Convert Handwritten Notes To Digital Text For The Best Of Both Worlds

Convert Handwritten Notes to Digital Text for the Best of Both Worlds

With the world's obsession with apps and smartphones, it's easy to forget how a simple handwritten note is sometimes the easiest way to jot down your thoughts. Luckily, you can still get the benefits of a searchable, fully-synced database using handwritten notes and get the best of both worlds.

Handwriting Isn't Dead

If you need to make a note of someone's phone number, it makes perfect sense to type it directly into your phone rather than using paper as a middleman. However, if you're talking on the phone or don't have your phone around, you may grab the nearest pen-like implement and scrawl the information down on any available flat surface, the back of your hand, or whatever else is within reach. Heck, some of you even prefer pen and paper for managing your to-do list.

There are many advantages to writing longhand. Over the years, there have been numerous studies that suggest that it is easier to remember information if it is written out in longhand rather than typed. Students the world over are all too familiar with this concept -- who hasn't spent hours writing and re-writing lecture notes when cramming for an exam?

Opting for the more brain-intensive process of writing greatly improves the scope for data retention. Typing can be a passive process reliant on memory-muscle, while writing is more involved. The medical community, learning specialists and undergraduate studies all support the idea. Plus, your pen will not run out of battery, and a writing surface is nearly always available -- even if it is just the back of your hand.

Handwritten notes aren't perfect, of course. For one, they're difficult to search through -- few people are willing to carry a stack of paper-based notes around with them on the off-chance they might need to refer to them! Digital notes also have the advantage of syncing between devices, so you always have them with you -- no need to carry around something extra.

So what's a gadget-obsessed geek to do? Get the best of both worlds: convert your handwritten notes to digital when you need to store them for later. There are a lot of ways to do that.

Four Ways To Capture Your Handwritten Notes

Convert Handwritten Notes to Digital Text for the Best of Both Worlds

Your Smartphone: If you have your phone on hand, you already have a way to convert handwritten notes into a digital format. Evernote and OneNote both do this well. In Evernote, add a new note using your camera, and it will process your handwriting to make the note searchable (though this may take a while if you aren't a premium subscriber). OneNote's handwriting recognition is arguably better, though it takes an extra step or two: just create a note with a photo, then in the desktop app, right-click the image to make it searchable.

A Document Scanner: You might feel that snapping photos of notes is a little fiddly, and it's certainly not ideal in every situation. A portable scanner like the Doxie Go provides a couple of ways to scan documents. The scanner is small and light enough to be slung in a bag and carried around, and has rechargeable battery. It can be used in the traditional way, connected to a computer, but the rechargeable battery and built in memory means you can also store scans on the scanner until you are able to connect to a PC or Mac.

It's not suitable for scanning books, but if you have sheets of printed or handwritten notes to scan, it's great. Doxie's OCR only converts printed documents, so if you want to make those handwritten notes searchable, you'll want to import them into something like Evernote or OneNote after scanning them.

A Smart Pen: Of course, you don't have to scan at all if you don't want to. Smart pens like the from LiveScribe 3can record handwriting in digital form as you write. LiveScribe requires you to use special "dot paper", but when you're done, you'll have an ink copy of your writing and a digital copy saved to the pen's memory which you can then synchronise with your computer, phone or tablet.

Digitising text in this way is preferable for some people since it keeps hard copies of notes neatly organised in notebook, while also providing the added benefit of a computer-based copy. Compared to a scanner, using a pen to create an analogue and digital copy at the same time is very efficient.

A Tablet and Stylus: Of course, if you have a tablet, they work just as well. Despite the name, graphic tablet and stylus combos are not solely for drawing -- they handle writing equally well. Wacom is one of the most renowned names in this field with tablets at various price points, and the styli work with the likes of Microsoft Office and Windows 8's built-in handwriting recognition. The writing-to-text conversion is impressive, and while you may have to spend a little time training Windows to recognise your style, it's something that will pay off.

On a touch screen device such as the Microsoft Surface, Windows will detect that a touchscreen is present. You should see a large keyboard icon in the system tray, but if this is not visible just right click the taskbar and click Toolbars > Touch Keyboard. To get started with handwriting recognition, click the keyboard icon and then click the keyboard button to the lower right of the onscreen keyboard that appears. Click the third icon in the popup menu to switch to handwriting mode.

Use your stylus to write on screen and your handwriting will be converted to printed text as you write. There's no need to print, either, since it can also convert cursive writing. The more you use handwriting recognition, the more accurate it becomes.

Writing is not dead -- far from it -- but it has changed change massively in recent years. The act of writing is something many of us are simply out of the habit of doing. Rather than abandoning it altogether in favour of writing solely with a pen, or going to the other extreme and fully embracing paper and ink, combining the two could be way ahead.


    The Microsoft handwriting/ink service employed in Windows Journal, Outlook etc is already interpreting your strokes as you write so you don't need to "convert" to typed text. You can search on your cursive input, and that has worked quite well (with fuzzy matching) even before personalized handwriting recognisers became available.

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