How Handwriting Can Increase Retention

Handwriting Increases Retention

The rise and success of the human civilisation is tightly linked to the creation and use of writing as a way of storing and transmitting knowledge and ideas. Once a skill jealously guarded and reserved only for the wealthy and powerful of society, writing is now a basic life skill that a majority of us use on a daily basis without a second thought. The technology of writing has changed in the wake of the digital revolution, from something which was once chiselled in stone to a voice-to-text message you can easily send with the help of Siri. Younger generations are already “digital natives,” instinctively and effortlessly using both the web and smartphones for fun or education. As a result of this, pens and paper have been pushed even further to the side to make way for iPads, keyboards and stylus pens. This trend is worrying, as handwriting has many benefits that you aren’t able to replicate with typing, touch-screen keyboards, or stylus pens.

Handwriting with Mobile

Better Retention
The physical and cognitive processes used in handwriting and typing differ greatly. Handwriting is a task that engages various parts of the brain as it requires many micro movements and adjustments, such as feeling the paper and pen, directing movement and spacing words to fit the page. Every letter is written differently and needs unique movements of the hand to execute. In contrast, all that is required to type is to press the right key, and this motion is the same regardless of what letter or character we are typing. In an article by NPR, a study compared university students who typed their notes against those who hand wrote them. The results showed that both did equally well when citing simple facts, but when asked to recall information from more complex questions, those who hand wrote their notes did significantly better.  As handwriting activates many different parts of the brain and is far less generic than typing, it is no surprise that retention levels are greater when taking notes or studying using pen and paper than it is with a keyboard.

In a nutshell: you are more likely to remember something if you hand write it rather than if you type it.

Creative Note-taking

Boosts Creativity
Without a doubt, there are many ways in which typing on a laptop or computer is superior to writing by hand. Typing is faster and physically less straining, not to mention it’s convenience with allowing you to search and categorise your work. However, this cold and calculated predictability and efficiency can stunt the creative process. Writing longhand is a far more personal and engaging activity, and allows for a writer to maintain a comfortable writing pace. The act of writing out each letter in a unique way also gives us more time to process what we want to write down, and makes every word all the more valuable. There is still a quality about pen and paper that evokes the feeling of craftsmanship as opposed to a chore. Many great writers agree that an empty sheet of paper is far more inviting and inspirational than a cold flickering screen.

Distracting laptop in class

Fewer Distractions
Of all of the advantages of writing by hand, this may well be the most obvious one. Computers and their connection to the internet are indeed powerful and useful resources, but are all too often a distraction, especially when it comes to writing: be it creative or academic. A piece of paper does not have any time wasting apps or features, it is simply there and waiting for your input and immersion. The threat of distractions when using computers for writing is so prevalent that self-imposed lockout programs like Minutes Please and Facebook Limiter are gaining ever growing popularity. Why not cut out the problem at its source and go fully analogue with your writing?

Typing may well be more efficient than handwriting, but discarding it entirely is far from prudent. Picking up a pen and paper from time to time can do wonders for your productivity, creativity, and retention.


Central College Online is a part of the Group Colleges of Australia organisation which has been established for over thirty years and offers online courses in more than forty subjects to thousands of students.

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