That’s Write: Putting Aside the Keyboard and Using a Pen or Pencil Can be Good for Your Brain

IMAG0044This post was originally uploaded on February 10, 2015. It has been updated below with additional links to new articles and a podcast on April 5. 2016, August 17, 2017 and December 27, 2018.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a student all the way through grades 6 through 12 in the New York City public school system was to prepare a handwritten outline before writing a homework assignment, essay, paper or exam question. This process continued to serve me well through college, graduate school and then all of the jobs I have ever had. Not only does this serve to organize my writing into an orderly beginning, middle and end, but moreover, writing by hand is also a means to use several senses (vision, touch and even listening), at once to assist in planning things out.

Even after Word and WordPerfect began to include outline functions in their programs, I always continued to use them in conjunction with printing out my outline drafts and editing them by hand. Picking up a pen to enhance, edit and annotate the text has always given me an additional perspective on whatever topic I am outlining. The same goes for the full text of drafts insofar as printing them out and marking them up by hand.

As well, I still continue to write out the following items by hand:

  • Notes taken during situations where I want some sort of record including, among others, during business meetings, telephone calls with consumer companies, and at professional presentations and classes. I often go back over such notes and further write out summaries and follow-up questions.
  • To make my daily “To Do” list of what needs to be done each day, which I continue to mark up as my schedule progresses.
  • To schedule all of my appointments in my daily planner, including additional annotations about many of the upcoming events.

I have always believed that by writing out these thing in longhand helps me to plan, analyze, summarize and retain the most important points. However, if I did this by keyboard on an electronic device, or else not at all, I do not think I would retain as much of this content as I do when I set my pen down on a sheet of paper.

For many years I wrote with the BIC R730. This pen was outstanding because of the speed with which I could write with it and, because of the many textures I could get out of its writing point, was likewise great for doodling. (See The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently by Sunni Brown, 2014, Portfolio Hardcover, for a terrific treatment on the virtues of doodling.) Unfortunately, I can no longer find them for sale with blue ink. I have found a worthy replacement to be Uni-Ball Vision Elite (third row down, second image from the right in this link), for writing as well as doodling.

As a result of my continued enjoyment of handwriting, notwithstanding all of the time I spend each day working on real and virtual keyboards (as does everyone else on Planet Earth), I was recently delighted to see a brief article on on January 19, 2015, entitled 7 Ways Writing by Hand Can Save Your Brain by Yohana Desta. The reporter spoke with Dr. Marc Seifer who wrote The Definitive Book of Handwriting Analysis (Career Press, 2008). I highly recommend clicking through to read this post and view the accompanying videos. To sum up the seven advantages Dr. Seifer sees in writing by hand (and adding my own anagram to remember them as sailing the 7C’s), it:

  • Produces a calming effect on your demeanor when you repeatedly write down positive thoughts.
  • Helps to coordinate the activities of the left and right (and maybe “write”, too), cerebral hemispheres.
  • Improves cognitive skills. The article links to another very interesting article that appeared in the October 10, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled How Handwriting Trains the Brain by Gwendolyn Bounds.
  • “Inspires creativity” because writing is slower than keyboarding thus giving you more pause to consider what you are doing.
  • Continues to keep minds sharp as people age.
  • Improves content retention.
  •  Uses the connected areas of your brain for reading while you are writing. Studies have shown this is not the case with keyboarding.

A similar and highly persuasive case for the educational development benefits of teaching handwriting to students appeared in an article in the June 2, 2014 edition of The New York Times in an article entitled What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades by Maria Konnikova. This explores the lasting effects upon children when they are taught to write first insofar as they learn to read faster and build better retention of what they have read. Indeed, learning to write simultaneously activates three important areas of the brain. There might even be some distinction in the effect of learning to print and learning cursive writing. I highly recommend clicking through and reading the full text of this fascinating feature together with the equally informative WSJ article linked in the third bullet point above.

I believe it is always safer to be on the write side of things.

April 5, 2016 Update:

Today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal carries an article entitled Can Handwriting Make You Smarter?, by Robert Lee Hotz. The short answer to this question is indeed yes. This fascinating articles reports on the findings of researchers who have been studying whether students retain and understand college lectures better by taking handwritten notes or by using a laptop in class. I highly recommend reading this in its entirety. I believe that it provides some very worthwhile follow-up information to the above post.

August 17, 2017 Update:

For an additonal and highly informative resource on the many benefits of handwriting that persist in the digital age and follow on directly with the above post and update, I highly recommend the podcast and its transcript entitled Who Needs Handwriting?, first broadcast on the NPR radio network on February 10, 2016, available on I recently heard this on a rebroadcast and found it to be directly on point here. 

December 27, 2018 Update:

The Style section of today’s edition of The New York Times has a fascinating article entitled Let the Fountain Pen’s Flow!, by Miranda Purves. This is an in-depth and very informative report on the upswing in sales of highly diverse range of specialty pens, inks and papers. There are also highly sought after brands of these items, special showings and events, and even podcasts and YouTube channels catering to these aficionados of write and wrong. This was very enjoyable reading and I strongly suggest a click-through and read of it if you have an opportunity.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.