The Handwritten Note

By Maeve Maddox

As public school districts drop instruction in cursive handwriting, and young bloggers reflect with amazement that “there was a time where [sic] just about everything was handwritten,” it’s easy to believe that no one under the age of 105 would dream of sending a handwritten note to a friend, colleague, or client.

Don’t you believe it.

Far from belonging to the analog past, the handwritten note has found a place in the high-tech world of business.

Forbes, the Huffington Post, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as lesser publications and business sites, feature articles on the value of the handwritten note.

In a time when people are deluged with emails and junk mail, the handwritten note stands out like a raven in the snow.

In the business world, standing out is good. Business consultants and CEOs don’t simply recommend the use of handwritten notes to prospective clients; some require it.

In an article at Forbes, Jessica Kleiman mentions a colleague who requires his sales staff to turn in photocopies of the thank-you notes that they send during the week; he wants to know they aren’t relying on email alone. She also cites a magazine editor who won’t hire a job applicant who doesn’t send “a real note” following the interview, “no matter how impressive they were in person.”

Handwritten notes are not only good business, but good human relations, little candles shining in a naughty world. In an increasingly impersonal world in which telephones are answered by robots, and the mail brings piles of glossy junk, a handwritten note says, “Hello, I know you’re there; I like and respect you enough to take some time to let you know that you matter.”

John Coleman says that part of what makes a handwritten note so valuable is that it costs more than digital communication:

[Unlike email] handwritten notes are unusual. They take minutes (or hours) to draft, each word carefully chosen with no “undo” or “autocorrect” to fall back on. Drafting one involves selecting stationery, paying for stamps, and visiting a mailbox. They indicate investment, and that very costliness indicates value. If, as the U.S. Postal Service notes, we only receive a handwritten letter once every two months, each of those letters likely means more to us than the “cheaper” communication we receive each day. –Harvard Business Review

Sometimes people are so startled to receive a handwritten note they send a thank-you note in reply.

The occasion of a handwritten note can even be newsworthy:

[John F. McKeon, a New Jersey assemblyman,] was surprised to receive a handwritten note from Mr. Christie, telling him that he had heard the comments, and that he didn’t like them.
[President Obama] has sent a handwritten note to one art historian apologizing for his “off-the-cuff remarks,” which he said were intended as a commentary on the market, not the value of art history.

No doubt about it–handwritten notes get attention.

Next time you’re in the office supply store replenishing your toner, you might want to add some quality notepaper and a nice pen to your order.

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10 Responses to “The Handwritten Note”

  • Andrew Swantak

    re: The Handwritten Note:

    I would add that the quality of the penmanship presented by the note is also very important.

    Now, please excuse me while I return to my Palmer exercise of the day.

    Thank you.

    AWS

  • Elysia Brenner

    Wow, how does that editor find anyone to hire? I don’t know a single person who sends handwritten notes after a job interview… Maybe it’s different here in Europe?

  • Michael W. Perry

    Good advice, but I’d downplay the significance of getting notes from politicians such as Christie and Obama. They have staff to handle all the details. Also, given how long presidents and governors have been using signature machines, it wouldn’t surprise me if they now had note-making machines that mimic handwriting down to random variations.

    Added note: I Googled “handwriting machine” and discovered I was right. Such machines do exist.

    What strikes me about public schools is how little they’re able to teach in those twelve years. Dropping cursive is an illustration. It’d not like it’s the least important of a dozen writing techniques. There’s just block and cursive. That’s cutting a teacher’s workload in half.

    Ridiculous! As I recently told someone, if I ran a school, it’d not only include block and cursive, it’d include Morse code and tap code for good measure. I don’t know about girls, but as a young boy, I’d have been delighted to learn those ways to send ‘secret messages.’

    It gets worse. At its core, elementary school education is about reading, writing and arithmetic. It’d be easy to argue that cursive is half of a third of an elementary school education. Dropping one-sixth of what ought to be taught shouldn’t be treated as trivial. It’d be a bit like a driver’s education course that neglects to teach braking.

    I was bored almost to tears by the slow pace of my elementary school education. I shudder to think what horrors today’s dumbed-down schools must be to students. There’s an optimal pace to education that, maintained, makes school fascinating. Drop below that pace, as by not teaching kids a cursive that every adult they know can do, and all but the laziest students give up.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Yes, indeed, elementary school teaching was very boring to me even back in the 1960s. Then there came along “special education” classes for slow (read that “dumb”) students. I often wondered about “special education” for the quick students who were eager to learn.
    No such thing existed, of course, and my parents were a long way from being able to sent me away to a more-advanced boarding school. That was out of the question.

    I will also repeat myself in stating that learning how to write in good cursive handwriting is wonderful practice (hand-eye coordination) in learning later on to be a dentist, surgeon, technician, pilot, mechanic, chemist, biologist, or even a factory worker of certain kinds, such as on in an electronics factory or a factory where fine mechanical tools are made. Also, even engineers like me need to know how to draw decent diagrams of things and systems in all kinds of engineering.
    I am no good at artistic drawings, but I can made good engineering drawings by using T-squares, triangles, a compass, etc. That takes hand-eye coordination.
    D.A.W.

  • Susan

    I love what you write and the things you share. I’d love to send you a hand-written note. I’ve got some nice notecards and stationery, too!

  • Matt

    Just wanted to say, my 8 year old is being taught cursive, just as I was.

    This is simply my opinion, I’m not saying any of the comments here are wrong. For my child who goes to public school in MA, there’s nothing “dumbed down” about today’s curriculum, I feel. She came out of pre-school writing whole words and reciting the pledge of allegiance, and out of Kindergarten writing whole paragraphs. She comes home with homework that takes on average, two hours to complete. She’s generally doing work two years before it was taught to me, or any of my colleagues. She’s in third grade now, and I can’t even help her with what passes for math, these days… It takes four steps to add two numbers now. She by no means, finds any of this easy. Every step is a struggle. In first grade, she developed a nervous habit, and were approached by the family doctor to find to what kinds of stress we could alleviate at home. I was more than a little insulted.

    I feel that she and her classmates are being pushed too hard. Of course, I want her to have better opportunities than I had, but the cost is high.

    I don’t know if it’s just the standards in MA, vs. the rest of the world, but I haven’t seen them cut anything but classes that I enjoyed as a youth like metal shop, auto mechanics and electrics.

    I agree wholeheartedly though, that handwriting is important. It is a reflection of many parts of who we are, and the skill can translate into many other things fine-motor related. I often say that one of the most useful things I ever learned to do was juggle. You’ll never believe how often the reflexes associated with juggling come in handy!

  • Donna S. Fernandez

    #1- Big agreement with Susan and other commenters. 🙂
    #2- February, last year, I posted about Cursive, and deeply appreciate that I was schooled in the Palmer Method. 🙂
    #3- A future, scheduled blog will focus on handwritten missives of any type. I will be sure to cite this post in that blog.

    I read your collective thoughts daily. Thank you for your time, effort, and thought to what you bring to my attention. Have a great day!

  • Emily Stensland

    Those same students who do not have a decent command of any kind of handwriting also don’t know how to organize a paper in math, have not learned how to take organized assignments and notes concisely, and can not keep the columns straight or make numbers neat enough to get a correct answer in multi-step computations. Odd coincidence?

  • Shing

    Hand written notes are just harder to ignore.

    One actually needs to throw them away. If you don’t read the note, the note takes up space and gets in the way.

    If you throw the note away. You may be afraid it may be something important.

    But emails… You just let them pile up. You can always read it later. And unread emails rarely gets in your way.

  • Dave Smith

    I have found a way to get the job done to the tune of around 120 per month…for all kinds of reasons I send cards. The way I do it is my own handwriting with the ability to add photos and personalize it to the point people do not throw them away.
    I have found the key to a keepsake card is make it personal and giving, not asking for anything in return, celebrations of their lives and accomplishments.

    I have learned of a quote that helps me stay in the right frame of mind when writing these cards by Maya Angelou
    “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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