How Writing by Hand Improves Your Memory

Published on: 24/03/2021

When was the last time you wrote a long line of text by hand? It may be time to pick up a pen and paper because doing so can improve your memory!

It may have been a while since you last wrote something extensive by pen and paper. In this digital age, we are more accustomed to typing our ideas through a keyboard or touchscreen. It is but convenient and practical. 

Our computers, laptops, and mobile devices have reduced our need to write long drafts of text by hand and have made sharing these texts easier than passing along a piece of paper. In a British study, they found that one in three of their 2,000 respondents did not write anything by hand in the previous six months.

The Benefits of Writing by Hand

While there may be a notable decline in the preference for writing by hand, experts say we should not forget this skill altogether. Writing improves our ability to remember things, and they also say that it leads to richer memory.

When we write by hand, we coordinate our verbal and fine movement systems. In addition, as we take in new information, such as our lessons in school, or instructions at work, for example, we usually create our own way of shortening the summaries and concepts. Most often when we listen to lectures, we don’t write verbatim. We process the information first. We pick up what we think the most important words could be before we write them down. 

As such, writing by hand requires us to organize our thoughts, which leads to a deeper focus and more in-depth processing of information.

Meanwhile, if you are using a laptop to take down notes, the tendency is to concentrate more on getting everything down. Because you are able to type more words, there is less processing and connecting with the information.

The Cognitive Processes in Writing

According to Developmental Psychology Professor Edouard Gentaz from the University of Geneva, writing by hand is a complex task. It entails various skills from feeling the pen and paper and making the writing implement move by thought. It is a precise motor exercise that can take years for children to master. 

Most neuroscientists also say that by drawing each letter by hand, we improve its subsequent recognition. Therefore, it can affect how future generations will learn to read. In research done at Aix-Marseille University’s cognitive neuroscience laboratory, it was found that children recognized letters better after learning to write them by hand compared to their counterparts who learned to type them on a computer. They got the same results for a group of adults who were taught Bengali or Tamil characters using these two methods. 

Write for a Healthier Brain 

In another research, Indiana University psychology professor Karin James observed how learning to write by hand activated three distinct areas of the children’s brains. The same effect was not experienced by the children who typed or traced the letters. 

This means that writing engages our neural pathways, which is good for our overall brain health. It keeps our cognitive abilities strong and can help prevent debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s in the long run.

Note-taking Tips

If something is truly important and you would want to make sure you remember it, experts suggest writing it down more than once. Writing the essentials before you go to sleep can also help you to retain the information better. 

Lastly, if you are working to achieve your life goals, why not try writing them down? Doing this makes your objectives feel more concrete and it tells your brain to prioritize this list of things you want to accomplish.