In our modern world, handwriting is, sadly, a dying art. People, especially the younger generation, have taken to using online ‘to do’ lists, digital notepads and email on their personal computers and cell phones to record notes and communicate.
Your handwriting style is as unique to you as your fingerprints! Although there is not as much emphasis on handwriting today, children are still taught how to write neatly in kindergarten, elementary school and high school. From scribbles and shapes to print and cursive, handwriting evolves from an early age.
Currently there is an interesting debate about whether children should be taught cursive writing or print (manuscript) first. Some schools have stopped teaching cursive writing, dismissing it as obsolete and a waste of time. However, cursive or print, the consensus seems to be that either is better than only using a keyboard.
Today, many people are struggling to write neatly and often their handwriting is completely illegible. Neat handwriting makes a lasting impression, and a hand-written letter is a rare treat for the recipient.
The good news is that anyone can work on their handwriting. In order to make your handwriting neater, you should first take a moment to understand just how complex writing really is. Unfortunately, it’s not like breathing, sneezing or other basic functions that are automatically regulated by your brain! It is way more complicated than you think.
So how does the skill of handwriting work? When writing, your mind and body need to coordinate many different skills. These include:
Gross Motor Skills
This means performing tasks with the body’s larger muscles.
You require postural stability and balance to help you sit still on a chair and maintain a quiet, still posture. Bilateral integration (the use of both sides of the body), body and spatial awareness (knowing where you are in space), and crossing your body midline with your arm without your whole body moving are also vital gross skills for good handwriting.
Fine Motor Skills
This means motor activities using the hand and fingers are performed with precision.
They include knowing which hand to use (laterality), easy manipulation of your pen (in-hand manipulation), the strength of your hand, and correct pen grip.
Visual Perceptual Skills
This is the ability to look at, process, and make sense of visual information and put it into appropriate use.
These skills include:
- Visual Discrimination- the ability to see differences and likeness, recognition, matching, categorization.
- Spatial relationships- understanding the space around yourself.
- Visual-motor integration- Coordinating and integrating your eyes with your body muscles.
- Figure-ground- recognizing figures that are embedded within a background.
- Visual memory- remembering what the eye has seen in both short term and long term memory.
- Eye-hand coordination- being able to guide your hand to complete a task visually.
- Eye tracking- having the ability to maintain focus and follow your hand across the page with your eyes.
- Sequencing- being able to perform a series of movements in a specific order.
- Visual attention- being able to maintain concentration and attention.
- Visual closure- being able to visualize the end product.
Auditory Perceptual Skills
This is the ability to listen, process, and be able to make sense of auditory information and use it appropriately. These perceptual skills include:
- Auditory Discrimination- the ability to differentiate the sound of words and sentences whose pronunciation is very similar.
- Auditory Attention- being able to maintain focus on a listening task.
- Auditory Memory- being able to recall information presented through the auditory channel only.
- Auditory Figure-Ground- the ability to block out background noise and paying attention to a signal.
All of these skills need to be performed in a certain order in order to write. Your shoulder needs to remain steady as your elbow and wrist move adeptly, while your eyes follow what your hand is doing. Also, you need to know how letters and words are supposed to look and decide what you want to write.
When some of these skills are not well developed or established as a child, the handwriting process becomes quite difficult.
Once you understand the skills required for handwriting, follow these few steps to make your handwriting look neat, legible and perhaps even beautiful.
1. Choose the correct writing tools.
Using the right kind of pen can greatly improve how you write. A poor quality pen can make a significant impact on your handwriting. There are several pen styles, each with benefits and setbacks.
The fountain pen uses liquid ink and has a flexible writing tip to allow stylized handwriting. While it delivers beautiful lines, a good fountain pen can be on the pricey side and it takes lots of practice to perfect the technique of writing with a fountain pen.
The ballpoint pen uses paste ink which many people find is not appealing in comparison with liquid ink. The ballpoint pen is the most used kind of pen as they can be extremely inexpensive and convenient.
With a ballpoint pen, you get exactly what you pay for and it may produce poor handwriting. It might be better to spend a little extra money to improve your handwriting.
Much like a ballpoint pen, the rollerball pen has a “ball” ink delivery system. Many people prefer to use it due to its high-quality liquid ink as opposed to the ballpoint’s paste ink. However, the rollerball pen does not last as long as the ballpoint does.
The gel ink pen uses gel ink that is thicker than liquid ink, which results in a smooth line and feel that is enjoyed by many. Gel ink pens are available in many different colors, but they dry out quickly and are not ideal in professional contexts.
The felt tip pen delivers ink using a felt tip. Many writers love its distinctive feel when drawn against paper- smooth, but with a little resistance. This pen is a good option if you are left-handed because the ink dries quickly so your hands won’t smudge the letters.
If you aren’t sure which type of pen to practice with, experiment with a couple of these to find one that works best for you.
The page that you write on should be smooth. Not rough as it will catch the tip of your pen or pencil and create snags in your letters, but not so smooth that your pen’s tip slides about without your control.
Use lined paper that suits the type of handwriting you are comfortable with. Use a wide-ruled paper if you write in large letters, and college-ruled if your writing is small. It’s important to note that in most professional contexts, adults are expected to write on college-ruled paper, but if you are young and still in school, feel free to use wide-ruled paper.
2. Develop a Good Writing Posture
The first step to developing a good writing posture is to find a good writing table or surface. If the writing surface is too high, you will be forced to hold your shoulders high, resulting in shoulder and neck pain.
If the surface is too low, you will develop the tendency to slump down and round your spine, which over time, may result in chronic pain and injury. Choose a table that allows you to bend your elbows comfortably at approximately 90 degrees when writing.
Once you have a writing surface that doesn’t force you to slump or hitch your shoulders up, you need to balance your body in a way that discourages your back, shoulder, and neck from bad posture.
Sit in your chair and have both feet flat on the ground. Sit up straight and keep your neck and back as straight as possible. The posture might be difficult to hold at first so take breaks from time to time. With time, the muscles will develop, and you will be able to hold a good posture for extended periods.
Keep your head as straight up as possible and cast your eyes down to look at the page while writing, instead of dipping your whole head down. The casting down of your eyes may still result in a slight head dip, but it should not be entirely hanging down toward the page.
3. Position Your Paper at an Angle.
Sit flush with the edge of the writing surface and turn the page until it is at an angle you find comfortable. The right position to put your paper is between 30 to 45 degrees. If you write using your right hand, the top of your page should point to your left and if you’re left-handed it should point to your right.
If you don’t know which angle works for you, as you practice writing, adjust the page you are writing to an angle that suits you and allows you to write neatly.
4. Stretch Your Hands Before Writing.
Since the rise of cell phones and computers there has seen a huge negative impact on handwriting. A survey conducted by Docmail show that about 33% of people find it hard to read their handwriting.
The frequency with which people write by hand has declined these days. If you don’t stretch your hands and fingers to prepare them for writing, which is a sudden increase in activity, your hand will soon cramp up.
When stretching, clench the hand you use for writing into a gentle fist and hold it for about thirty seconds. Then spread out your fingers wide stretching them for about thirty seconds. Repeat this exercise four to five times.
Proceed to bend down your fingers so that each tip touches the base of its finger joint where it meets the palm. Bend them for about thirty seconds and repeat four to five times.
Finally, place your hand on the table with your palm facing down. Lift each finger up with your other hand one at a time and stretch it, then lower it. Repeat this eight to ten times.
4. Hold your pen properly.
Many people choke the pen instead of softly grasping it. In a bid to gain control of your letter strokes, you will end up with a sloppy handwriting and a sore hand. The pen should be gripped lightly to allow a better motion range and enable letters to flow from your pen freely.
There are many ways to hold your pen or pencil correctly. Some place it against the index finger, middle finger, and the thumb, some rest the back of the pencil or pen on the base knuckle of the index finger, and others place it on the wedge between the thumb and the index finger.
Trying to force yourself to learn a new writing grip may be time-consuming, so go with what you find comfortable unless you find that your current grip is awkward and affects your writing quality negatively. It’ll work just fine as long as you use the thumb and the first two fingers.
5. Use Your Whole Arm When Writing.
Bad handwriting mostly results from a person using only his/her fingers to draw their letters. Good handwriting is accomplished by engaging muscles all through your arm, from your fingers to your shoulder, and the pen moving smoothly across the page instead of the start-and–end motion.
Your entire arm should act as the force behind your writing while your fingers act as the guide. If you do not engage your forearm and shoulders, your writing will be sloppy.
Move your arm smoothly across the page as you write instead of picking it up after every few words. Steady your wrist as much as you can. Your fingers should guide your pen to write different letter shapes while your forearm glides the hand across the page, but your wrist should not move very much.
6. Practice With Simple Circles and Lines
On a lined worksheet, write a row of lines that should slant slightly to the right. On the next line, write a row of circles and try to keep them as round and even as possible.
At first, it may be hard to make the lines of equal length or at the same angle, and some circles might be perfect while others end up more oblong. Don’t be discouraged if they are untidy and keep working on them for short periods of time regularly. With practice, in a short time, you’ll see a distinct improvement.
Practice this technique for about five to ten minutes every day until you gain more pen control, which will help you shape your letters clearly.
7. Write Words, Sentences, And Paragraphs
Once you see you have grown comfortable with the shapes and sizes of your lines and circles and mastered pen control, move to writing actual words, sentences, and paragraphs.
First, choose a writing style that you are comfortable with- whether cursive or print. The most significant difference between the two writing styles is that in cursive writing, the letters are all connected by the pen stroke. If you find it hard to connect two letters naturally without thinking too hard about how they should look, then go for print writing.
Write the alphabet in staggered patterns, rotating them around to cover all the connections and to keep you from being bored. Try writing them from back to front, working to middle (z-a-y-b-x-c-w…) or from to back skipping one letter (a-c-e-g-i-k…).Come up with as many letter patterns as you like, and remember to focus thoughtfully on perfecting the connections between letters.
Once you get the hang of how it’s done, move on to words, sentences, and paragraphs. Keep the letters the same size and tall letters like “l”,”t,” etc. of the same height.
The sentence “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” is perfect to practice with if you want to perfect on every letter since it contains all the letters in the English language.
8. Seek Inspiration.
If you know someone that has beautiful handwriting watch them write and don’t be afraid to ask for pointers. If you cannot think of anyone to help, look at word processor fonts for inspiration on how to shape your letters.
If you are looking for hands-on inspiration for writing lessons, visit our pinterest page for ideas to help you achieve elegant penmanship. If you have children, practice with them and turn it into family bonding time.
9. Be Patient.
Don’t rush your writing process. Focus on how much your handwriting has improved and not how untidy you think it is. Writing neatly takes time, but with more practice, you will get faster and better.
Write slowly taking your time to shape your letters perfectly. Speed will come with time. Remember, you have to learn to walk before you can run. Take as much time as you need to perfect your handwriting skills, and it will pay off in the end.