Psychology

The Benefits of Handwriting in 3 Charts

By Charles Li MD

February 08, 2019

  • A new study shows significant benefits to handwriting compared to typing.

  • While typing notes is generally faster, you learn more when you handwrite notes.

  • Students who were assigned to handwriting notes also did significant better when tested on the material.

Plenty of teachers, parents and students have debated which is better: handwriting or typing?

On one side, those who love typing swear that they are much faster on the keyboard. They believe that typing is more efficient than writing. They think that technology has changed and that writers should get with the times.

On the other hand, those who love their pens and pencils believe that there are still benefits to handwriting, both tangible and intangible.

A study conducted by researchers from UCLA and Princeton set out to settle once and for all this 21st-century dilemma.

They found that for what truly matters in note taking, namely learning concepts and memorizing facts, writing wins. These are the main benefits that they found for handwriting:

Benefit of Handwriting #1: Handwriting Gives you Higher Quality Notes

In order to evaluate the benefits of writing versus typing, researchers had students take notes on several TEDTalks. They then looked at whether the quality of their notes differed between those assigned to type notes and those assigned to write notes.

Now we all have our own style of note taking. Some of us have neat notes, and some of us have messy notes. In order to objectively compare the quality of notes among so many different styles and formats, researchers used the amount of overlap as their standard quality metric. Their logic was that high-quality notes should have some degree of thought and organization on the part of the note taker.

Notes that show a high overlap with the transcript would represent lower quality notes as these notes presumably represent less thoughtfulness and mental effort during the note taking process.

As some may have expected, students assigned to type their notes had approximately twice the overlap as students assigned to write their notes. This suggests that students assigned to write their notes likely put in more mental effort during the process.

Handwriting notes vs typing notes quality

Benefit of Handwriting #2: Handwriting notes helps you recall more concepts

Researchers then tested students on the concepts found in the videos to see how much they learned during the note taking process. Consistent with the findings on note quality, researchers found that students assigned to hand write notes recalled significantly more concepts.

This suggests that hand writing notes helps you learn more during the process of notetaking.

chart of conceptual recall with handwriting notes

Benefit of Handwriting #3: Handwriting notes helps you do better on tests

Finally, for the most important metric, researchers tested both groups of students several weeks later to see which group perform better on an exam on the material. They allowed both groups to study.

This of course is the test that truly matters since if you are writing notes for school, you are presumably doing so to do well on a test.

They found that while there was significant overlap between those assigned to write notes and those assigned to type notes, those assigned to write notes generally did better as a group then those assigned to type notes.

chart of exam performance with handwriting notes

Conclusion: Writing is better, for some.

So what does all of this data mean? If you are on the fence between writing and typing your notes, this data suggests that you should go for writing.

However, there are benefits to typing. Researchers found that those who typed their notes were able to take down more notes. If you have a professor who likes to talk fast and write a lots of information on the board, it may be beneficial to type notes just to make sure that you don’t miss anything.

Most importantly, go for what you’re most comfortable with. While there were differences between groups, there was also significant overlap in almost all tests. This means that the best students who were typing could outperform mediocre students who were writing and vice versa. Your grit, motivation and effort likely play a bigger role in your academic performance than your choice of using a pen or a keyboard.

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