Nowadays we rarely pick up a pen and paper to communicate with one another, but it might not be wise for us to trade this long-standing, cultural practice entirely for the convenience of text messages and emails.
Research has shown that the general act of writing by hand can promote quite a few physical and mental benefits, from improving learning abilities to fostering a more positive outlook on life. And when it comes to writing that is used as a form of communication between two people, namely letters and postcards, the impact of such messages lasts far longer than any alternative version offered in our high-tech world. From the careful intentions of the sender to the value experienced by the receiver, no true match exists for this old-time, traditional means of conversation.
Whether you're trying to cultivate a little romance, nurture a friendship or simply stay connected with loved ones while abroad, here are nine reasons you should still send a letter or postcard once in a while.
They create lasting memories.
Studies have revealed an association between writing by hand and brain development and cognition, increasing neural activity more than typing can. Just as learning by handwriting notecards and study guides proves more effective for students, the moments you commit to paper for others are more likely to stay stored in your own memory as well, allowing you both to reflect back and appreciate them again in the future.
They show how much you care.
In the days of oversimplified communication, receiving a "just to say hi" email can feel like a big deal. So imagine the powerful message you convey when you actually write out your thoughts for another person by hand, purchase a stamp, physically deliver your note to a mailbox and wait days for your special someone to receive it. Their beaming smile at your thoughtfulness will say it all.
They make you feel good.
Aside from the residual satisfaction of knowing you're making a close friend's day with your efforts, science has linked expressive writing to better mood, reduced stress and improved overall sense of well-being. Similar to keeping a gratitude journal or writing about your future goals, sharing your genuine thoughts with another person can be quite the morale booster -- not to mention a mini adrenaline rush as you drop the final draft into the mailbox.
They make every word count.
Postcards only offer so many square inches, forcing the sender to truly think about the message they want to share and how they want to phrase it. Unlike with a quick text or Facebook message, you only have one chance when you send a handwritten message, so you learn just how important it is not to let it go to waste.
They spark creativity.
Taking to pen and paper utilizes the visual, motor and cognitive brain processes differently than when we recruit technology to help us out. It is also by nature more labor-intensive, requiring us to slow down and connect the mind with the hand, one word at a time. Together these factors can make the sensory experience of writing just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.
They require your undivided attention.
By recruiting all of the senses to participate in the writing-by-hand process, little room is left for multitasking (or hyper-speed task switching). To write thoughtfully and coherently, we must focus on the present moment and contemplate -- without side conversations or other to-do list items taking priority -- the thoughts we're aiming to coherently convey to the person on the receiving end of the letter.
They require unplugging.
Let's face it -- we could all use a little extra screen-free time these days. By nature of sitting down to write a thoughtful note to a special someone, your thumbs won't be able to scroll your Facebook feed or type out a text message to another friend in demand of your attention. For those few minutes, you will live entirely in the present moment and in the thoughts you're putting on paper.
They honor tradition.
There's something sacred (and romantic, in the broadest sense) about communicating in the way generations before us once did. We've all heard the stories: It's how your parents communicated with Santa Claus, it's how grandma and grandpa kept their love alive during wartime, it's how immigrant families and friends separated by their respective moves shared written snapshots of their new lives. Computers and smartphones may prove more efficient, but they can never take the place of this kind of sentimental history.
"A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend." -- Emily Dickinson
Long after they are written and sent (and even after their senders and receivers are gone), letters and postcards remain to be read, appreciated and preserved. Whether displayed on museum shelves honoring famous historical figures or saved in a scrapbook between two old friends, letters protect the memories of lives lived in a way that technological communication cannot. They are tangible, personal and real, in every sense of the word.
Effective Memory Recall
Though a little more time consuming, there are many benefits of handwriting your notes. Longhand notes allow for better short- and long-term memory recall because they contain your own words and handwriting. These can serve as effective memory cues by recreating the context and content from the original lecture or meeting.
When you write things out, you create spatial relations between each bit of information you’re recording. Handwriting activates parts of your brain involved in thinking and working memory, and allows you to store and manage information. The movement associated with the pen and your hand can help you encode and retain information long-term.
Sharpened Critical Thinking
Comparing handwriting vs. typing, you’re more exposed to critical thinking when you write by hand than when you type. Handwriting allows you to think more thoroughly about the information you’re recording. It encourages you to expand upon your thoughts and form connections between them. This can be further enhanced by using different colored pen types as a color-coding system to organize thoughts and form more connections.
Strong writers can identify relationships between abstract ideas and also develop unconventional solutions to complex problems. If you do not write regularly, it may be more difficult to extract meaning from text and interpret the context of words and phrases.
Stronger Conceptual Understanding
When you write your notes by hand, you develop a stronger conceptual understanding than by typing. Since handwriting is slower and more tedious, it makes it harder to take notes verbatim. Therefore you have to actually process the information and summarize it in a way that makes sense for you.
This illustrates one of the other benefits of handwriting vs. typing. Handwriting forces your brain to mentally engage with the information, improving both literacy and reading comprehension. On the other hand, typing encourages verbatim notes without giving much thought to the information. This mindless transcription can lead to a lack of meaningful understanding and application of the information, although you may be able to type more words quickly.
Finding Your Pen Types for Handwriting
Handwriting is a neurosensory exercise, so it’s important to choose the pen types that fit your writing style and needs. Stylizing your handwritten notes gives you a chance to further analyze and organize thoughts and ideas to make note taking more efficient and personalized.
Five of the most popular pen types include:
Ballpoint Pens – the perfect solution for those looking for a no-frills pen that’s both easy and accessible to use.
Rollerball Pens – offer consistent ink flow with a variety of styles and point-sizes. Rollerball pens are great for those who want variation but still expect dependability.
Marker Pens – ideal for people who want a versatile pen for more than just writing. Typically marker pens are available in multiple pen tip sizes.
Gel Pens – designed for the bold and the creative, gel pens provide a smooth writing experience with eye-catching colors and effects.
Stylus Pens – combine tech with traditional writing. Stylus pens are an all-in-one solution for people who like writing by hand, but want the digital convenience associated with typing.
The benefits of handwriting don’t stop at more efficient and effective note taking – handwriting also allows you to take a deeper look at your personality. Now that you know more about handwriting vs. typing, see what your handwriting says about you! View our What Does Your Handwriting Say About You? infographic.