Handwriting, note-taking, and recall

    I write by hand every day, but not much. While I used to keep a diary in which I’d write several pages, I now keep one that encourages a tweet-sized reflection on the past 24 hours. Other than that, it’s mostly touch-typing on my laptop or desktop computer.

    Next month, I’ll start studying for my MSc and the university have already shipped me the books that form a core part of my study. I’ll be underlining and taking notes on them, which is interesting because I usually highlight things on my ereader.

    This article in The Economist is primarily about note-taking and the use of handwriting. I think it’s probably beyond doubt that for deeper learning and recall this is more effective. But perhaps for the work I do, which is more synthesis of multiple sources, I find digital more practical.

    A line of research shows the benefits of an “innovation” that predates computers: handwriting. Studies have found that writing on paper can improve everything from recalling a random series of words to imparting a better conceptual grasp of complicated ideas.

    For learning material by rote, from the shapes of letters to the quirks of English spelling, the benefits of using a pen or pencil lie in how the motor and sensory memory of putting words on paper reinforces that material. The arrangement of squiggles on a page feeds into visual memory: people might remember a word they wrote down in French class as being at the bottom-left on a page, par exemple.

    One of the best-demonstrated advantages of writing by hand seems to be in superior note-taking. In a study from 2014 by Pam Mueller and Danny Oppenheimer, students typing wrote down almost twice as many words and more passages verbatim from lectures, suggesting they were not understanding so much as rapidly copying the material.


    Many studies have confirmed handwriting’s benefits, and policymakers have taken note. Though America’s “Common Core” curriculum from 2010 does not require handwriting instruction past first grade (roughly age six), about half the states since then have mandated more teaching of it, thanks to campaigning by researchers and handwriting supporters. In Sweden there is a push for more handwriting and printed books and fewer devices. England’s national curriculum already prescribes teaching the rudiments of cursive by age seven.

    Source: The importance of handwriting is becoming better understood | The Economist