Reading Cath Ennis’ handwritten blog post–do check it out–I was left thinking: will a later generation not use handwriting at all?


Remember those biology exams with their essays? Or those endless lectures frantically scribbling down notes?

I still record thoughts for most talks using a notebook, but I have to admit my writing is now terrible and I can almost certainly type faster.

Like Cath the quality of my writing has deteriorated as I have gotten older. Like commenters to her post, I can’t write furiously for hours any more. But my typing has–slowly!–improved.

For many–most–things it’d be more practical to type rather than write.

There is the issue of doodles and sketches. They’re useful when taking notes. Not to mention those wayward arrows that you add after the fact, with their long twisty lines wandering around the page connecting one point with another.

So I’m not quite ready to give up the written notebook.

Maybe it is in part a reflection of our particular career choices? More than most, my readers will have their paws on a computer, and more than most as part of their work, too. What trades prefer the handwritten approach today?

Nevertheless, pulling back to a wider view–everyday life–how often do you really need handwriting now?


When did you last write a cheque? I haven’t had a chequebook in years.

Or manually filled out  forms? There are still a few of these, but increasingly they’re on-line, a PDF file or whatnot.

Or handwritten a letter? Even the ones you put into snail mail–aka conventional post–are more easily typed and printed out. Personal touches, like thank notes and cards are still written. Postcards still have their place.

Will handwriting hold on, as it does for me, in the peripheral tasks?

I still mostly prefer to jot down to-do lists and temporary working notes into my diary or on handy scraps of paper. (I recycle flyers sent to me, using the blank back sides for this purpose.) For whatever reason, I prefer that these lie on my desk, rather than the computer – perhaps because the screen space is already full of windows of source code, the test executing, the Unix terminal screen. I guess we’ve always expanded our screen space to flow out onto the desk and beyond.

Writers, like Rebecca Skloots, might prefer to organise plots using written index cards to their computer counterparts.

Likewise, I prefer to use notebooks for jotting down ideas. A small notebook and pen is still much more portable that their digital counterparts. The more formal, organised, counterparts of the ideas are as white papers, project outlines, grant or job applications done on the computer.

How many of my readers use handwriting? (Or your kids? – outside of school, that is.)

Will we see the end of handwriting?

Other articles on Code for life:

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

Accessing digital legacies (experimental ones, too)

How did you learn to critique the scientific literature?

Rebecca Skloot on writing creative non-fiction

Haemophilia – towards a cure using genetic engineering

Literate and test-driven programming (in bioinformatics)