Handwriting is one of those skills that you generally learn as a kid, and then never try to actively improve it as you grow up. However, being able to write faster has some significant benefits, which are especially important for people who often need to write things by hand, such as university students. These benefits include:
- Increased automaticity, which lessens the burden on working memory. This means that you don’t have to actively concentrate on the act of writing itself, and you can instead focus on thinking about what to write.
- Increased overlap between the mental generation of output and the consequent production of text relating to that output. This means that you can write your thoughts down immediately as you are forming them, without suffering from a delay which hinders your thought process.
- Improved performance in various academic tasks, and especially those that require a lot of handwriting, such as in-class essays or note-taking during lectures.
Below is a collection of tips and strategies, which can help you learn how to write faster by hand. Some of these can be implemented immediately with no effort, while others require a bit of practice.
You don’t have to do everything that’s listed here; it’s fine to pick out even a single aspect that you want to focus on. You’ll still likely see a significant improvement in a small amount of time, and for only a minimal amount of effort.
Fix your handwriting technique
Good handwriting technique: Use your fingers as guides, and move the pen using the forearm and shoulder muscles. This allows you to write quickly, without tiring out or getting cramps.
Bad handwriting technique: “Drawing” the letters using your fingers. Moving your wrist constantly. Repeatedly picking up your hand from the paper in order to move it across as you write. These issues slow down your writing, and cause your hand to tire out and cramp.
How to get your technique right: In order to get a sense of which muscles you should use, try holding your arm in front of you, while writing large letters in the air, using the guidelines for good technique which are listed above. Once you get used to these movements, try to implement them when you write on paper, while making sure to avoid the issues associated with bad handwriting technique.
Maintain a good posture
Don’t slouch over the paper as you write. Doing this puts unnecessary strain on your arm, which makes it more difficult to write.
To help improve your posture, you ideally want to be seated with your feet resting flat on the floor, and with your hips and lower back supported against the chair. At the same time, your knees should be flexed to approximately 90˚, and your elbows should be slightly flexed, with your forearms resting comfortably on the desk surface.
Make sure to set the height of the desk and the chair properly, as doing this encourages the use of a good posture. When the desk/chair combination is set with improper heights, you will find that it’s more difficult to maintain good posture, which hinders your writing.
Hold the pen whichever way is convenient for you
Surprisingly, your grasp (the way you hold the pen in your hand) doesn’t have much of an impact on your writing speed. Therefore, as long as you feel comfortable while writing, you can just stick with whatever works for you. Also note that when writing for extended periods of time, it’s natural to sometimes vary the way you hold the pen, so this is not necessarily indicative of a problem.
However, if the way that you naturally hold the pain is uncomfortable, and you decide you want to improve it, it’s generally advisable to go with the commonly used dynamic tripod grip, which is shown below.
Don’t grip the pen too hard
People tend to grip the pen too hard, especially when trying to write quickly. The problem is that doing this slows you down, and causes your hand to tire.
The best way to avoid this is to consciously check up on yourself while you write, and make sure that you’re not gripping the pen too hard; you want to hold it firmly, but without crushing it. If you consistently correct yourself, then over time, you should be able to maintain the appropriate grip strength naturally.
Note: if you find that you keep gripping the pen too hard, it’s possible that you need to get a new one, that better fits your hand. You’ll see more about this in the section below.
Use a good writing implement
Using a good-quality writing implement that fits your hand properly can make a huge difference in your writing, without requiring much effort on your part. There are three main things that you should pay attention to:
- Pen thickness: pick a pen that isn’t so thin that you end up having to squeeze it tightly, or so thick that it ends up being uncomfortable to hold. If necessary, you can increase the thickness of a pen by putting a small rubber grip on it. The right size obviously depends on how big your hand is and on your personal preferences, so experiment and find out what works for you.
- Tip size: pick a pen that has a tip size that you feel comfortable with (e.g. 0.5mm versus 0.9mm). Your preferences for this will be personal, so again, you should experiment and find out what works for you.
- Use a good-quality pen that doesn’t require you to press hard on the paper. This alone can make a huge difference, and a good pen doesn’t cost more than a few dollars, so there’s no reason why you shouldn’t just buy one.
Improve your handwriting style
You can increase your handwriting speed by making a few simple modifications to your handwriting style, and specifically by simplifying the way you write the letters. This means that you should try to get rid of excessive marks and styling, as long as omitting them has no impact on the legibility of your writing.
It’s also possible to modify the size of your letters, and in theory, if you decrease the size of your letters, you will need to move your arm less when you write, which should enable you to write faster. However, this is not necessarily true in practice, and reducing the letter size might end up slowing you down, by making it more difficult for you to write the individual letters. Since this is also something that varies from person to person, try to experiment and see what works for you.
Use a shorthand writing system
Shorthand writing systems use various symbols, which can replace letters, common letter combinations, sounds, or frequently-used words, in order to save time as you write. You can either learn an existing shorthand system, or develop your own. Commonly used shorthand variants include Gregg, Pitman, and Teeline.
One of the ways to benefit from the use of shorthand without having to put a lot of effort into learning it, is to focus only on a small number of words which appear frequently in the language, such as ‘the’ and ‘to’.
Keep in mind that the more you rely on shorthand, the more difficult it will be for others to decipher your notes. This can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your preferences.
Summary and conclusions
- Improving your handwriting speed can have significant benefits, such as increased automaticity, increased overlap between mental generation of output and the consequent production of text, and improved performance in academic tasks.
- There are a lot of things you can do in order to improve your handwriting speed, and you can pick which aspects you want to work on, as each of them will lead to notable benefits by itself.
- In terms of writing technique, make sure to use your fingers as guides, and move the pen using the forearm and shoulder muscles, while maintaining a good posture. Avoid drawing the letters with your fingers, moving your wrist constantly, repeatedly picking your hand up from the paper, gripping the pen too hard, or slouching over the paper.
- Make sure to get a good writing implement that is convenient for you to write with, in terms of not being too thin or too thick, and in terms of having a comfortable tip size. Make sure that the pen is of high-quality, and that you don’t have to press too hard on the paper in order to write with it.
- Finally, in order to increase your handwriting speed, you can also choose to simplify the way you write the letters, or use a shorthand writing system. The greatest benefits of using such systems comes from simplifying frequently used words (such as ‘the’), which saves you a lot of time while requiring relatively little effort.