Our technologically-driven world often urges us towards efficiency, speed, and instant gratification, which has given rise to using keyboards (both digital and physical) all day long.
But recent trends show that the allure of handwriting remains.
Turns out, there are scientific reasons many people prefer Moleskine notebooks and a smooth pen that glides across the paper. Recording thoughts and ideas by hand may be a goldmine for cognitive development in some circumstances.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the situations where you may want to reach for pen and paper instead of your keyboard. But first, let’s see what scientists and researchers say about the benefits of writing by hand…
What the Science Says About Handwriting
A study conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer showed that the simple act of writing things down can improve memory retention. In the experiment, students who favored the traditional method of writing notes could answer conceptual questions more efficiently than those who relied on laptops.
Mueller and Oppenheimer also discovered that laptop note-takers tend to transcribe lectures verbatim, and students who wrote longhand were more likely to reframe information in their own words. That’s why handwriting facilitated a deeper understanding of material and gave students an edge in conceptual learning.
Consider the age-old preference for handwriting in education. Research indicates that students — from elementary level to college — demonstrate improved performance when they compose essays or take notes by hand. Benefits are even more pronounced for kinesthetic learners, who process information more effectively through physical activities like writing.
A team of researchers at the University of Tokyo compared the use of traditional paper notebooks to digital devices by using fMRI neuroimaging. They discovered that when study participants were trying to remember things, using a paper notebook activated multiple brain regions associated with efficient memory encoding — which led to better recall.
Handwriting can also act as a springboard for idea generation. There's something about planning on paper that sparks creativity, which can help you get into an innovative mindset.
So even if writing things by hand seems old-fashioned to you, there may still be times when it’s a better choice than reaching for your keyboard.
The Best Times to Use Pen and Paper
Not sure whether to pick up a pencil or open your laptop? Follow these guidelines to get the best of both worlds:
When to go longhand
Handwriting is a great choice when you’re taking notes or trying to think creatively. When you’re attending a lecture or a conference, take notes in a physical notebook to improve memory recall. When you’re brainstorming, use paper and doodle in the margins (or wherever you want on the page).
Handwriting can spark a unique form of interaction between your mind and the paper, potentially leading to novel ideas and innovative solutions.
When you’re learning a new language, preparing for a presentation, or trying to remember key facts for an upcoming exam, write by hand.
When to type
Typing is the perfect option if you’re writing an article or producing knowledge to be read by someone else. You can even work on increasing your typing speed so your fingers can keep up with the speed of your thoughts.
For tasks that require productivity boosts or detailed analytics, the efficiency and technical capacities of digital platforms shine. You can quickly search, copy, paste, and manipulate text, making it easier to deal with large volumes of data, pull off complicated project management, or finish up time-sensitive assignments.
From Paper to Pixels: Harnessing the Best of Both
In the landscape of cognition, memory, and creativity, the handwritten word still holds enduring power — even when our days are dominated by smartphones, laptops, and tablets. It’s clear that the pen, paired with paper, can indeed be mightier than the sword — and more efficient for certain tasks than we’ve been led to believe.
The key is not to choose one over the other, but to blend the best of both and pick the right tool for each task you’re facing during the day.
Content planning is one of those tasks where you may need both analog and digital tools to get the job done. For inspiration and practical advice on how to effectively map out your content, grab your copy of Showcase Workshop's content planning guide.