The Enduring Power of Putting Pen to Paper - THINKERS Notebook

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The Enduring Power of Putting Pen to Paper

There are times when writing by hand just seems so ... laborious. And inefficient.
  • Why would you handwrite a letter when you could just send an email?
  • Why would you write in a paper journal when you could just type your thoughts into a Word document?
  • Why would you take notes by hand when there's literally an app for that?

These aren't just rhetorical questions. They're valid ones.

Writing anything by hand will almost always take more time than typing it. And there is undeniable value in the time saved.

Plus, consider are legibility concerns. 

A small handful of people have beautiful, clear penmanship. Anyone with two working eyes can read it easily.

Many other people have such chicken-scratch writing that they struggle to read even words they wrote themselves. Typing alleviates this issue completely.

And then there is the issue of searchability.

Your daily planner doesn't come with a search function, now does it? Neither does your journal. Or note cards.

But if you use some kind of digital system, you will almost surely have the ability to type in a search term and access relevant notes and pages in an instant. That can be extremely useful.

So let's see:

  • Handwriting takes longer to do.
  • Handwriting can be difficult to read.
  • Handwriting can't be easily searched.

Umm, remind me again why anyone ever writes by hand ... ?

Oh ...

Actually, there's a very simple reason why writing by hand is worth it:

Writing by hand helps your brain. It helps you think better.

That's not just an opinion or a hope. It's backed by science.

And better thinking can lead to more creative ideas, more feasible plans, more optimal decisions, and more advantageous outcomes across a wide spectrum of areas.

In fact, writing by hand can:

  • Help you develop into a better reader.
  • Help you maintain your focus.
  • Help you remember key points in notes you take.
  • Help you connect on a more intimate level with your ideas.
  • And help kids develop important skills they'll need to succeed.

But don't just take my word for it. This week's THINKERS Roundup includes three articles that discuss many ways that writing by hand has a positive impact on your thinking.

So read on ... then step away from the keyboard and take some handwritten notes about what you learn. ;-)

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop


Next Friday, June 5th at 12:30 p.m. ET, I will be joined by Edward D. Hess to discuss why intellectual humility (the topic of last week's newsletter) is so important and what we can all do to foster more of it.

Please RSVP here: Why Intellectual Humility is the Key to Thriving in the Smart Machine Age

Note: if you can't attend live, don't worry. We're recording the webinar and will post the replay afterwards.

We will take questions at the end, so please submit them ahead of time if you know you can't be there live.

Also c
heck out Sean Jackson's latest essay for Workshop members: How to Think Creatively.


The THINKERS Workshop costs $499.99 per year (or $49.99 per month) to be a member. If you own a THINKERS Notebook, then you get a special discount. Just reply to this email and let me know you have a notebook, and I'll pass along the discount code.
What we might lose if we move too far away from handwriting


Although learning to write by hand does seem to play an important part in reading, no one can say whether the tool alters the quality of the text itself.

Do we express ourselves more freely and clearly with a pen than with a keyboard? Does it make any difference to the way the brain works? Some studies suggest this may indeed be the case.

In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject.

Read: Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? (The Guardian)

Writing helps us learn better, retain more, and focus intently


The benefits of writing continue long after we’ve mastered the basics of penmanship.

A simple study conducted in 2015 had women aged 19-54 either handwrite, type on a keyboard, or use an iPad to write words. Those that had written by hand were significantly better at recalling the words they had written. The only difference in the study was the mode of writing, indicating that physically shaping words helps us to remember them.

Haptics studies, which look at touch as a mode of communication, suggest that visuomotor skills are the reason for this phenomenon.

Touch is an important sense, and when we engage across multiple sensations we are better able to tie things together, recall them later and, in short, learn. The feel of a pen being delicately manipulated to produce the small scratches of ink that make up words on paper is far more tactile than fingertips pressed against slabs of plastic.

Read: The Science of Putting Pen to Paper (Michael Hyatt)

The impact of handwriting begins early


When kids read something, they definitely learn it. When they write it, they retain the information.

According to a 2012 study, a kid's brain has parts which are responsible for learning. These parts become more energetic when kids rewrite something or take notes by hand.

Furthermore, the sample of students who just studied or typed words instead of writing them down soon forgot about the right spelling.

When you are writing by hand, the brain remembers the shapes of the letters and it is a more complicated process than mechanically pushing keys on a keyboard. Let alone just tapping a screen.
Quote of the week

"The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen."

-- Lee Iacocca