When you want people to hear your ideas, the more modes of communication you have, the better. Just like speech, writing is a mode of communication; it is a way to transmit information to other people. Effective and efficient handwriting is easy to produce (especially with practice) and clear to the reader. Good communication is clear communication, so it can pay to work on your handwriting.

There are many options to get around writing by hand, thanks to the technological communication devices. Some people find tapping out notes on a cell phone or a keyboard to be faster. However, due to the minimal requirements of something to write with and something to write on, rather than having to find and wake up some agreeable electronic device and call up the right program to type in, handwritten notes are often not only faster, but more reliable and more personal than sending a text or typing and printing a document. Your handwriting is your mark: that piece of your identity that you impart on a piece of paper, a blackboard, a white board, a tablet, any surface, really, provided you have a writing implement.

The most important requirement of handwriting is that it can be read by the people who need to read it. If one letter is illegible, there can be big consequences. When an interviewer is unable to read a job seeker’s completed application, despite their qualifications, they could be denied employment. If someone does not clearly write their name or contact information on a sign-up form, they might not get what they signed up for. Failed opportunities and failed expectations can result from having poor handwriting.

The legibility of your handwriting (how easily it can be read) depends on how good your reader’s visual system is. Simultaneously, we see collections and their discrete elements. The brain’s visual system recognizes objects both as individual items [such as a letter on a page or a flower on a piece of fabric], and as a collection of items [i.e., a word in a sentence or a floral pattern on a shirt]. When it comes to the legibility of your handwriting, the person reading your note will look at each word and see both the word and its individual letters at once.

All letters in the English alphabet are a series of lines and/or curves. The visual system recognizes lines as either horizontal or vertical or a combination of the two (e.g., diagonal lines or curved lines). If the reader can anticipate a word in the sentence, then the brain identifies the letters in that as either matching the word’s spelling or not. If the letters don’t match the spelling of the expected word, there is a little extra processing involved and the word will be harder to read. (That’s why we notice spelling errors.) Try to spell everything correctly.

Just as a word can be anticipated in a sentence, a word can be anticipated from just some of its letters; specifically, the first letters. When you read something, your brain recognizes the word as a whole object and as a collection of its letters. From the first letters of a written word, the brain anticipates the rest of the word. Try to write the first letters of key words in your message, so that they are especially clear to the reader.

Some letters are more similar than others. Letters that are round, like C, O, and Q are more similar to each other than they are to H, T, and V. Lowercase d and l can resemble ol and uppercase I, respectively. Readers are more likely to confuse letters with similar shapes, so if you want people to be able to read your handwriting, give some thought to writing similar letters so that they are distinct and different.

When writing by hand, we can use the way people see the whole word to our advantage. Contrary to what your first-grade teacher might have told you, the size, position, and spacing of your letters is not crucial for legibility, unless there are many letters and they’re all different sizes and all over the place. In a given note, work on writing letters that are the same size and evenly spaced, without any overlapping letters. This makes for nice-looking handwriting all around, and it is a bit easier to read when it is an appropriate size and evenly spaced.

If you are looking for tips for handwriting practice, this site has some exercises that can help you develop handwriting that is easy to read.

Communication via handwriting is a powerful tool that should be practiced every day. Whether you are writing your to-do list for the day, a letter or note to someone special, or you write in a journal, handwriting is a valuable mode of self-expression. There is something about handwriting that is much more directly human than typing words on a screen (and the practice of sending hand-written Thank You notes tends to make a good impression on others and is always well-received). I encourage you to take the time to think about your handwriting and how it could be improved. Then, pick up a pen and let them hear your ideas!