How to Easily Improve Your Handwriting Speed

Picture of a pen resting on a notebook.


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.
  • Improved performance in various academic tasks, and especially those that require a lot of handwriting, such as in-class essays.
  • 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.

Below is a collection of tips and strategies, which can help you improve your writing speed. 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 see a significant improvement in a small amount of time, and for only a minimal amount of effort.


Fix your 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 cramp and tire.

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.


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. Eventually, you will be able to maintain the appropriate grip strength naturally.


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 effect on your writing speed. Therefore, as long as you’re comfortable, 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.


grasping a pen using the dynamic tripod grip.


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.


Use a good writing implement

Using a good-quality writing implement 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 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 writing style

The best thing to do is to simplify the way you write the letters. This means that you should try to get rid of excessive marks and styling, as long as you can maintain legibility.

Regarding letter size: In theory, if you decrease the size of your letters, you 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. 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


A sample text written in Gregg shorthand


Shorthand systems use simplified symbols and rules which take less time to write than regular orthography. The symbols can replace letters, common letter combinations, sounds, or frequently-used words. You can either learn an existing 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.


Examples of frequently-used words written in Pitman shorthand


Keep in mind that the more you rely on shorthand, the more difficult it is for others to decipher your notes. This can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your perspective.


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 making sure to maintain a good posture throughout the process. 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 even use a shorthand writing system. The greatest benefits to using such systems comes from simplifying frequently used words (such as ‘the’), which saves you a lot of time while requiring relatively little effort.


Use Color Coding Techniques to Learn Vocabulary More Effectively

Color-coded words in various languages.


Expanding your vocabulary is an important but difficult aspect of learning a new language. One way to make it easier is through the use of color coding. This article gives you a brief explanation of why and how color coding improves your memorization ability, and shows you how to implement it in your learning.


The benefits of color coding

In general, color-coded material is a more effective study aid than black-and-white material, because it helps you better process new information as you’re learning it. In the case of learning a foreign language, studies found that color coding new vocabulary words helps people learn those words better.

While there are several possible mechanisms which could be used to explain this improvement, the overall consensus is that color coding new information increases the chances of that information being “encoded, stored, and retrieved successfully” by the learners. This is a valuable mechanism, that learners can take advantage of in order to enhance their vocabulary-learning process.


How to use color coding in your learning

One of the main reasons why color coding is such an effective technique is that it is easy to implement regardless of which vocabulary-learning strategy you use. When using it, there are two main factors that you need to consider:

  • How to categorize the words. First, you need to decide according to which criteria you are going to color the different words. Common options are grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb). In languages with tonality (such as Mandarin Chinese), you can also color syllables according to their tone.
  • Which coloring scheme to use. Once you choose based on which criteria to color-code the words, you need to decide how to color them. The best option is somewhat subjective, so use whichever coloring scheme makes sense for you. If possible, use colors that you would intuitively associate with the categories in some way. For example, if you color-code words based on their grammatical gender, you might want to color feminine words in pink, and masculine words in blue. Another example is to use one set of similar color for adverbs and verbs, and another set for adjectives and nouns, in order to help you distinguish between them.

You can implement the color coding itself in various ways, including:

  • Writing the words in an appropriately colored font.
  • Highlighting the words in an appropriate color.
  • Writing the words on colored sticky-notes or flashcards.

Note that you can also decide which words to color-code, based on how familiar you are with them. For example, over time you might decide to only color new vocabulary words that you encounter in a text, while leaving old words that you already know in a default color. This can help draw attention to the new words, and might facilitate their acquisition.


Examples of color coding

Below are some examples for color-coded words in various languages. Keep in mind that this is just a small selection of the ways in which you can implement color coding.


Color-coded words in French, based on grammatical gender (blue for masculine, pink for feminine):

L’enseignant fâché cuisinait dans la vieille camionnette.

The angry teacher cooked in the old van.


Color-coded words in Spanish, based on part of speech (green for nouns, orange for adjectives, blue for verbs, and light blue for adverbs:

La madre rubia finalmente consiguió sus naves.

The blonde mother finally got her ships.


Color-coded characters in Mandarin Chinese, based on tonality:

媽     1st tone = red

麻     2nd tone = orange

馬     3rd tone = green

罵     4th tone = blue

吗     neutral tone = black


Summary and Conclusions

  • Color-coded material is generally a more effective study aid than black-and-white material, because it improves your ability to encode, store, and retrieve the material that you’re trying to learn.
  • Language learners can use color coding in order to improve their ability to learn new vocabulary words in their foreign language.
  • When color coding words, you first need to decide how to categorize the words; common options are grammatical gender (e.g. masculine/feminine) or part of speech (e.g. noun/verb). In some languages, you can also color other linguistic particles aside from words, as in the case of Mandarin Chinese, where you can color syllables according to their tone.
  • You also need to decide which coloring scheme to use. Try to use a scheme that involves colors that you intuitively associate with the categorization scheme that you chose. For example, if you chose to color words based on their grammatical gender, you might want to color masculine words in blue, and feminine words in pink.
  • The greatest advantage of color coding techniques lies in the fact that they are versatile, and can be easily implemented regardless of which overall vocabulary-learning strategy you decide to use. As such, you can integrate them into your learning in various ways, from using colored vocabulary flash cards, to highlighting (in specific colors) new words that you encounter as you read a text.


How Self-Distancing Can Help You Make More Rational Decisions

Picture of LeBron James throwing a basketball.


“One thing I didn’t want to do was make an emotional decision. I wanted to do what’s best for LeBron James and to do what makes LeBron James happy.”

– LeBron James, legendary basketball player, when interviewed about his decision to leave his old marketing agency.

It’s hard to set your emotions aside when faced with difficult decisions. Often, these emotions cause us to make the wrong choice, in many areas of life: from our relationships to our finances, to our habits, and so on.

The problem is that setting these emotions aside is easier said than done. However, one way to at least reduce their impact is to use a relatively simple self-distancing technique, that helps us shift our perception in a way that enables us to make more rational decisions.


How self-distancing works

The method described here is based on a study which examined people’s self-talk mechanism: that inner monologue that most of us use when we think. The researchers’ starting point was that using the second person pronoun (i.e. “you”) or your name when when thinking about yourself during introspection, promotes emotional self-distancing.

This concept is consistent with the construal level theory, which suggests that creating psychological distance in one domain, in this case linguistically, promotes psychological distance in other domains, such as our decision-making system.

As such, the researchers asked the participants in their experiment to recall two personal experiences: one which was anger-related, and one which was anxiety-related. There were two groups of participants:

  • Participants in the first group were instructed to think about themselves in the first person. For example, they would ask themselves “Why did I feel this way?”
  • Participants in the second group were instructed to think about themselves using second person pronouns or using their own name. For example, they would ask themselves “Why did you feel this way?” or “Why did John feel this way?”

The researchers then measured participants’ self-distance during their recollection of their past experiences. What they found was that the simple change in perception allowed participants to increase their emotional self-distance when considering these events, as we see in the graph below.


A graph which shows how a variation in linguistic perception impacts psychological self-distance. When thinking of events which are anger-related or anxiety-related, using non-first-person pronouns increases self distance compared to using first-person pronouns.


Essentially, when people referred to themselves in the second or third person, they were able to improve their ability to detach emotionally from the situation. This improvement is so important because increasing emotional distance has been shown to improve individual decision-making ability.

One study, for example, showed that increasing self-distance reduces decision biases, under a variety of experimental conditions. Another study found that psychological distance improves decision making during information overload.

Furthermore, the scientists who conducted the current study also published the results of several other experiments in the same paper. These experiments showed that self-distance helped participants cope better with socially distressful situations; this was true even for individuals who are inherently prone to social anxiety.

Overall, this research shows that using self-distancing language, where we refer to ourselves in the second or third person while thinking, improves our ability to detach ourselves emotionally from tough situations. This can help us cope in such situations, and improves our ability to make more rational decisions.


Summary and Conclusions

  • Our emotions often interfere with our decision-making process, and make it more difficult to make rational decisions.
  • Using language that promotes self-distance can help us detach ourselves from emotional situations, which can help us think more rationally.
  • To take advantage of this, avoid referring to yourself in your head using first-person pronouns (i.e. “I”) when you’re trying to make a rational decision in an emotional situation.
  • Instead, during introspection, you should refer to yourself using second person pronouns (i.e. “you”) or using your own name (e.g. “John”), in order to create psychological self-distance.
  • The same technique can also help you reduce negative feelings such as anxiety, when thinking about stressful situations.