Handwriting is the optimum way of learning new material as opposed to typing

Handwriting is the optimum way of learning new material as opposed to typing

School children in the 19th century used to handwrite on slate boards as practising on paper was too expensive, and the boards could be readily wiped clean with a sponge. When considered proficient they were allowed to write in copybooks using a feather quill which was dipped in ink. Very young children used to trace letters in a sand tray before they progressed to slate. We have come a long way from children working like this; lead pencils of varying types now exist offering differing grips, and ink pens can be brought that are designed for left and right handers and some are more ergonomic than others. And increasingly, children are being encouraged to use a digital keyboard, which eliminates the need for the child to physically write the letters and words, all they have to do is select the correct letters, tap them and a word appears on the screen in front of them, seemingly magically. Handwriting a word
without a visual cue, involves recalling the letter sounds within it and then coding the sounds to their letters and letter groups and then physically writing the word down; a multiplicity of neural processes is being triggered as this happens. And spelling is the basis of reading; we decode words by recognising the letter patterns and coding the letters to their sounds. This makes having a thorough embedded understanding of the spelling rules and their exceptions, vital.

‘Words are recognised very quickly when the reader is able to match a representation of a word’s spelling that is stored in long term memory, with the word on the printed page.’ (Wagner, Torgesen and Rashotte, 2012)

Various studies highlighting the benefits of handwriting, as opposed to typing, have been published over the years and a very recent study carried out at the Norwegian University of Science in Trondheim, by Ruud Van der Weel and Audrey Van der Meer, has shown, by using a medical test used to measure the electrical activity of the brain, that this elevated assimilation of facts whilst handwriting is due to increased electrical activity in the brain whilst handwriting as opposed to typing. The study ‘Handwriting but not typewriting leads to widespread brain connectivity: a high-density EEG study
with implications for the classroom’ was published in the Frontiers of Psychology on January 24th, 2024.

The researchers enlisted 36 university students. Their brains’ electrical activity was recorded as they were handwriting visually presented words using a digital pen and also typewriting. ‘Electroencephalography’ (EEG) was chosen by the researchers as it is well suited to studying brain electrical activity in the millisecond scale.

‘When writing by hand, brain connectivity patterns were far more elaborate than when typing on a keyboard, as shown by widespread theta/ alpha connectivity coherence patterns between network hubs and nodes in parietal and central brain regions. And existing research has shown that it is connectivity patterns in these open regions at such frequencies that are crucial for memory formation and encoding new information, and so beneficial to learning.’ (Van der Weel and Van der Meer, 2024)

It is vital that children continue to be taught how to handwrite and to adopt cursive writing as soon as they feel able to, as it is a very effective way of learning new information. Using a keyboard to type a long essay is fine but using a pen or pencil to learn the facts that create the essay, is the best option. Taking handwritten notes at school and in lectures and learning new spellings by writing them down as opposed to typing them, is the optimum way of assimilating the information for long term recall. Obviously, this is dependent on the student being physically able to handwrite, if not then, they can embrace digital technology whole heartedly as it is manner from heaven for them!

Sarah Cowell, 2024.


Torgesen,J.K.,Wagner, R.K.,& Rashotte, C.A.(2012) Test of Word Reading Efficiency 2,(p,2-3) Pro-Ed Inc. Austin, Texas

Van Der Weel, R., & Van der Meer, A.L.H,( 2024) Handwriting and not typing leads to widespread brain connectivity: a high density EEG study with implications for the classroom. Front. Psych. 14: 1219945.doi:10.3889/fpsyg.2023.1219945