Writing By Hand = Better Learning, More Ideas

There's a fascinating article in the New York Times, about the power of writing by hand rather than by keyboard (via Dougald Hine - thanks Dougald)

The whole thing's worth reading, but two things to pull out... firstly, writing by hand specifically helps with teh writing process:

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

So as those fine folks over at Field Notes put it:


Secondly, it's not just about the learning aspect which 

In a study that followed children in grades two through five, Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, demonstrated that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns — and each results in a distinct end product.

When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.

And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.


I see this all the time in workshops using the Artefact Cards. Give people a sharpie and a pack of cards, and the ideas just keep on coming. With teams we've worked with over an extended duration, as the method becomes more familiar, the ideas come quicker too. It doesn't take long to end up with a table of crunchy, useful, mapped out ideas.

I do wonder how much productivity and opportunity we lose in organisations by endlessly bashing away on keyboards, writing emails and PowerPoint decks. It's not just children that need to write by hand, as the article points out:

"For adults, typing may be a fast and efficient alternative to longhand, but that very efficiency may diminish our ability to process new information."

As with all things, it's a question of balance. Fittingly, you could perhaps steal a leaf from Austin Kleon's excellent Steal Like An Artist in which he describes how he's set up an analogue desk (paper, pen, cards, scissors etc) where he creates ideas, and a digital desk (devices, laptops etc) where he edits and 'publishes' those ideas to push out into the world.

You can read the whole article here. Then grab a pen, and write down the first ideas that come to you...

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