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Handwriting vs. Digital Writing

Ten or fifteen years ago, it was likely that you would jot down your shopping list, scribble down a to do list at work, and even pen letters and postcards to friends. However, these practices have certainly decreased. This can be seen throughout the realm of the written word. For example, consider teachers. The time of jotting notes and feedback on papers is now long gone with most teachers using computers to insert notes and comments. The reality is that writing in the modern world is almost exclusively digital.

There is reason for this, obviously. Our modern lives are quite digital in nature. I mean, you’re reading this on a screen. However, there is something to be said for the written word and it is far more than simple nostalgia. Let’s take a look at the benefits of digital writing versus handwriting.

Benefits of Digital Writing

There are obviously a number of benefits of digital writing. After all, if there weren’t, we likely would not be spending so much time doing it. The primary benefit of digital writing is that it is quick in nature. Society has rapidly progressed towards greater efficiency and digital writing definitely improves the efficiency of our writing. You can type much faster than you can write by hand, helping improve productivity and get things done.

Digital writing also helps enhance the ability to edit your work. After all, when you compose something in a word processor, it just takes a few clicks to change a sentence. This is a lucrative benefit and, once again, adds to the efficiency of the written process.

One method where digital writing brings a major benefit is in terms of collaboration. Today’s digital tools allow documents to be shared with multiple users leaving notes and feedback. In fact, the internet even makes it possible for multiple users to edit a document at once. Again, the major benefit here is one of efficiency and productivity. Are you noticing a theme?

Benefits of Handwriting

While most of the writing you do is likely on a keyboard or smartphone, the reality is that handwriting has some benefits as well; yet you may very well rarely write anything by hand. One of the benefits of handwriting is authenticity. In a world where much of our consumption is electronic, there is something impressive and a bit comfortable about reading a handwritten document.

Writing by hand also has a variety of benefits for the brain. First, it helps improve memory recall. This is largely because the process of handwriting takes more time, allowing your brain to slow down when reviewing the words. This makes it more likely that what you write moves from your working memory to your long-term memory. In fact, handwriting not only improves the likelihood of remembering what you are writing but also helps strengthen your memory overall. This is why it is an effective tool for people to improve brain plasticity as they age.

Handwriting is also strongly associated with understanding. In fact, writing things out by hand helps you to draw relationships before concepts. Think about taking notes in a college class. If you take them on a laptop, you can write nearly verbatim. However, you cannot do this by hand; meaning that you have to process the important points and jot them down. This forces your brain to filter the main points and draw connections. It has also been found that handwriting stimulates critical thinking, promoting connections between thoughts and concepts.

Science has also shown that writing by hand also leverages important processes in your brain, which has been confirmed by looking at MRIs. It helps keep the mind strong. Thus, it is not surprising that a study of 1,000 students found that those who write by hand in school perform better.

Handwriting also helps creativity. Editing in handwriting requires crossing things out rather than deleting them. This means the ideas remain in our periphery (and thus, in our brains). This makes writing become a more subconscious guide of our thinking, helping stimulate new ideas. Thus, it is not surprising that researchers at the University of Washington found that handwriting leads to better composition overall, perhaps the reason why many leading writers still turn to handwriting for their first drafts.

Should I Write by Hand or on a Screen?

The reality is that there are concrete benefits to both types of writings. When examining these benefits, you’ve likely concluded that the benefits of digital writing are largely confined to productivity and speed while the benefits of handwriting are more multifaceted. In a way, this creates a guideline towards which method is best.

If the goal of writing is simply to get it done, digital writing is definitely the way to go. Thus, digital writing is likely here to stay in the work environment where productivity and efficiency are the most important overall aims. You aren’t going to set aside the office keyboard for a pen and paper anytime soon (although using a pen in meetings may prove beneficial).

Meanwhile, handwriting has many important benefits for the brain and for the quality of writing. Thus, making time for handwriting in most other situations is a great idea. In fact, if you are a student, handwriting may be particularly effective as it can improve your knowledge retention and performance on writing tasks. These are situations where sacrificing speed for quality make sense.

Ultimately, both handwriting and digital writing have their own value. However, society’s over-reliance on digital writing definitely prevents many people from capturing the benefits of handwriting. This is certainly something to keep in mind going forward. Make more time for handwriting in your life.