Why handwriting just won’t lie down and die

When I’m not writing for HowToWriteBetter.net and have allowed myself some time off, I often go to “write” for a dressage judge at a horse show/competition (NB: dressage is a bit like ballet performed by horse and rider, on a flat surface rather than over jumps.)

While the judge keeps his/her beady eyes on the horse and rider in the arena, s/he makes comments on each movement and then awards it a mark. My job is to take the dictation – write down the comments on the score sheet and place the mark in the right box. At the end of the competition the rider takes the sheet home so they can study the judge’s comments at leisure.

So my handwriting has to be legible. Yet some judges say an awful lot, very quickly. And the boxes on the score sheets in which to write all this are often very, very small.

All this has focused my feeble brain on the continuing need for people to practise good handwriting.

Handwriting may be old-fashioned these days, but actually it can be a very helpful tool for jotting down ideas, reminders, questions, etc. in the absence of any appropriate piece of technological wizardry. By the time you’ve fiddled about with your handheld mobile device, especially if you’re standing in a subway/tube train or waiting for a bus in the rain, you could easily have scrawled a note to yourself on the back of an envelope.

Some people still do write their entire manuscripts out by hand – especially novelists, poets and romantics who feel they lose touch with their emotional side if there is anything more high-tech involved than a pad of paper and a fountain pen. If you are one of those, just be sure to hire an efficient personal assistant who will need to do a great deal of typing.

“Part of our self-image and an expression of our personality”

According to the UK’s National Handwriting Association, “Our handwriting is very personal, a part of our self-image and an expression of our personality, just as the way we dress and present ourselves is. We all have a view on how our handwriting appears to others and would sometimes like that image to be different!”

“Handwriting is a means of expressing language, just like speech, and it also leaves a lasting trace. Some call it ‘Language by Hand’. It is a physical way of expressing thoughts and ideas and a means of communicating with others.”

I have to say I did a double-take when I read that, if only in horror at the thought that my messy, inconsistent and utterly scrambled handwriting is a reflection of my personality.

Is all of me really the hysterical, jabbering mess that my handwriting is?

Business Balls dot com would appear to think the answer to that is yes. Graphology – the study of handwriting and handwriting analysis – is now an accepted and increasingly used technique for assessment of people in organizations. Handwriting analysis is an effective and reliable indicator of personality and behaviour, and so is a useful tool for many organizational processes, for example: recruitment, interviewing and selection, team-building, counselling, and career-planning. “

Before I slump dejectedly by my little pot of ballpoint pens, take a look at the article on there by Elaine Quigley BA Hons., MBIG Dip, a leading expert graphologist from the British Institute of Graphologists. It makes me thank my lucky stars that I’m self-employed as judging by this I wouldn’t qualify for a salaried job as a street sweeper.

On a brighter note, here’s a very good article on how to improve your handwriting

It is “How to Create Your Personal Handwriting Style” by Valerie David, who says – amongst many other wise and useful tips – “Look at what you’ve written and evaluate your current style.  Decide how much you want to change. Relearning your handwriting style can take a lot of time and practice. If you don’t want to invest that much, you might consider smaller changes–altering only a few letters or spending some time improving the flow of your writing to make it more legible. For bigger changes, take it step by step.”

So where has the technology gone?

Naturally the techno police got on the handwriting case some years ago and two basic types of handwriting recognition packages have been produced. Both of them have received rather bad press, but without personal experience I can’t comment – although my awful scrawl would almost certainly cause all systems to go into full meltdown.

Essentially these function either with you writing by hand using a stylus on a special pad, or else your handwritten work on paper is scanned by an optical character reader. Wikipedia explains all…

How do you feel about handwriting in our era of near-full automation? How important is it to you?

Let’s make you’re writing, by hand or otherwise :

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

 

Photo of Jen Bradbury riding Woltaire (a.k.a. Gizmo) by John Mears. Thanks to all three of you!

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  1. I want to make three very different points.

    First thank heavens for computers and keyboards, etc. I had a stroke in 2005 and one of the things that resulted is that my right hand is spastic. I’m right handed and therefore can’t write.

    Second i did a lot of writing and note taking before the stroke so I really miss being able to write. So to help me, I’ve bought a netpad (a small notebook) to take notes on (I need a table for typing on that) and a small digital recorder which can be hooked up via USB and downloads files in mp3. Adaptable!

    Third teaching handwriting is now not done in Toronto schools. Typing has taken over! What a loss. I’ve had many conversations with parents of school age children and that say they’re going to teach it home.

    The world is changing a lot. I’m torn. The “old”way of handwriting is going AND at the same time I’m glad that technology allows us disabled people to communicate 🙂

    • Absolutely right Trudy – computers have liberated many people who previously would have had problems communicating in handwriting, and thank Heavens for it.

      I’m a bit ambivalent about “teaching handwriting,” however. One thing I notice about many North Americans – especially those of us over the age of, er, 50ish or so (!!) is that many people’s handwriting is very similar due to the formal teaching of handwriting in schools. Although it makes people write clearly and accurately, it does tend to dissolve the individuality in handwriting.

      In the UK where I live, handwriting is taught up to a point but in no way as rigorously as it is – or was, as you say – in North America. The result is a mish-mash of wildly varying handwriting styles which certainly do not contribute much to clarity, but sure as hell keep more graphologists in business!

      But getting back to your first point, contemporary technology means that thousands if not millions of people can communicate effectively, who previously would have been unable to do so. It only needs you to look at someone like Stephen Hawking (www.hawking.org.uk) to see what the world would be missing, were electronic communication not possible.

  2. Fascinating blog Suze, and I agree that for those can can (physically) hand write it’s very sad that we so quickly lose the art, using word processing all the time. It’s a bit like losing mental arithmatic skills because of calculators or map reading skills because of SAT NAVs.

    Having been in hospital recently I really appreciated all the handwritten cards I received – somehow more personal than a message on facebook (although I appreciated those as well).

    I love to see good hand writing, and taking legible notes is a very useful skill to have. Like Trudy ‘tho, typing is becoming increasingly difficult for me and I’m going to start using voice activated software soon, so I may well lose the bit of typing skill I have left.

    Thank goodness for technology, but I do think it’s sad that the art of hand writing isn’t valued as a skill any more.

    • Thanks for that Jane – you’re right, the art of handwriting probably will evaporate in time along with many other manually based skills, but at the same time we must be grateful that technology has opened up so many things – written communication included – to people who through disability or whatever other reason were hampered by traditional communication methods.

    • Hear! Hear Jane.My birthday was last month and I really appreciated all the handwritten cards. They made me think again about my friends.

      • It’s weird, isn’t it? No matter how lovely these eCards are, it’s still very touching to look up on your mantel or shelf and see a row of birthday or Holiday greeting cards… is it just, do you think, or will younger generations feel the same way?

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