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It’s Official: The Pen Really Is Mightier Than the Keyboard


It’s Official: The Pen Really Is Mightier Than t …

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By Wendy Nuttelman
Senior Editor, MindEdge Learning

I recently went to a reading at my local bookstore to celebrate the launch of a new book.

During the Q&A session, members of the audience asked the author about his creative process. Many of them appeared to be aspiring writers and they wanted to know how he went about drafting and revising his content.

“First, I write everything out freehand,” the author explained. “Then I type it up, print it out, read it aloud, make edits, and print it out again. I keep doing that until I’m satisfied with the section I’m working on. Then I move on to the next part. ”

Some of the audience members seemed surprised at the idea of writing out an entire novel by hand. One young woman begged him to explain how such a thing was even possible.

“I just write everything down on those yellow legal pads,” the author told her. “I like to write freehand, because it gives me more time to think about what I want to say. I type faster than I write, so when I’m typing it’s harder to get into the flow. I keep starting and stopping while I pause to finish my thoughts.”

His comments got me thinking about the difference between writing freehand and typing on a computer. When I was working on my master’s degree, I noticed that I preferred taking notes by hand. There were some obvious disadvantages to this, of course. My handwriting is messy and I couldn’t go back and fix my mistakes or rearrange what I’d written. But I enjoyed the process of writing things down, rereading my notes, and highlighting the key points.

When trying to recall something that I learned in class, I found it was easier to picture the notes I had written than information from the textbook or a slide from the lecture. Occasionally, I come across one of my old college notebooks and I enjoy having something tangible to flip through, a reminder of all the time and effort I put into getting my degree.

While the author’s comments made a lot of sense to me as a fellow pen-and-paper advocate, I decided to do some digging and find out if there is actually any evidence to support the idea that writing by hand is better than typing things out. It turns out that there is.

The Benefits of Writing by Hand

Several studies have revealed the cognitive benefits of freehand writing. The Scientific American article, Why Writing by Hand Is Better for Memory and Learning, some of the key research findings, including:

  • A recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that using a pen promotes greater learning and memory retention than using a keyboard, because the controlled hand movements stimulate brain connectivity patterns.
  • Research published in Psychology Science showed that students who took notes on laptops performed worse when answering conceptual questions than those who took notes by hand. The researchers suggested that this was because students who typed out their notes were more likely to copy statements word-for-word, resulting in “shallower processing.”

These findings seem to align with my own experience of being able to remember things better when I write them out by hand. The researchers made a strong case for encouraging students to write things out, even though laptops and tablets are more prevalent than ever in today’s classrooms.

Note-Taking Methods

Many of us turn to our computers to learn something new, and taking notes by hand while studying online might seem like an awkward concept. But I suggest giving it a try next time you need to retain some information from a course, a video, or an article online. According to The University of Tennessee Chattanooga, there are several common note-taking methods to explore, including:

    The Cornell Method: Write your notes in a smaller “note-taking area,” leaving space around the outside to add details and summaries later on.
    The Outlining Method: Write general information starting on the left and use indentation to write more specific, related information below.
    The Mapping Method: Create a chart that shows the relationship between different main ideas and related topics. Use circles and lines to show connections between different concepts.

    Whichever method you choose, don’t be afraid to get creative. Try using different colors and highlighting key words and phrases as you review what you’ve written. And remember to label your notes clearly and keep your notebooks organized. Your future self will thank you!

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