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Healthy Mind: Writing Longhand Improves Working Memory

December 27, 2016       On Higher Ground
Writing Longhand
Improves Learning
Psychologists studying the science
of learning have concluded that
writing longhand improves
working memory




Jotting down notes by hand helps a student or worker think better and improve the way he figures out things.  Writing things down by hand helps a person clarify thoughts and remember things better. 

There is a learning science and psychology behind writing longhand.  Writing longhand via note taking is supposed to improve learning.  The keyboard of a laptop may offer less rewards than slinging several notebooks and a good pencil or ball point pen to jot down notes when in class or in a work meeting where you are asked to brainstorm.


Studies of students reveal that hand-written note-taking helps with recall and academic performance--by making notetakers consciously keep a topic sitting in their brain while they focus on recording the information.  The way a person jots down notes helps them figure out what is important and how to find solutions.  This activity primes one's working memory to function better over time.

For writing development and cognitive functions. Dr. Virginia Berniger, who studies reading and writing systems and their relationship to learning processes, says kids writing and learning ability got better (they wrote more, faster, and more complete sentences) when they were jotting down words instead of just typing them onto a keyboard.


Picking up a pencil and a pad of paper to write out your ideas also helps you process ideas and learn how to tackle problems.

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For Studying:

Since jotting down notes is slower, this act makes it more useful than being able to capture more information because one has to choose what is important to note down and discard the fluff.  In their study published in Psychological Science, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles tell the NPR.org that note taking functions like external storage, helping a student remember lectures and ideas just by looking at notes, one's own or another's.  While taking down notes, a student is also "summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping," in the words of the researchers which means it helps their minds process the ideas they record and learn something the first time around.

For Creative Writing:

When one is in his or her writing workspace, writing stuff down for a short story or a novel: setting down each sequence of thoughts, scenes, character ideas and story outlines is the be all of jotting down notes by hand.  You can do this too using a word pro but longhand note taking and writing is a better work method for putting together a story jigsaw puzzle than just plugging away at a draft on your Wapro.  Some old school writers even use index cards as part of their outlining process and arrange those to physically see how everything comes together.  If you just put drafts on your hard drive as well as first edits or final edits, you don't really get to wire them into your brain like when you write them out longhand on a piece of paper.  When your hard drive gets bricked or you lose your files, it becomes a pain to restore your work than when you've been doing it on notebooks--not just for the physical hardcopy--but for remembering most of what you've written and being able to vividly reconstruct them if you lose your notebooks.

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