It’s impossible for me to blog with a pen and paper, but I still make notes for many posts in a small blank book that I keep with ideas. How often do you write things out by hand these days? Even if you are a technophobe, you probably do it less than in your earlier life. I have come across four studies that offer some good reasons to continue writing things without a keyboard. Maybe you should even try shifting some keyboarding activity back to paper.

One study found that writing by hand activates the brain. The study looked at children who couldn’t yet read and found that when they were writing letters by hand a circuit of neurons in the brain associated with reading were activated. When they had the kids trace or type those same letters, these neurons did not fire up. These are brain regions associated with literacy and it makes sense that in those of us who are older would also be firing up those neurons differently when we type and when we write on paper. 

Older folks often complain about younger people being terrible at spelling since it is taught with the same intensity as it was in their school years. Another study showed that writing by hand improves spelling – or perhaps using the keyboard makes spelling worse.

I pay a lot of attention to studies on memory as I get older. A 2014 study showed memory improvement with writing by hand. Using university students in a study where some took handwritten notes and other used laptops, the researchers found that writing longhand better helps you learn new information. The pen and paper group processed more of what was being said during a lecture. One reason might be that you need to condense information to keep up using this slower method and that requires thinking about the content rather than simply transcribing what you hear. Later testing showed that the handwriters recalled information from the lectures better than the laptop group.

As a former teacher of middle school students, I was interested in a study that looked at students in elementary and middle grades writing in both ways. I what might seem counter-intuitive, writing by hand seems to make you think faster. Students writing by hand were found to write more, and more quickly, than those who typed on a keyboard when they were writing essays. 

Get out that pen and paper, and set aside the keyboard sometimes.

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