Writing by hand

BBC News: The slow death of handwriting.

Christmas cards, shopping lists and what else? The occasions in which we write by hand are fewer and fewer, says Neil Hallows. So is the ancient art form of handwriting dying out? A century from now, our handwriting may only be legible to experts. For some, that is already the case. But writer Kitty Burns Florey says the art of handwriting is declining so fast that ordinary, joined-up script may become as hard to read as a medieval manuscript.

"When your great-great-grandchildren find that letter of yours in the attic, they’ll have to take it to a specialist, an old guy at the library who would decipher the strange symbols for them," says Ms Florey, author of the newly-published Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.

On hot sunny days in the summer holidays I remember being kept inside and made to practice my handwriting. People over a certain age have much more uniform writing. Once upon a time, we were taught how to form letters and drilled to follow the rules. The article says teachers now are more concerned with content than presentation, so long as the handwriting is legible. A lot of my communication is either by phone or email, but my organiser is paper, my diary is paper, and my writing ideas notebook is paper. There’s something about writing on the first page of a new book, and you can’t always get wireless access.

The follow up BBC Magazine article features pictures of handwriting for the sentence "How quickly daft jumping zebras vex." The variation is striking. Bonus points for spotting the spelling error. One looks like calligraphy (Richard, 74 years old), some look like mine (drunken spider tracks), some look like I wish mine looked.


  1. Your comment about uniformity of handwriting is interesting. My grandmother and my godmother are of different ages but both have a very similar style of cursive handwriting, which reflects that I’ve seen of a lot of ladies of my grandmother’s age. It appears to have been the way they were taught to write. Receiving letters from either of them is always a joy, but it takes me a long time to read the letter. The lovely ornate cursive script is just not readable without concentration.

    I still do a lot of writing by hand, since all our lab books are still handwritten and all meeting notes likewise. However there is a move to do as little longhand writing as possible, both for readability and because it’s quicker to insert lab printouts than copy data out.

    I had to hand write a letter the other day, which is took me several drafts to get right. By the end my hand was aching; I can type all day without a problem. Once upon a time that would not have been true, but my body has adjusted as the amount of writing has decreased and typing increased. I’ve moved back to using a fountain pen for all my written work, and I find that the larger body and the ink flow is more comfortable for writing than the normal biro. When I was at school we were taught cursive writing with foutain pens; pencils, biros etc were forbidden. By the end of school days that had changed as most people could generate neater written work with biros than fountain pens. From some of my colleagues, using a fountain pen is seen as an affectation now.

  2. It’s kinda crazy, isn’t it. When I was in school, we didn’t lose marks for illegible handwriting, but if we handed in an essay that was not neatly written, we’d have it handed right back for re-doing. Computers have changed that, but I still think there’s value in having orderly handwriting.

    I have schoolteacher handwriting/printing. It’s disgustingly neat and uniform. When I’m working on short fiction, I do most of my drafts on paper, as well as editing, only moving to the computer in later stages of the process (or when my brain is moving too fast for my pen to keep up, which happens). Sometimes, though, when the brain is racing, I’ll write on paper regardless; I’m a very fast typist, too, and forcing myself to use a pen also forces my brain to pace itself, which can help the ideas.

    Ramble ramble ramble. =)

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