Writing Wednesday: Improve Your Writing… with Science!

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In the past, we’ve espoused the many cognitive benefits of writing by hand, especially when it comes to taking notes in a meeting or lecture. But did you know the same scientific basis of these claims can also help improve the quality of your creative writing?

A major reason that taking notes with pen and paper is more effective than typing them on a laptop is that writing by hand forces you to slow down and think about each letter and word. By doing so, you retain more of the actual contents of what you are writing, as you are engaging the motor, visual and perceptive parts of your brain.

Well, according to a recent study by a team at the University of Waterloo, you can access similar benefits by changing one simple thing about the way you type.

For most of us, typing on a computer is a quick and easy way to get a lot of thoughts written down. However, if you are using your computer to draft a novel (or even an email), you may notice that the overall quality of your output is not as high as when you take the time to write the same thing by hand. This happens for the same reason that you are less likely to remember class notes that you typed than you are the ones you hand-wrote. Fast writing on the keyboard encourages you to simply type out whatever pops into your head, as the speed with which you write (not to mention the handy “delete” key) eliminates the need to pre-edit or really think about what you are writing next.

The University of Waterloo study, published in the British Journal of Psychology, divided participants into two groups and asked them both to write an essay on a computer. One group was allowed to use both hands while the other was forced to move more slowly, using only one hand to type. It was found that the one-handed participants produced higher quality written works (based upon criteria like vocabulary and sentence complexity). Unsurprisingly, forcing the writers to slow down and think about their next move on a keyboard had a similar effect to taking notes by hand.

So there you have it! Whether you are jotting down a quick note or writing your magnum opus, taking the time to focus on each word selection will improve not only your memory of the subject, but the quality of your output as well.

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