, it has been documented that legible cursive writing averages no faster than printed handwriting of equal or greater legibility. (Sources for all research are listed below.)

    More recently, it has also been documented that cursive does NOT objectively improve the reading, spelling, or language of students who have dyslexia/dysgraphia.
    This is what I’d expect from my own experience, by the way. As a handwriting teacher and remediator, I see numerous children, teens, and adults — dyslexic and otherwise — for whom cursive poses even more difficulties than print-writing. (Contrary to myth, reversals in cursive are common — a frequent cursive reversal in my caseload, among dyslexics and others, is “J/f.”)
    — According to comparative studies of handwriting speed and legibility in different forms of writing, the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive — although they are not absolute print-writers either. The highest speed and highest legibility in handwriting are attained by those who join only some letters, not all: joining only the most easily joined letter-combinations, leaving the rest unjoined, and using print-like shapes for letters whose printed and cursive shapes disagree.

    Reading cursive still matters — but reading cursive is much easier and quicker to master than writing the same way too.

    Reading cursive, simply reading it, can be taught in just 30 to 60 minutes — even to five- or six-year-olds (including those with dyslexia) once they read ordinary print.

    There’s even a free iPad app teaching how: called “Read Cursive” — appstore.com/readcursive
    Given the importance of reading cursive, why not teach this vital skill quickly — for free — instead of leaving it to depend upon the difficult and time-consuming process of learning to write in cursive (which will cost millions to mandate)?

    We don’t require our children to learn to make their own pencils (or build their own printing presses) before we teach them how to read and write. Why require them to write cursive before we teach them how to read it? Why not simply teach children to read cursive — along with teaching other vital skills, such as a form of handwriting that is actually typical of effective handwriters?
    Just as each and every child deserves to be able to read all kinds of everyday handwriting (including cursive), each and every one of our children — dyslexic or not — deserves to learn the most effective and powerful strategies for high-speed high-legibility handwriting performance.
    Teaching material for practical handwriting abounds — especially in the UK and Europe, where such handwriting is taught at least as often as the accident-prone cursive which is venerated by too many North American educators. Some examples, in several cases with student work also shown: graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/09/08/opinion/OPED-WRITING.1.pdf, briem.net, italic-handwriting.org, studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html, BFHhandwriting.com, handwritingsuccess.com, Lexercise.com, HandwritingThatWorks.com, freehandwriting.net/educational.html )

    Even in the USA and Canada, educated adults increasingly quit cursive. In 2012, handwriting teachers across North America were surveyed at a conference hosted by Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of cursive textbooks. Only 37% wrote in cursive; another 8% printed. The majority — 55% — wrote with some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.
    (If you would like to take part in another, ongoing poll of handwriting forms — not hosted by a publisher, and not restricted to teachers — visit http://www.poll.fm/4zac4 for the One-Question Handwriting Survey, created by this author. As with the Zaner-Bloser teacher survey, so far the results show very few purely cursive handwriters — and even fewer purely printed writers. Most handwriting in the real world — 75% of the response totals, so far — consists of print-like letters with occasional joins.)
    When even most handwriting teachers do not themselves use cursive, why glorify it?

    Believe it or not, some of the adults who themselves write in an occasionally joined but otherwise print-like handwriting tell me that they are teachers who still insist that their students must write in cursive, and/or who still teach their students that all adults habitually and normally write in cursive and always will. (Given the facts on our handwriting today, this is a little like teaching kids that our current president is Richard Nixon.)

    What, I wonder, are the educational and psychological effects of teaching, or trying to teach, something that the students can probably see for themselves is no longer a fact?
    Cursive’s cheerleaders (with whom I’ve had some stormy debates) sometimes allege that cursive has benefits which justify absolutely anything said or done to promote that form of handwriting. The cheerleaders for cursive repeatedly state (sometimes in sworn testimony before school boards and state legislatures) that cursive cures dyslexia or prevents it, that it makes you pleasant and graceful and intelligent, that it adds brain cells, that it instills proper etiquette and patriotism, or that it confers numerous other blessings which are no more prevalent among cursive users than among the rest of the human race. Some claim research support — citing studies that invariably prove to have been misquoted or otherwise misrepresented by the claimant.

    So far, whenever a devotee of cursive claims the support of research, one or more of the following things has become evident as soon as others examined the claimed support:

    /1/ either the claim provides no source (and no source is provided on request)

    or, almost as often,

    /2/ when sources are cited and can be checked (by finding and reading the cited document), the sources provided turn out to include and/or to reference materials which are misquoted or incorrectly represented by the person(s) offering these as support for cursive,

    or, even more often,

    /3/ the claimant correctly quotes/cites a source which itself indulges in either /1/ or /2/.

    Cursive devotees’ eagerness to misrepresent research has substantial consequences, as the misrepresentations are commonly made — under oath — in testimony before school districts, state legislatures, and other bodies voting on educational measures. The proposals for cursive are, without exception so far, introduced by legislators or other spokespersons whose misrepresentations (in their own testimony) are later revealed — although investigative reporting of the questionable testimony does not always prevent the bill from passing into law, even when the discoveries include signs of undue influence on the legislators promoting the cursive bill? (Documentation on request: I am willing to be interviewed by anyone who is interested in bringing this serious issue inescapably before the public’s eyes and ears.)
    By now, you’re probably wondering: “What about cursive and signatures? Will we still have legally valid signatures if we stop signing our names in cursive?” Brace yourself: in state and federal law, cursive signatures have no special legal validity over any other kind. (Hard to believe? Ask any attorney!)
    Questioned document examiners (these are specialists in the identification of signatures, the verification of documents, etc.) inform me that the least forgeable signatures are the plainest. Most cursive signatures are loose scrawls: the rest, if they follow the rules of cursive at all, are fairly complicated: these make a forger’s life easy.

    All handwriting, not just cursive, is individual — just as all handwriting involves fine motor skills. That is why any first-grade teacher can immediately identify (from the print-writing on unsigned work) which of 25 or 30 students produced it.

    Mandating cursive to preserve handwriting resembles mandating stovepipe hats and crinolines to preserve the art of tailoring.

    SOURCES:

    Handwriting research on speed and legibility:

    /1/ Arthur Dale Jackson. “A Comparison of Speed and Legibility of Manuscript and Cursive Handwriting of Intermediate Grade Pupils.”
    Ed. D. Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1970: on-line at http://www.eric.ed.gov/?id=ED056015

    /2/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, and Naomi Weintraub. “The Relation between Handwriting Style and Speed and Legibility.” JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 91, No. 5 (May – June, 1998), pp. 290-296: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542168.pdf

    /3/ Steve Graham, Virginia Berninger, Naomi Weintraub, and William Schafer. “Development of Handwriting Speed and Legibility in Grades 1-9.”
    JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH, Vol. 92, No. 1 (September – October, 1998), pp. 42-52: on-line at http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/27542188.pdf

    Handwriting research on cursive’s lack of observable benefit for students with dyslexia/dysgraphia:

    “Does cursive handwriting have an impact on the reading and spelling performance of children with dyslexic dysgraphia: A quasi-experimental study.” Authors: Lorene Ann Nalpon & Noel Kok Hwee Chia — URL: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/234451547_Does_cursive_handwriting_have_an_impact_on_the_reading_and_spelling_performance_of_children_with_dyslexic_dysgraphia_A_quasi-experimental_study
    and
    http://dyslexia.yale.edu/EDU_keyboarding.html

    
    Zaner-Bloser handwriting survey: Results on-line at http://www.hw21summit.com/media/zb/hw21/files/H2937N_post_event_stats.pdf

    
    Ongoing handwriting poll: http://poll.fm/4zac4

    The research most often misrepresented by devotees of cursive (“Neural Correlates of Handwriting” by Dr. Karin Harman-James at Indiana University):
    https://www.hw21summit.com/research-harman-james

    
    Background on our handwriting, past and present:
    3 videos, by a colleague, show why cursive is NOT a sacrament:

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF CURSIVE —
    http://youtu.be/3kmJc3BCu5g

    TIPS TO FIX HANDWRITING —
    http://youtu.be/s_F7FqCe6To

    HANDWRITING AND MOTOR MEMORY
    (shows how to develop fine motor skills WITHOUT cursive) —
    http://youtu.be/Od7PGzEHbu0

    Yours for better letters,

    Kate Gladstone
    DIRECTOR, the World Handwriting Contest
    CEO, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
    http://www.HandwritingThatWorks.com
    handwritingrepair@gmail.com