How handwriting benefits communicators of every stripe

Using pen, pencil, chalk or marker to jot down your thoughts has merits beyond reducing computer-induced eye strain. It flexes your brain in essential ways.

Remember when we used to handwrite all sorts of things, such as cards, homework and essays?

The importance of handwriting wasn’t in question; it was a necessary means to an end.

In college my biggest struggle during finals was that my hand would cramp up from all the essay writing. I also remember that my lecture notes were the most popular to copy because they were so visually appealing, with graphics, block letters and bullet points.

I prided myself on the beauty of handwriting—foreshadowing my career in content marketing.

We wrote with a pen or pencil and didn’t think twice about it. Handwriting was a key component of how we communicated. Not anymore.

When was the last time you actually handwrote something—other than an address on an envelope or maybe a quick scribble?

Do we need handwriting?

Recently I was at the gym listening to Spotify, and an ad popped up for the Bic “Fight for Your Write” campaign.

I realized I hadn’t really thought about the lost art of handwriting, nor had I considered its importance beyond simple communication.

A part of me wants to dig into that campaign, because it offers interesting lessons for communications pros, but I’ll save that for another post. Today I want to focus on the importance of handwriting itself.

Handwriting is an essential part of a child’s ability to read, compose text and learn. It develops both fine and visual motor skills, along with many other abilities crucial for learning.

Bic identifies 14 abilities that handwriting supports:

  • Visual focusing
  • Mental attention
  • Organized physical movements
  • Receptive language
  • Inner expressive language
  • Memory recall
  • Concentration and awareness
  • Spatial perception
  • Organization
  • Integration
  • Eye/hand coordination
  • Motor planning
  • Tactile input
  • Crossing midline

Handwriting helps develop the skills essential for all communication. Without that one crucial component, all the elements of communication suffer.

Study after study shows that students who work on handwriting skills are better able to produce clear and coherent communication and high-quality writing, as well as having better focus and thought organization.

As with any essential process, the more you practice, the more efficient and effective you become. This is true not just for literary skills, but for all neurological processes.

Unfortunately, many experts believe that school systems, driven by “ill-informed ideologues and federal mandates,” have become obsessed with testing knowledge at the expense of training kids to develop greater capacity for acquiring knowledge.

The cursive powerhouse

No discussion about the importance of handwriting would be complete without noting the benefits of cursive writing. Cursive trains the brain to integrate visual and tactile information, along with fine motor dexterity.

In a study by Indiana University, researchers conducted brain scans on pre-literate 5-year-olds before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. The children who had practiced writing by hand had more advanced neural activity than that of those who had simply looked at letters.

The found the brain’s “reading circuit” of linked regions that are activated during reading are also activated during handwriting, though not during typing.

Write, write, write it out

The importance of handwriting doesn’t vanish once you reach puberty. The way it activates the brain is also useful for adults, especially when it comes to creativity, or producing and organizing new thoughts and skills. Handwriting also provides a sense of identity, ownership and intimacy when used in written communication with others.

I’m challenging myself to handwrite something meaningful each week. This might take the form of a blog post, a letter, a piece of poetry or some other creative endeavor. I’m not putting limits on it, I just want to write—and see what direction it leads me.

Care to join me?

A version of this article first appeared on Spin Sucks.

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