Text and writing

Tigtog at LP points to a study showing that involvement with Facebook, MSN and so on has increased the textual skills of young people, including not just “good writing” but the ability to adapt style to an imagined readership that varies in different context. I was banging on about this last millennium.

Tigtog finishes with a really last-millennium question? “Does anybody here still do lots of handwriting?”.

For those who don’t recall, “handwriting” was a method of producing text, popular in the second millennium, in which, rather than using a keyboard or pointer to produce letters, you used an ink-dispenser to draw each letter in succession. There was a version of this called “cursive” or “script” in which, rather than drawing the letters separately, they were all run together. This was much faster to produce, but, as I recall, almost impossible to read unless done by a real expert. I can still do a very inexpert version of the letter-by-letter method, which was called “printing” (nothing to do with real printing, but the result, done well, looked a bit like printed text).

29 thoughts on “Text and writing

  1. @colin
    So, out of interest, does that mean that the use of Microsoft Word (whose ‘track changes’ I guess is the facility you’re referring to) is mandatory for your courses?

  2. Umberto Ecco recently wrote a short article bemoaning the loss of handwriting arguing that the problem actually started with the ballpoint pen. It’s no longer available at the Guardian but eproduced at


    It’s a fairly writerly piece but his point about hand-eye coordination is backed up by recent advances in brain science, where the archaic practice of repetitive tracing of copperplate letters has been revived in the successful for treatment of learning difficulties and brain injury.

    In Switzerland, and maybe other European countries, handwritten job applications were fairly recently preferred by employers, to get an intuition of the personal qualities of the applicant. I’m not sure if this still applies. It would at least reduce CV spamming.

    Typing is faster and computable – and of course for many people the only real chance at level one readability – but I’m fond of my own handwriting, particularly the letters f, q and t. I can remember “lifting” some of my handwritten letters from particular people.

  3. @Jim Birch
    I lifted mine too Jim – from older people. I liked their writing…my father was an artist and could write all those lovely scripts and his own handwriting was so elegant. It is starting to be a lost art now.

  4. I still handwrite quite a lot, but mostly things where I am the main or the only intended audience. One advantage is the high degree of privacy. Portability is another. I also often illustrate my ideas and arrange them freely on the page in such a way that I can find or express conceptual relationships that aren’t yet at the point where I can explain them in words. I prefer to handwrite annotations to difficult documents, and to handwrite first drafts or notes of anything that’s conceptually difficult or new to me. Touchtyping is physically faster, but that doesn’t matter in the kind of situation where writing time is trivial compared to thinking time. I also handwrite postcards whenever I go abroad.

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