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Why Writing Longhand is So Important Still (Backed by Science)

by David K. William | The Web Writer Spotlight: Oct 26, 2015


Every creative person ought to write—not just professional writers.

Want to know why? Well, writing helps us untangle the messiness in our minds and allows for clearer thinking. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful things about writing.

In her inspiring book, Why We Write, curator Meredith Maran interviewed 20 acclaimed authors on how and why they write. Nearly all of them gave self-serving reasons why they write, but there was a delightful, recurring overall motive: Writing provides a pocket of time in the present moment to reflect, digest and think deeply.

Joan Didion, author of Play It as It Lays said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”

Armistead Maupin, author of Tales of the City explained, “I write to explain myself to myself. It’s a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it.”

It’s not uncommon for one to think they have totally grasped a concept until they write it down and realize there are aspects of the concept they hadn’t quite thought about.

Writing, then, is a way to organize our thoughts. It’s a way to reflect and gain new insights and perspectives. You think more deeply when you write, and that helps you see things more clearly.

But did you know writing longhand helps us absorb information better, and learn significantly more than writing using a laptop?  

That might come as a surprise, but it is backed by research. Maybe the pen is actually mightier than the keyboard.


Advantages of the pen over the keyboard


According to a study published by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from Princeton University and University of California respectively, students who take notes on paper learn significantly more than their peers who take notes on a laptop.

Not only do you see things more clearly when you write, you also absorb information better and learn significantly more when you write down information given to you. That explains why students and attendees at conferences and meetings who take notes of lectures or speeches learn more than those who just listen to lectures and don’t write anything down.

The researchers found that laptop users generally type almost everything they hear without according much thought to what they are writing. Basically, they are not processing the meaning of what they are taking notes on; rather they are mindlessly transcribing. Transcribing doesn’t require much cognitive activity.

Those who take notes by hand, however, obviously cannot write down every single word the speaker or professor speaks. So they have to listen more attentively, summarize the lesson, list only the key points and, consequently, learn significantly more. Your brain is fully engaged in the process of comprehension when you write by hand, which means you remember the information delivered to you better.

Yes, we live in a digital age and I could bet you can’t imagine not using your laptop for work, but you shouldn’t totally neglect writing the good old fashioned way using a pen and paper.

See Also: What Your Handwriting Says About You (Infographic)


David K. William is a writer, publisher and entrepreneur. Everything he writes is inspired by life experiences and study. David is also founding editor of Follow him on Twitter @DavidKWilliam.




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