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Handwriting

Well, darn—I missed it!

Who knew?

Now I do, and you will too …

National Handwriting Day is celebrated (by silly, old-fashioned letter-writers like me) on January 23, the birthday of the American Revolutionary leader and first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, John Hancock.

Here he is, looking ever so dapper with his white wig and feather pen:

Portrait of John Hancock (1737-1793) by John Singleton Copley, 1765, via Wikipedia

This unlikely holiday was declared by the charismatic Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association in 1977 “to acknowledge the history and influence of penmanship.”

A mission dear to my heart.

Admittedly, my main motivation for writing by hand is nostalgia, a deep desire to preserve the tangibility of pen and paper in an increasingly digital era. But, it turns out, handwriting is worth much more than its weight in historical charm. Rock-solid research indicates that the trend toward phasing out penmanship in favor of touch-screen and keyboard proficiency should be carefully reconsidered.

Just the facts, ma’am:

  • According to the information aficionados at Hanover Research, teaching handwriting skills boosts cognitive development and motor skills in school children and can also help improve writing skills and reading comprehension.
  • Another study, led by University of Washington Professor Virginia Berninger, proved that printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard involve different brain patterns and lead to different results. When kids in the study wrote by hand, they actually produced more words faster than they did on a keyboard, and they also expressed more ideas, suggesting that handwriting is associated with heightened creativity.
  • The Pen Is Mightier than the Keyboard, a study published last year by researchers from Princeton and UCLA, showed that adults also benefit from handwriting when it comes to taking notes. “When laptops are used solely to take notes, they may be impairing learning because their use results in shallower processing,” say the authors. “In three studies, we found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand.”

I may not be a linguistic expert, but I interpret those findings to also imply that handwriting letters trumps typing every time. Anecdotally, at least, I’ve found that penning engages the heart more profoundly than poking at keys, and recipients relish the results.

Engraving of “The Love Letter,” painted by Edward Henry Corbould via Wikimedia Commons

Haven’t handwritten in a while? Give it a go in honor of the recent holiday, and try a touch of whimsical lettering for an extra dose of fun.

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