As far back as the 1930s, when manual typewriters walked the Earth, people have been predicting that some future generation will no longer need to write with a pen and paper — and these days, it’s true that most communication involves a keyboard of some sort. And yet, longhand is making a comeback. And that’s a good thing because there are actually a lot of benefits to writing things out in cursive.
This isn’t just Boomer nostalgia — everyone should know how to write in cursive, and you should absolutely use longhand when it’s appropriate and possible because it will make your life better in some distinct and important ways.
Writing in longhand improves your learning and memory
First and foremost, studies have shown that you not only learn faster and more comprehensively when you take notes by hand, you better remember what you’ve learned. Writing in longhand engages your brain’s learning centres more directly due to the literal physical connection between your hands and your thoughts. Studies have found that when people take notes on a keyboard, they tend to record what’s being said word-for-word, whereas people who take notes by hand tend to recast the concepts in their own words, demonstrating active processing of concepts.
Other studies have found that when children are taught longhand, they tend to have larger vocabularies, express more ideas, and work faster than kids who use keyboards for everything. While keyboarding will always have a place in modern society — and sometimes writing in longhand just isn’t practical — if you want to truly understand new concepts, try using a pen.
Writing in longhand is less distracting
In recent years there’s been a trend toward “distraction-free word processors.” These are word processors that take over your screen and either prevent or strongly discourage you from checking email, watching TikToks, and generally clicking away from your work on a constant basis. There’s a need for tools like this because when we sit in front of keyboards and screens it’s so easy to jump away from our work. This breaks our train of thought and forces us to reorient every few minutes to catch up, which can have an adverse effect on our project.
If you’re writing in longhand, it’s much easier to focus. Sure, your phone or laptop is right there and you can easily turn to them and distract yourself, but it’s not as simple as hitting alt-tab to check what your Twitter feed is up to. And if you actually move three feet away from your screens and set up with a pad of paper and a pen, it’s often just enough of a barrier to keep you focused on what you’re writing.
Also, there’s something cosy and old-school cool about sitting in a quiet spot with a notebook and a pen instead of click-clacking away.
Longhand improves dexterity
Writing in longhand isn’t just mentally beneficial — it’s physically beneficial. There’s a lot of evidence that writing in longhand improves and maintains fine motor skills. Amy Bastian, a motor neuroscientist, recently told NPR, “The more variety of things you do in the fine motor domain, the more variety of hand movements you make, will improve your dexterity.”
Obviously, that isn’t exclusive to writing in cursive — printing words can be just as beneficial, as will any other activity that involves your hands and fine motor skills. But it does mean that if you’re going to be taking notes or writing something out, doing so with a pen and paper — or a stylus and a Remarkable — will give you a double boost of mental and physical benefits.
Everything about writing in longhand that seems like a disadvantage is actually an advantage: It slows you down, makes you think, and takes more physical effort.