That is the question. Is it an essential skill anymore?

(And by write I mean pen-and-paper penmanship; not constructing sentences that then form groups to make paragraphs, who then associate with others to create a piece of writing.)


Handwriting is still an essential skill for kids. But in the world beyond school – the one filled with computers and cell phones and you-name-it – we’re losing our grip on penmanship.

Some people even say that in a keyboard driven world there is no need to learn to write. Handwriting standards are dropping across the western world; so it seems keyboard compositions are winning a walk-over battle with pens, pencils and paper.

But if that’s the case, then I’m not sure how kids will learn to sign their names since that is a handwriting exercise.

Maybe we’ll return to ‘making our mark’ and signing with a big ‘X’ .


Importance of penmanship

The subject of the importance of good writing is as broad as its use.

Penmanship reaches out in every direction across society from the humblest to the highest employments. It would be second only in importance to speech itself.

In the world of business and power its value is stretched across history; from the simplest note or instruction today, back to the parchment that commands a kingdom. Without it, at times the wheels of commerce could not have moved a single hour.


Hierarchy of competence

Over the centuries, penmanship has been a mark of social standing. With its twin measure, reading, the two have ruled the level to which one could rise (or fall) in society and business.

For a long period of history not everybody could write, and even more strangely, there were people who could read but not write. The two skills were taught separately and understood (at the time) to have separate purposes.

This meant the potential that people could reach in life was dramatically affected by their knowledge and competence in writing.


Learning and self-belief

Writing by hand is a physical activity requiring a fair amount of eye-hand coordination and fine muscle control.  It takes practice to learn to do it well.

Studies indicate that children who are taught handwriting improve their sentence construction and command a greater complexity of thoughts in their word compositions.

Even in adult years when those who have previously had poor penmanship, see their own handwriting become neater and more legible, it has an extraordinary effect on them.

For most of them, their infantile, illegible handwriting was a badge of shame, a sign of their academic incompetence.    Once they begin to develop a more mature script, they also begin to develop more confidence in their intellectual competence.


Words are shrinking

However, there’s another, differently disturbing trend (besides poor penmanship) among those of the various qwerty-keyboard-obsessed generations – to shorten every word they come across. It seems to be going the same way as exclamation marks – a viral epidemic that is spreading unchecked.

Awesome is now Awes, Devastation is now Devo, Sorry has become Soz, OK (which is already an abbreviation) is now just K.

And that’s as well as the abbreviations that you spend more time unravelling than respecting for their cleverness: LOL (Laugh Out Loud – since when didn’t you do it that way?), TITF (Took It Too Far – I agree you have), KWIM (Know What I Mean – no I don’t, I had to look this up)… and the list goes on.

Does this all spell the death of handwriting, speaking and language?


Do you write any more?

For adults these days, unfortunately the tactile, personal art of handwriting has pretty much been reduced to shopping lists and credit card signatures.

To be honest, as much as I have a stationery-obsession, only occasionally do I now write long-form documents.

Most of my work is typed on a keyboard and when I have to write notes for school that are any longer than a half page, I often wonder how I used to write essays in school exams that were several pages in length.

But neat, legible handwriting should not be considered a chore, nor is it for decoration.  It’s part of the presentation of your work, and even a manifestation of respect for your reader –and for yourself.

The same people who think penmanship doesn’t matter will also usually argue that rules of grammar and usage should not count, as long as the reader can make out what the writer is trying to say.

But why should the reader have to do so much of the writer’s work for him?

Why should I have to approach anyone’s writing as if it were a puzzle or a code that I have to find a key to understand?


Image Carlos Porto


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