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Your handwriting probably stinks. It’s not a moral failing but it is something you can change if you want.


“Yuck.” Ever think that after looking at something you’ve handwritten? So much of what we “write” is just typed that decent handwriting seems to have gone down the tubes. This makes complete sense. If you don’t use a skill - or even develop it - you lose that it. What many people recognize as the cursive script has only been around since maybe the 1800s. The purported reason: a belief that it increased writing speed. However, studies show that there’s no increase in speed, especially if you use a Latin alphabet as English does.

Why change your handwriting?

Just because you won’t write any faster doesn’t mean it’s without other benefits. For one, it will look nicer and be easier to read. Itamar Shatz of self-help website Effectiviology reports research indicates, “that taking notes by hand allows you to remember the material better than typing those notes on a computer.” Why? The act of writing by hand forces you to process the information.

So even if you have bad handwriting, just the act of writing something is helpful if you are trying to learn something. Now imagine being able to re-read your notes. You might laugh but there are many times I’ve come across an old note and had to decipher my handwriting. Very frustrating.

Find a style you like

There are many options out there.

image: architects academy

You can decide for yourself when it comes to how you want your handwriting to look. For example, I greatly admire the look of Japanese script.

Whenever I receive mail from Japan anything handwritten - even the customs declaration - looks immaculate. I’m not saying everyone in Japan has great handwriting, but good handwriting certain does exist there.

I think there is an equivalent in the West. I used to read construction blueprints regularly at work and found the script used by architects visually pleasing. (If you like this style, a link to a site that will teach you to write like an architect appears at the bottom of the page.) That’s me though. Maybe you’re more interested in cursive?

What you probably think of as “Cursive” is the Palmer Method. When you think of a fancier script you probably envision something like the Spencerian Method. Both were developed in the 1800s and both were for a time dominant writing standards taught to millions of people - sort of like the Mac v PC of the day.

Both were principally taught to satisfy business interests. Today, we are told corporations need workers with STEM skills. A hundred-plus years ago when handwriting was still very much in demand - think ledgers, invoices, etc. - having a pool of workers with good handwriting was important.

There are still examples of the Spencerian script in use today. Look at the Coca-Cola and Ford corporate logos: Spencerian Script. If you wanted impeccable handwriting, Spencer's advice was to practice six to 12 hours a day. Ouch. But, if the year was 1903 and you were a bookkeeper at least 6 and probably more hours of your day would be dedicated to writing. So Spencers’ advice probably wasn’t as daunting an admonition as it appears today.

The Palmer Method was developed by Austin Palmer and the first text explaining the method was published in 1894. There is a link at the bottom of this page where you can get a free copy of this book, Palmer's Guide to Business Writing.

This treatise on “muscular movement writing” became the preferred method of the business world at the time. Its boosters emphasized its plainness and speed - it was faster than the Spencerian method and ostensibly a decent practitioner could keep pace with someone on a typewriter.

Whatever style you end up finding, you know what comes next.


Practice but maintain comfort

If holding the pen the “correct” way hurts your hand, instead use a grip that is comfortable to you. To make sure you keep up with practice, you need to want to practice, look forward to practice even. It’s like exercise, if you see it as nothing but a task to suffer through, chances are you will give up.

By using a pen you like and maintaining your overall comfort you improve your chances of actually practicing. Think of writing as some “me” time where you get to think ahead and slow down while you write. Maybe use this as an opportunity to write down interesting observations or even just collect quotes. You don't have to create original ideas, just write any old one down to help you improve.

Imagine a small pocket diary filled with interesting quotes - all written out by you using your newly acquired penmanship skills. It might even make a great end of the year gift for someone very special to you.

Remember, this isn’t 1893 and you aren’t toiling away in front of a ledger. You’re working on your handwriting for you and the only person who has to be pleased with the results is, you guessed it, you.

Further reading

Handwriting Is History by Anne Trubek [web archive]

Platt R. Spencer - Ohio History Center [short bio]

Palmer's Guide to Business Writing - [Library of Congress]

How to Write Like an Architect - [videos by Doug Patt]


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