When It Comes to Cursive, Is Handwriting on the Wall?

By Mark Nichol

A recent CNN article heralded and lamented the death of cursive handwriting (known by other names as well outside the United States), using handwritten notes from teenage heartthrobs to signal the demise of Western civilization.

Like most people in my generation, I learned cursive writing in school, and I was a fair hand at it, but I switched to printing in high school. While taking mechanical drawing courses, which required students to label their pencil-and-paper schematics with block printing, I developed a meticulously neat all-caps style of writing, which I carried over into adulthood when I penned multipage letters to friends.

Long ago, however, I reverted to initial-caps-only printing, except for occasional notes and except for my signature, which I have signed with block letters all my adult life; for years, furthermore, I’ve signed documents with only my initials. All that remains for me to do now is to devolve to using the illiterates’ standby: a big X.

This article is posted on DailyWritingTips.com, but the site is about the creative process of writing, not the mechanical aspects of penmanship. However, the latter topic is an interesting — and interestingly appropriate — issue, because some people claim that the physical act of handwriting stimulates creativity. The de-emphasis on teaching penmanship and the resulting deterioration in the quality of handwriting, the argument continues, undermines the creative process and is turning our nation’s children into unimaginative illiterates.

Those, to me, are odd — and specious — assertions. Although I did my fair share of creative writing with paper and pen or pencil, and much on manual and electric typewriters, I’ve been writing and editing on computers for twenty years, and I’ve noticed no difference in creative output. I rarely write by hand anymore — who needs to? — and it’s now a laborious undertaking. (I’ve practiced calligraphy in the past, but although it was pleasurable to produce beautiful alphabetical characters, it gave me no steroidal burst of creativity that I noticed.)

By contrast, although I’m not a fast typist, I completed a typing class in high school (the most useful course I’ve ever taken), and I can type with ease. But the most important advantage of typing out a story or article on a computer is that I no longer have to revise by scratching out handwritten passages, or use Wite-Out (do they even make it anymore?) or ball up a sheet of typing paper and start over again.

Writing in longhand is not doomed to extinction; it survived the advent of the printing press and of the typewriter, and it is still widespread a generation after the popularization of the personal computer. But it might be a stretch to say that it thrives.

I know that many people — mostly those who, like me, came of age before the era of the personal computer — prefer, despite the availability of more sophisticated technology, to do their writing in longhand. Furthermore, studies indicate that children formally taught handwriting improve their sentence construction and increase the complexity of their thoughts. (Nevertheless, handwriting instruction in public schools is declining.) But I’m not sure that wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments is called for.

We have developed increasingly sophisticated motorized forms of transportation for nearly two centuries, yet we sometimes still ride animals and conveyances towed by them, as well as human-powered vehicles, and there’s walking, hiking, and running. For complex travel, however, the developed world relies on vehicles with mechanically generated power.

By analogy, access to computers and other devices that enable composition is not universal, but keyboarding is, among literate people, the dominant paradigm, and handwriting has been relegated to a subsidiary activity, like those long-distance transportation modes that don’t involve engines. We don’t teach everyone to maneuver oxcarts and horse-drawn wagons or ride horses; should we be teaching penmanship anymore?

What do you think? Do you write in longhand? Do you find that it stimulates your creativity? Do you notice, or have you noticed, a difference in your creative output depending on whether you write in cursive, write with printing, or type on a typewriter or on a computer keyboard? Is penmanship still an essential skill that should be formally taught?

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61 Responses to “When It Comes to Cursive, Is Handwriting on the Wall?”

  • codebeard

    When I was in school, they taught us a handwriting script which was not-quite-cursive and not-quite-print (for example, a lower-case g wouldn’t loop around to continue into the next letter). Personally, I resent that they never taught us any kind of proper cursive (just as I resent that they never taught us what an “adverb” was or nearly any grammar.)

    Sometimes I was frustrated when I couldn’t read other peoples’ handwriting, e.g. a cursive card or recipe from my grandma. Therefore, just a few months ago, I took some effort to research cursive handwriting and practice it a bit. Since then, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy handwriting, especially in the sense that it is more personal and heartfelt than an email. That said, I usually still draft my letters on a computer before writing them out because it is much easier to edit them there.

    I have not noticed any difference in my creative ability or output between using a computer or a pen. If anything, I find that writing on a computer allows construction of far longer documents. But, having been typing for such a long time now, I find that the computer has become an extension of my creativity in much the same way as a pen. This even applies to muscle memory, where if I can’t remember the spelling of a word I mimic typing it (not writing it). Recently when I was sick and couldn’t speak easily, I typed my thoughts to communicate with people face-to-face.

    All that said, handwriting is a great art, it is enjoyable, and learning to read handwriting is important for communication. Furthermore, there will always be times when we need to write by hand, and it needs to be legible. I teach mathematics at a university, and maths problems are very difficult and time-consuming to typeset on a computer so especially in exam conditions we would always expect hand-written assessment. I greatly appreciate it when students can write their solutions legibly.

  • Cindy Cotter

    Sometimes I doodle or scrawl or make word maps by hand and find that an aid to creativity, but generally I prefer to do my actual writing on a keyboard.

    But my interest was piqued by your reference to research which shows that training in handwriting improves sentence complexity. The implication is, I think, that handwriting frees up their minds in some way, but that seems unlikely to me. Perhaps the improvement in writing complexity was merely a side effect of children finding it easier, after practice, to put words on paper. The same kids might also have improved the complexity of their writing by becoming proficient on a keyboard, or merely by being allowed to dictate their thoughts to someone else. Imagine how simple your blog posts might become if you were required to chisel them in granite!

  • Fer O’Neil

    This topic is similar to another topic that has been discussed recently about the possible demise of physical books. I am a new father, and the thought I had regarding ebooks and electronic reading devices is this—you would never give a 15-month old baby an iPad or Kindle but you can give him or her a large print plastic-coated Dr. Seuss book to learn reading. I believe the same is true for cursive writing or any physical writing in general. As the previous comments note, there seems to be some evidence that (at least in early learning) the process of learning to write and read are strengthened by the physical act of writing and touching a real book. Basically, I think there is definitely a place for both and as I read somewhere about this topic, we may be bringing up a generation who can’t properly fill out a check…

  • Stephen

    I sometimes write first drafts by hand. This isn’t because I am more creative when writing by hand, it is because it largely removes the desire to edit myself before I’ve finished. When I type onto a computer, I am constantly switching out words and rewriting paragraphs before they’re finished. By hand, I find it much easier to concentrate on what comes next instead of what came before. The first round of editing comes when I type my handwritten notes onto the computer.

  • PeterJ

    I wouldn’t say that handwriting sparks creativity per se, but it requires a slightly different state of mind, which can be advantageous. For instance, many works of fiction are written in the format of a series of journal entries. Writing from the perspective of a love-struck teen scribbling in her diary can be achieved more easily if one is actually writing in this fashion. It’s as if handwriting brings a bit of authenticity to such works, and I sometimes find the results difficult to replicate by any other means, at least when I myself employ such techniques.

  • Leif G.S. Notae

    The issue I know of is that handwriting is taught (and in some cases forced) to feel uncomfortable. I’ve known plenty of people who despised cursive because it brought back bad memories, even though they had wonderful penmanship.

    The concept was an idea during the war to confuse “the enemy” by having long looping words that were hard to translate. As a writing style it is probably past its time but it would be good to offer a course in it for those who want to learn (like calligraphy or other writing sciences and styles).

    I like to jot down notes in my journals or even on a whiteboard before typing them out, it does allow me to conceptualize what I want without having to edit things over and over. The power of writing it down is pretty important too (at least to me).

    Great article, good thing to get my brain working today! Thanks for sharing this.

  • Pat

    I learned cursive in school, and my handwriting has changed markedly over the years, from the practiced curves to a mix of print caps and shortened letters. (My crossed “t” is the beginning of my “h”, for example.) What is interesting is how similar my handwriting is to my late mother’s, both in size (small) and formation.
    I am an excellent keyboarder – I trained as a legal secretary, but I find that handwriting allows me to focus my thoughts more finely. And, I also tend to remember what I write by hand better than what I type, which is probably also a factor of focus.

  • Pedro Cardoso

    Handwriting? That’s when you painstakingly draw strings of letters on paper, isnt’t it? Sounds pretty romantic I’m sure it’s not practical; who has time for doing so, these days?

    Personally, I have a much easier time writing on a keyboard. Not only because I can type up much faster than I can scribble down, but especially since the cleanness of editing that’s only available on a word processor really helps me organize my thoughts and experiment with sentence structures in a way that just wouldn’t be possible if I was writing by hand.

    In fact, I’m surprised that people are worried that typing will hinder the creativity of the new generations. If anything, I believe it will just set it free, by doing away with the limitations of drafting a piece of writing the old-fashioned way.

  • Tracy

    If I am doing creative writing, the first draft has to be done by hand. I think that it helps me slow down and get out complete thoughts. It also helps me work out what comes next in the story. And I like the feeling of the pen or pencil scratching across the paper.

    Business writing is always done on a computer. The ability to immediately edit what I’ve written is a must.

  • Cheryl Haium

    Being able to write in cursive is like being able to do simple math problems (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) without a calculator. There will always come times we will need to know how both to do it and to “read” it — or, at least wish we could.

    I must admit, i morphed into a hand notetaking style of a combination cursive writing and printing even after my 10th grade instruction class on a manual typewriter. (Only the seniors were allowed to use the new electric typewriters!) I have kept a journal for years in that style of writing/printing, but i think i could still write in cursive, if i had to; and, i’m pretty sure i could decipher most cursive handwritings of the past.

    Handwriting was not always a recognizable art form for everybody, though. I used to correspond with poet, editor and novelist Guy Owen. Guy was notorious for his mostly illegible handwriting. While other of his correspondents (or “translators”) would give up, i would carry around his post cards with me for days, deciphering just a few more words each day, until i had deciphered them all. What a thrill it was each time i reached the end of a new postcard from Guy! He also wrote all of his novels in long-hand, i believe, but, fortunately, had his students at North Carolina University-Raleigh decipher/type them for him and his publishers.

    So, my vote is to keep on teaching cursive writing in schools, as well as printing — and basic mathematics skills without the calculator, of course! I mean, who knows what famous relatives lie in waiting in your family genealogy but will remain undiscovered if nobody can read their handwriting!?

  • Dottie

    When I first learned of the anticipated demise of cursive handwriting, I thought at once of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. To sink further into depression, I then wondered about our future at all – suppose we’re finally bombed back into the stone age? Guess that will be that generation’s problem – just begin again . . .

  • Dee Neely

    I hate trying to write in cursive. I do almost all my work on the computer. My cursive has never been really legible and I resort to printing only when forced in class to take notes. In my opinion, writing by hand is a needlessly time-consuming practice which has results so variable that different people might as well be writing in different languages.

    My spouse and I have a major disagreement over cursive writing. She thinks that cursive should still be mandatory in school and I think that it needs to go the way of the Do-Do. She is an artist and sees cursive writing as a part of the development of artistic talent in students. I think it is a waste of time that could be used in better ways. When the students can’t read and can’t do basic math, then why spend so much time teaching them to use an outdated form of communication. I think it has a great place in art class.

    Of course, I may be poisoned by early life experience. I was born in Alabama at a time when it was perfectly acceptable to tie down the arm of left-handed students so they could learn to use the correct hand. I guess that also explains why my cursive is intolerable and unreadable.

  • Dr. Charles C. Fuller

    I took a required placement examination, and as part of it we had ten minutes to write an essay. Basically, we were free to do anything we wanted, but it was a requirement that it was written in our own handwriting in cursive. I explained to the proctor that I absolutely never wrote in cursive, and that my own printing was printing. She said that no, it HAD to be cursive, and it had to be our own handwriting. I told her that if I wrote in cursive, it would not be my own handwriting. She said that was not true, that I wrote in cursive all the time, didn’t I?

    And on and on.

    I eventually gave up and wrote the damned thing in cursive. Some fights are not worth fighting.

  • Emily Duxbury

    As a high school English teacher, I think it is important for students to be able to read cursive writing as it is part of their literacy. I think it is very valuable for students to be able to decipher cursive writing as there are still many who use it. Whether students write in cursive or not, they should be able to read it. It is still a part of our culture and other European cultures and should therefore not be ignored.

  • Michele Cooper

    Like others who have commented, I grew up in the “penmanship is important” era. These days, however, since I can type over 100 words a minute, I create everything on my computer and turn to pad and pen only when my creativity is “stuck” or to when thoughts are coming too fast to wait for the computer to boot up. Besides, using shorthand for so many decades (a handy skill for interviewing people in person!), has ruined my handwriting. More than once, I have been unable to read my own notes! The computer is my best friend when it comes to writing!

  • Eva

    I would be true challenge for a graphologist, as my handwriting changes in a matter of days.

    I was taught ‘proper’ yet ugly cursive and dropped it as soon as I could (perhaps even sooner). Admittedly, I don’t know the correct shapes of letters used with low frequency in my language, such as F.

  • Linda Justice

    In Catholic school penmanship was required. I don’t know if it still is. I am aghast when I see the printing of my nieces and nephews who attend public school. They don’t seem to understand letters and the beauty of letters. And what letters really look like, becuase a scribble will do.
    But, in terms of creative writing, my mind thinks faster than I can write. And I am a fast typist. So if I have to write by hand, I lose half my thoughts.
    And I doubt if I would have the patience to make revisions without some sort of mechanical aid, i.e., typewriter, or computer.
    But I also think it is important to develop a mind/hand connection, so therefore, I think good penshmanship should still be taught. I like to sign my name clearly. I also paint.
    I have a friend who writes and never makes any sense. Now, thinking about this, I wonder, if she wrote by hand, if that would help her thinking process.

  • Eva

    What better way to start commenting on a writing-improvement website than by omitting an article!

  • Lise

    I sometimes think writing on a computer has made me lazy.

    When I write longhand, I have to organize my thoughts first, and maybe even draw little diagrams to lead me along. When I don’t, it turns into a mess very quickly: constant scratching out, trying so squeeze words in the margins, arrows going up or down… it just drives me crazy.

    When I type, I just edit as I go along — and the form develops as I’m writing.

    I think I end up in the same place at the end, it’s just the process that’s different. But now that I’ve written this, I have a sneaking suspicion that a bit more up-front organization would not hurt.

  • Todd

    I don’t mind hearing arguments for or against cursive writing. What tends to get my attention is the use of wonderful words, like ‘specious’, in this case. And then, just a couple of lines later, a wonderful specious argument against teaching handwriting. You say, “we don’t teach…[everyone to] ride horses.” To be fair, you put it in the form of a question, albeit a rhetorical one I suspect. The reason this argument is satisfying to read is that you have a lovely sentence structure and it does connect in that bygone days of horses sort of way. But unfortunately when cursive writing was still in vogue, all of our modern forms of transportation were still quite popular. In addition, to this day almost everyone still uses their hands daily to write, even if the writing might only fill a sticky note. We may not ride a horse every day, but we do write every day. If I do have to write longhand, I would like to know how. If I do have to ride a horse, I would prefer not to look like Napoleon Dynamite when I ride.

  • Stephanie

    I still take notes and do quite a bit of brainstorming with pen and paper (but always printing; I never use cursive except for my signature); I’ll fill up a spiral notebook every three months or so. And, like a couple of people above, I doodle quite a bit–something you can’t really do with a computer, and it does aid creativity.

    Sometimes, if I’ve been staring at a screen in a creative slump for several hours, it helps to go back to the notebook.

  • Bill

    I found an old copy of Natalie Goldberg’s excellent “Writing Down the Bones” (1986). In it, she tells of how she has her students get cheap notebooks and inexpensive pens. I’ve done this and I’m finding it liberating.
    Her thoughts:
    Sometimes, instead of writing in a notebook, you may want to directly type out your thoughts. Writing is physical and is affected by the equipment you use. In typing, your fingers hit keys and the result is block, black letters: a different aspect of yourself may come out. I have found that when I am writing something emotional, I must write it the first time directly with hand on paper. Handwriting is more connected to the movement of the heart. Yet, when I tell stories, I go straight to the typewriter.

  • Precise Edit

    When I’m forced to write by hand, I write in cursive. I’m willing to bet that I don’t have to hand write more than 100 words each week.

    However, my handwriting is nearly indecipherable to me and completely illegible to nearly everyone else. (Kudos to my staff, who can usually, but not always, figure it out.) In elementary school, I received an “N” (needs improvement) for cursive writing. I suppose I could slow down, pay more attention, and make my letters at least recognizable. But why?

    Added to that, carpal tunnel syndrome in both hands prevents me from hand writing more than a few lines without discomfort.

    Given the amount of writing (usually while editing) I do each day, typing is the only way for me to go.

    I, too, “came to age” before the era of the personal computer, and I didn’t know how to type. When I bought my first computer, I was maybe 26 or 27–a Mac Classic II. It came with a CD of Mario Bros. Teach Typing. Little Mario taught me to type and saved the day!

    Should “we” be teaching hand writing still? Yes. Should we teach kids to type? Yes.

  • Rachel

    I almost always use my keyboard, especially when writing my books, but now even for personal letters. I think the main reason is because I tend to be long-winded and if writing everything in longhand, my hand usually winds up getting cramped and it’s frustrating.

    However, I’m glad that I was taught penmanship in school. When writing notes or cards etc, I want people to be able to read what I write, and I think it ads a personal touch. Do I think penmanship is still important enough to teach in schools? Yes. People write daily. I don’t put sticky notes through my computer printer or run birthday cards through it – and those are only two small examples. People still need to know how to do it even if they type the majority of the time. I also receive letters from my grandmother who always writes in cursive – I’m glad I’m able to read them, even if I don’t use cursive to write back to her.

    As far as creativity goes, I don’t think I’m less creative when typing, though sometimes I do like the feel of a pencil between my fingers. Forming words with pencil or pen can be fun for me just because I’ve gotten away from staring at a screen. But that’s a personal preference, aside from the argument of necessity.

  • Dwain Wilder

    I developed a form of the so-called “running script”, a combination of cursive and printing as I grew into my late twenties. This development enabled me to make use of the clearest forms of both, yet retained the effortless run of the pen from letter to letter. I suspect many of us do that, to some degree. So I would be a proponent of developing one’s own script, as long as it is clearly legible.

    And I treasure my ability to read the cursive hand from historical documents. Can you imagine what it would be like to find the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence illegible? Not only major documents such as these are in cursive; town records, deeds, writs of all sorts were in cursive up until recently (recently, that is, from a historian’s perspective). I look at Medieval scriptures and find them all but incomprehensible, so I have to rely on others to tell me what they mean. A real pity.

  • Sharon Kirk Clifton

    I’m a strong advocate of the art of cursive handwriting. Done well, it is beautiful. Note-taking is faster when the pen needn’t be raised from the paper. It’s much more personal and personable. Notes and letters–and old recipes–tend to be valued more when they are written in longhand. The script conveys something of the scribe’s personality, also.

    I live in Indiana, where cursive writing instruction just was dropped from state standards, and that saddens me.

    Yes, I use the computer. I’m a writer. I love writing on the computer, though when I get stuck, I pull out my gel writer and my Moleskine, head for a favorite retreat, and write it out in longhand. Does that mean that I’m more creative when putting ink to page? Perhaps.

    Write on!

  • Helen Landalf

    Interesting topic! I do most of my writing on a computer, but often, when I’m beginning a new scene and am not sure how to start, I’ll whip out my notebook and write the first few paragraphs of the scene longhand. Then I type what I’ve written into my document, and I’m off and running.

    I think the reason this works for me is that writing something longhand gives me the freedom to be messy. I can cross things out, put a big X through a paragraph and start again,etc. Writing longhand lets me pretend I’m just “messing around” and sends the message to my brain that what I’m writing doesn’t have to be perfect. That sense of freedom unblocks me enough to get something down, and from there, the words flow.

  • Vicki

    My son is a writer with TERRIBLE handwriting. I bought him an electric typewriter at a garage sale when he was in 7th grade. He immediately sat down and typed steadily for two whole days getting stories in his head down on paper. He’s been typing out his stories ever since and is working on a Ph.D. in creative writing. I’m SO glad I bought him that typewriter!

  • Peter

    It seems, then, that only the letter X need be taught, eh.
    you have to sign your passport, still.

    It doesn’t seem, to me, to be about creativity. Knowing how to read and write cursive at some primitive level still appears important, but I am an old guy, Medicare next year.

  • thebluebird11

    I was in elementary school in the 60s, and we slaved over penmanship lessons, first printing, then cursive (script). I never had a problem, and most of the girls didn’t; it was the boys who found it more difficult. Many of these boys then went on to become doctors, and we still can’t read their writing! However, I have always been pretty good at deciphering handwriting, and still love the challenge when I look through medical chart notes, orders, etc.

    I’ve been an avid writer all my life (taking notes in school, writing letters to summer-camp friends during the school year, passing notes in school and then having to write 200 times “I will not pass notes in class”). My first stab at typing was a typing class in 9th grade, in which I did fine. We had a manual typewriter at home, but in school we learned on electrics. We used carbon paper, Wite-Out and those special skinny pink “rolling erasers” with the bristles on the other side (to brush off the eraser shavings)…somebody tell me you still remember them!! Does anybody remember when they came out with “Corrasible” paper?! What progress!

    I spend most of my days on the computer for work; therefore, shooting a quick email to someone (or even a long one), is convenient. Even if I want to mail a letter, I will often–though guiltily–type it up on the computer and print it out. However, I always hand-sign it. I don’t print my envelopes; they’re all hand-addressed, and for letters to friends, I handwrite the return address; printed labels are for mailing bills and such. I often draw on the envelope to make it more personalized, and for special occasions (birthdays, etc, for which I often hand-make cards) I might get even more ornate (rubber stamps, paints, etc).

    E-writing saves paper, doesn’t take up room on my desk and doesn’t get lost…I always know where to find an email or document when I’m ready to continue writing, and I can refer back to it later if necessary. I don’t need to buy pencils and sharpen them, I don’t need to buy pens and refills. OTOH, I can sit at a restaurant, in a car or plane, take out beautiful stationery and a pen, and compose a letter. If I’m in a hurry, I can jot myself a reminder note or make a list. I keep a handwritten check register. I don’t have the best handwriting, and I envy people like you (Mark) who developed that beautiful block printing in mechanical drawing or drafting/architecture classes.

    My mother had a beautiful script handwriting of which she was very proud, but it was hardly readable! And she wrote ONLY in fountain pens, and ONLY with turquoise ink LOL. Sigh. Those days are gone.

    I think what it boils down to is communication. Whatever method works is fine.

  • Deborah H

    I have this theory that people with lousy handwriting were not taught how to hold the pencil/pen properly. They were permitted to grasp the pencil “naturally” instead of being made to hold it correctly.

    My eight year old granddaughter was not taught, was not made to hold the pencil correctly, and I don’t know if she can be retrained. Her writing looks like a dropped box of Pickup Sticks. Certainly I am allowing for her age, but I am not encouraged.

    I believe cursive handwriting is a fine motor skill that cannot be ignored, but I fear I am a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Perhaps an early elementary educator has some ideas on this subject, and will respond here.

  • David Logan

    I don’t so much write cursive as I curse trying to decipher what I’ve written… but without some semblance of flow-writing even more of my brilliant, earth-shaking thoughts may as well have been written on the wind.

    One can’t always have a computer or cellphone to hand… well, one can, but shouldn’t… like when walking down the street or in an elevator or on a bus or watching a movie or waking up suddenly with a brilliant thought and not daring to wake the wife… or in the reading room that is often mistaken for a bathroom… or pretending to listen to someone during a meeting while having a yellow pad on your lap and doing away with the spaces between words so you can keep your place without looking…?

    And how else to disguise bad spelling without being able make so many letters look alike… e for i… i for e… a for e or o…?

    To-Do lists… after the first two or three or ten items….

    Post-it notes on the bathroom mirror…?

    I’d more easily give up cursing than cursive…

    BUT, it’s also a certainty that the most useful formal school course I ever took was a high school class in touch-typing… and not just because I was the only guy in the class… which in fact didn’t help my concentration… but I did learn to touch-type… and my goodness, rewriting by hand… except for customized haiku…?
    …still…

    …how did Zola, Dumas, Hugo et al… do it? Let’s not go that far back… but definitely keep cursive in the curriculum… or, doesn’t anyone know it well enough to teach it… still?

    Maybe in Art class…?

  • Rochelle

    I think I’m one of the youngest out there who did have to learn cursive in school (I’m 22). My cursive is legible, my print (I think) quite nice, and I can type about 90-100 wpm. I love having a mixed skill set like this. I keep a personal journal, which I have to write in by hand. I have tried to keep journals by typing (both private journals and blogs) and I just can’t do it. I think it has to do with how easy it is to edit. I love the feeling in my journals of crossed-out words, parentheses questioning whether it really was on Wednesday or rather Tuesday, the few times that I switch into cursive for something I think is important…

    I write my poetry by hand usually, too. At least at first. I edit on a computer. Anything longer than a page, though, and I type my first drafts. But when I have kids, I sure hope they learn cursive. Again, at least that they can read it, so they can decipher the journals of their great-great-grandmothers and birthday cards from great-grandma.

  • Brian G

    When I put pen and ink to paper I am exposing not only my thoughts, but a very personal part of me. Should a handwriting expert, or a gypsy fortune teller, gain access to those notes, I am sure they could read more than what I have written. . .

    But when thoughts are composed and presented by keyboard, we hide much of who we are behind the anonymity of typeface.

  • Sarah

    I find the same thing that Bill (above) says that Natalie Goldman found: that my more emotional writing is longhand. I can’t quantify the differences between longhand and typing exactly, or label the aspects of each good or bad, but they’re definitely two different types of flow, and I value them both.

    Cursive writing is personal in a way that no typing ever could be for me. I pity the generations after us who’ll only receive love letters electronically.

  • Winter

    I write in cursive all the time, especially when it comes to notes or letters written to friends, and still pride myself on my penmanship.

    When it comes to professional writing, first drafts of articles and stories are often written by hand and then edited in Word, since making changes via computer is much easier than crossing things out and annotating margins.

  • Pamela V. Mason

    In the state of GA, cursive handwriting is no longer a requirement of the state’s curriculum.
    So, how do they expect these children to sign all their papers when their kids are students?
    Sign their checks (yes, there are still uses for checks)… mortgage papers, marriage licenses, personal correspondence?
    In my experience, handwriting is beautifully expressive to each unique personality in my life. My mother’s lefthanded long, lean, slanted script, my father’s heavy handed slashing print, my husband’s tight, precise lettering, and my own happy, loopy rounded signature. You can see my mother’s pensive nature, my father’s decision making, my husband’s time-pressed hurry, and my smile.
    In contrast, my sons’ signatures look immature and uncomfortable. They are young men, comfortable with texting and keyboards, and therefore a pen is a foreign object weighting down their hands, like an anchor to a beach.
    Yes, it’s the new way of doing everything- speedy and succinct. But what kind of personality comes through on my typewritten comments?

  • Retta McSweeney

    GOT is a horrible word. It belongs to the Neanderthal period and it is taking over today’s grammar. It shows today’s poor language skills and that people are too lazy to change Is it so hard to say, “You have,” rather than “You’ve got,” which, when spelled out is, “You have got.” Sounds pretty dumb and ignorant. Strip the guttoral word “GOT” from the dictionary and our personal usage of English.

  • Mary Hodges

    I never thought of it as “cursive” writing. It was known as “joined up” writing of “real writing” when I was at school.
    I was surprised to find that some people use block caps when writing by hand. I was recently asked to word process an article for a magazine written by someone using this strange looking script and it was very hard to decipher.
    Having said that, my own handwriting is now illegible. Age and arthritis have taken their toll. I’m glad to be living in the age of the personal computer. How did Dickens and the Brontes manage?

  • Lesley

    I’m not sure cursive writing holds more than a place of interest today and it will likely become a specialty skill much the same as is deciphering Coptic script, Vedic Sanskrit or hieroglyphs; useful when delving into the archives, but for not much else. Once those archives are translated and digitized the secrets we seek to discover from those archives are revealed and available to all. Isn’t technology wonderful? Will emoticons provide similar symbolic intrigue to future historians?

    I became aware of creativity expressing itself through me once I switched my mouse to my left hand, leaving my right hand uninterrupted access to the numerical keypad.

    I was able to word-process faster, and because I worked for a telephone company at the time, my right hand was no longer doing the lion’s share, and both brain hemispheres were now involved in most tasks.

    Today, after 16 years of practiced bi-dexterity, I can more easily produce detailed computer graphics using my left hand than I can by using my innately-dominant right hand. I likewise noticed an improvement when playing at handwriting using my lesser-practiced left hand. Writing the characters upside-down or back-to-front also gives my brain a workout.

    If, when sitting at the keyboard, I need to access my feelings, I close my eyes, adjust my ‘center’ into my heart (not my head) and type.

    As you can tell, for me, numbers played an early role, graphics next, then shapes, symbols and colour. Today words, syntax and cryptics dominate my learning-edge. Deciphering the codes contained in those archives is but a breath away.

  • hz

    I’ve grown up with computers and have probably been typing longer than I’ve been writing in longhand. That being said, I was taught cursive handwriting in primary school by a teacher who loathed printing and instilled a sense of good penmanship in me. Regardless, I actually find typing helps with creativity for me. My thoughts flow as easily as the words appear on the screen. When writing, I find my mind is faster than the pen.

  • Lucie Carruthers

    When I write my first draft in longhand, I do a better job getting the ideas down on the paper. If I don’t have access to all the cool stuff that can be done on a word processor, I don’t get sidetracked and start revising too soon in the process.

  • Lucie

    Yes, I remember the roller eraser for the typewriter. Now the kids have a really neat white-out that can be run across the error and it has no waiting period for drying it.

    As a middle school teacher, our kids are taught cursive in our system (central Nebraska), but when kids move into the district, it is almost always impossible to catch them up to the level of legibility needed to make it useful.

    Cursive is required in the language art classes through sixth grade and then after that, students can choose which method they prefer. Just like some people don’t enjoy science or math, some people don’t enjoy writing in cursive. Nonetheless, all three areas develop different aspects of the brain. So if you don’t learn cursive, is part of you a “no-brainer”? (Pun very much intended!)

  • Bob

    As many others of my generation (I’m 19) my penmanship is downright atrocious due to lack of excercise and expectation that I ever have to present myself through it. But even so I find there are instances where it still is preferable to take pen to paper.

    Of course one there are the pragmatic reasons, such as your computer already being used for another application – the majority of my hand-written notes lie in front of my monitor, and are notes concerning aspects of my work as mundane as required dimensions of design objects I’m working on.

    Writing also still holds a definite advantage over word-processors in that it leaves you completely free in your styling and layout. This is quite useful in applications ranging from poetry to word webs.

    The physical act of writing also helps with comitting things to long-term memory.

    But in the end handwriting indeed is a niche activity: something we do in the rare occasions we can’t or won’t use one of the many flavours of electronic devices.

  • Steve

    On the history: SCRIPT AND SCRIBBLE The Rise and Fall of Handwriting By Kitty Burns

    On how to do it: Write Now: A Complete Self-teaching Program for Better Handwriting By Barbara Getty, Inga Dubay

    With these two books, the first found through NPR, and a Pilot Plumix fountain pen, from Target, I greatly improved my handwriting and my life.

    The past few National Handwriting Days (January 23 – John Hancock’s birthday!) I have written dozens of letters to friends. I’ve received several emails acknowledging receipt, but only two postal correspondents.

  • Rosalie Marsh

    I find the apparent demise if longhand (cursive handwriting) sad. I find the standard of handwriting [lack of] in some young people appalling. In some cases, it is a series of almost straight lines making up barely formed letters and sentences.
    The recent influx of ‘text-speak’ has invaded the written word to such an extent that many think that this desecration of the English language is normal.
    I use longhand and print. I find longhand is useful for writing as the mood takes me; as thoughts arise to the fore in the dead of night or in a place where a notepad of paper (not electronic) is a handy tool in capturing those words of inspiration.
    I type fast. I often mis-type as my fingers fly over the keyboard with my brain jumping ahead. I do however, check my work, and do not rely on a spell-checker. I actually use a dictionary which, due to not knowing the alphabet sequence of letters, some young people are unable to do. I have experience of this fact. If I type up notes from longhand, I can re-order the words as my thought processes kick in.
    Therefore, on balance print is cleaner, can be stored and retrieved, changed without having to write out the whole page/paragraph etc. It looks more professional in business.
    Many have bad experiences from schooldays when, if your writing was backhand as mine was, you had to write out a certain line a hundred times. Yes, really and truly many years ago. My longhand (cursive writing) varies in neatness and style depending on my level of exhaustion.
    Longhand or cursive writing is, I understand, in some areas having a comeback. What nicer to write a handwritten letter to a friend and lay down your well-considered thoughts. How personal and thoughtful this is.
    Your cursive (handwriting) is yours and yours alone. Even if someone tries to copy, there are certain aspects, which cannot be copied. I have written many reports in longhand as the situation demanded. I too, like the comment above, had to write longhand for a test in a job interview. They needed to see how quick I could produce what they were wanting in a short time – and if it was legible. Handwriting experts can tell a lot about your character from your handwriting.
    As with all things, there is a place for the traditional and the new. Each to his/her own, and as they say, “a place for everything and everything in its place”.
    Food for thought: what happens when the computer breaks down? Like calculators, people have forgotten how to do sums. “Use it or lose it,” they also say.

  • Graciela

    I wonder if there is some link to thought processing using handwriting versus keyboarding. I write in cursive. For a long time I could not write anything unless I used the keyboard. My thoughts wouldn’t flow if I wrote by hand. Then gradually, I started to write sentences in cursive, and the sentences became paragraphs until the paragraphs become stories. Now it’s like being bilingual.

  • Holly

    codebeard made a good point in that if you aren’t taught proper cursive, you have difficulty reading it. Anyone who has looked at documents from history can have a difficult enough time just reading the scrolling handwriting. Imagine if you couldn’t read cursive! It would all just look like loops. As the movement away from handwriting continues we will see a greater separation between the generations who can read and write cursive and those who cannot.

    Personally, I prefer to type or email almost everything. The main exception is creative writing. When I am working on a novel or prose, I need to feel the pen in my hand and paper under my skin. I just wish sometimes my hand could keep up with my mind! I do feel that because writing longhand takes more time and effort I think more about my composition before writing it down, especially because I don’t want to have scratch outs or “white” outs… Later I go back and type in my work and that is when I begin the editing process.

  • Jahnee

    I am old enough to have been taught cursive. I am also old enough to have been forced to write with my right hand, instead of my natural left hand, which resulted in my being ambidextrous, to a large degree. Unfortunately, my handwriting is horrible and barely legible. But I do admire other people’s handwriting, when it is done properly. Some even looks like art!

    Now I do most of my writing on a PC because it is so much easier to make corrections or edit content.

    Is cursive handwriting dying? I think it is evolving into a more natural form, with each person making their paper scratches personal and unique but still readable to others.

  • Maeve

    When I sat the B.A. (Honours) exam at the University of London, I had to write five 2-hour papers, in longhand. Wonder if they still do that. It’s certainly a good way to ensure that none of the candidates is getting wireless help.

    I’m old enough to have struggled with carbon paper. No way would I give up my lovely laptop and laser printer to go back to that ordeal. Nevertheless, there is something visceral and satisfying about writing in longhand with a good fountain pen. I can compose prose on a computer, but I could never write a poem on one.

  • Kathryn

    Precise Edit said very nearly what I was thinking of saying, so I won’t repeat it, but will add that I never actually developed carpal tunnel syndrome. Also, that the happiest day of my life was when we put computers on all the lawyers’ desks at my firm, and I no longer had to write stuff out by hand, then prod my secretary through repeated edits, all of which had to be indicated by longhand notes. Talk about pouty face! At that, it was better than having to have a document retyped in the days before word processing.

    Reading through all these comments, I am struck by the wide variety of methods of composition people swear by. It seems that each of us finds our own best way to do something–so, one must conclude that none of them is the absolute most effective way. Sure, there’s a connection formed between mind and hand when using a pen. But we also use our hands to keyboard, and that mind-to-hand connection is just as real and, for at least some of us, just as valuable. For me, keyboarding allows my output to keep up with my thoughts, and allows both me and others to read the result without unreasonable effort.

    Should children continue to have to learn how to form letters by hand? Probably. But, need those letters be cursive? I don’t really see why.

  • Kathryn

    Oh, yeah. Marc: yes, they still make Wite-Out (I just checked the (print) catalog for the outfit we buy our office supplies from There is also a handy product on the market that rolls a dry version onto the paper; it requires some dexterity to use, but is less likely to get all dried-up and lumpy in use.

    Sigh. Yeah, I realize you were making a rhetorical point. Some of us have very concrete imaginations. . .

  • shirley in berkeley

    Writing by hand (as opposed to typing, keyboarding, or whatever you choose to call it) is such a deeply personal, private way of recording thoughts, memories, stories, a journal, that I would never want to give it up or deny it to anyone. Its most seductive quality is that it is quiet. For years I could not compose anything on a typewriter or computer because I found the click-click-clicking so intrusive. Thought is silent and completely private, and so is cursive. I use big and little block characters for grocery lists, addresses on labels, and short notes (except for thank-you notes) and I can do that very fast, with pristine clarity, but when I really want to wail, it’s cursive.

    I took a semester of Russian in college, and obviously we didn’t have a lot of Russian typewriters laying around. We learned the language by learning the orthography, and wrote our homework with a pen on a piece of paper. Because I already knew cursive, it wasn’t long before I could write assignments in Russian as rapidly as I could in English. And Russian had a curiously magic quality: I felt invisible while I was writing it. The only explanation I can think of to account for this is that it seemed so entirely foreign — much more so than French or German — and seemed to be coming to me straight from the frozen tundra!

  • Emma

    I’ve found that now I’ve started using a keyboard so much, my handwriting has suffered; in that I can’t write nearly as much as I used to be able to do, prior to handache setting in!

    The time it really shows up, though, is when our students have to sit exams! We have discussed getting them to do them on computers – as they spend so much time on them anyway, but there simply aren’t enough to go round at exam time! (Would make reading the scripts a lot easier!)

    However, I can’t help thinking that many of our students’ reluctance to take notes (by hand [or in any way for that matter!]) in lectures can’t be helpful when it comes to writing fast in an exam, though the suggestion that note taking will help with fast writing gets me even odder looks than the suggestion that note taking might help them learn!

  • Xenobio

    I think the kind of cursive they teach American schoolchildren looks like crap. It’s a pile of ugly bubbles. Teach italic; people who write a lot will find their own style of joining the letters together naturally. In Malaysia they just teach straight letters (what Americans call “printing”, I believe) and I eventually evolved my own cursive. My American husband on the other hand learned cursive and writes chicken scratchings.

  • Kinga

    I remember when I was 18 (which was about 10 years ago) I was an exchange student in America and I was shocked when I saw EVERYONE was writing in these weird block letters. I couldn’t understand how you can take a few pages of notes during the class when you write in such a time consuming way.

    But then of course I realised you are only expected to note down about 5 sentences during the class.

    Everyone was quite mesmerised by my ‘cursive’ writing. I didn’t even realise there was a name for it. Where I am from everyone writes like that and it wouldn’t occur to anyone to write in block letters. Learning writing like that goes hand in hand with learning to read.

    Also in Poland no one ever hands in their homework typed out on the computer (not until college anyway). It is unheard of. I got a permission once to hand in my homework typed up because I had my left (I am a lefty) arm in a cast.

  • Kenia

    I learned handwriting in elementary school…and have written that way ever since. Well, I do occasionally write in block letters if it suites my fancy at the moment (i’m an engineer), but mostly I write cursive.
    I actually tried writing in normal letters…and found myself getting frustrated at how inefficient and longer it took me to write!

    *write letter; lift pen; lower pen; write letter; lift pen; lower pen; repeat…*
    vs. *write all letters fluidly, back-to-back*

    I write significantly faster when I don’t have to lift my pen except to dot i’s and cross t’s, so I’ve stuck with cursive as my norm. 🙂

  • Kimi

    I’ve found that my cursive writing is fairly illegible, and, if I absolutely have to write by hand, it’s in print. I also find that, unless I’m doing notes for an outline on post-it notes, my creative juices flow better when I’m typing.

    On another note, my son, who’s 9, is learning cursive in school. His sister, who will be 13, never did, and feels awkward when she has to sign something. Since my signature is chicken-scratch, I’ve told her to come up with something that’s comfortable for her. Most classes prefer that the kids type out their reports, anyway.

  • chris

    I’m very interested in the statement “studies indicate that children formally taught handwriting improve their sentence construction and increase the complexity of their thoughts.” I would love to tell my high school students (who I ‘force’ to use cursive) about these studies. More information please?

  • Chaz

    Have you ever stared at a computer screen for eight hours straight? Your eyes start to bug out, you have to squint, and sometimes both of your eyes start focusing on different things. At least, that’s the way it is for me.

    I like writing. Not on a computer, but with a ‘pencil’ on ‘paper.’ Before last month, I was never able to write in cursive very well. After I tried it, and stuck with it, I found that it was actually a lot more efficient than the printing I used to do. Like learning how to correctly type, it only took me a few weeks before I got the hang of it–in fact, I’ve gotten to the point that if I purposely print, I’ll slip into cursive unconsciously.

    When I write on paper, I find that my writing is a lot more organised (with an ‘ess,’ not a ‘zed’–I’m Canadian) and my thoughts flow better. But, like most people, I can’t write as fast as I can think, and when I really have to move blocks of text around on the page, I sometimes find it easier to jump to the computer and type it up, where it is easier to insert text in the middle of a sentence, etc. Of course, almost all of my writing (for school) gets typed up in the end, but I like to write the drafts.

    I’m only 17 years old, and something I’ve noticed is that nearly all the people of my parents’ generation write exclusively in cursive, whereas my generation’s writing is mostly chicken-scratch printing. An alarming trend, I think. We shouldn’t be so dependent on technology that we can’t function without it–though in my school it hasn’t come to the point where students type up their notes in class on computers or slates; it’s still strictly pen/pencil and paper. Teachers should make more of a [whatever that word is–see, if this was on paper this wouldn’t happen] [point?] of teaching kids how to write properly.

    Anyway… I think writing is still important.

    Chaz

  • chaz-4 months later

    “Writing in longhand is not doomed to extinction… But it might be a stretch to say that it thrives.”

    It thrives in my life. Like I said above, I write nearly everything before I type it. A single essay assignment might generate 30-40 pages (both sides) of full text. Writing and rewriting–from scratch–is what makes good writing.

    After several months, I now can write extremely fluently in cursive. It is much faster than printing, and for me, just as neat. I am a very fast typist, but I still prefer writing.

    The only disadvantage of writing? Carrying around thousands of pieces of paper all over the place is tiring. My schoolbag usually weighs somewhere between 25 and 30 pounds. But computers are frustrating.

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