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Hand Writing

7 Techniques To Increase Memory: Hand Writing

Are you a hand writer or a person who types their notes?

It’s hard to argue that there is a sense of ease and convenience when typing notes and gathering information using our mobile devises. Research conducted by Pew Research Center indicates that 68% of U.S. adults have a smartphone and 45% have tablet computers. As the amount of mobile device ownership increases year after year, more people are able to record and gather information as quickly as their smart phone can recognize their face.

However, we are about to explore how convenience does not equal retention. In our final installation to our memory series, where we’ve covered loci and chunking, linking and PQRST, as well as acronyms and rhyming, we will discuss how handwriting increases memory and activates unique parts of the brain, and suggest ways to incorporate handwriting into your daily routine.

Increased Retention and Understanding

Research conducted by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles suggests that writing by hand increases memory retention and understanding. In their research, Mueller and Oppenheimer compared students who took handwritten notes to those who typed notes on their laptops.

The study concluded that although there are some benefits to writing more notes verbatim, typing actually impairs learning because of the way our brain processes information. The research showed that when students typed their notes, they tried to type verbatim and as much as they could. This method only allows for service level retention due to the idle nature of typing notes. Mueller and Oppenheimer explained that “there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing and there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information”. When handwriting notes, one must be selective because you can’t write as quickly as you can type. That extra step and layer of processing allows for deeper retention and analyses.

Activating the Brain

Handwriting has been linked to tapping into specific areas of the brain that typing does not. A recent study by Karin James of Indiana University on neuroscientific research uncovered a distinct neural pathway that is only activated when we physically draw out our letters. In her research, James engaged with children by asking them to type a sign letter, draw it on plain paper or trace it on a dotted line. In her analysis, she observed that children who drew letters activated 3 areas of the brain. Children who traced or typed letters did not exhibit the same brain activity. As a result, James’s study supports learning benefits to writing out letters and engaging the brain’s motor pathways.

Putting Pen to Paper: Three Ways to Hand Write More

  1. During training, ask learners to keep a training journal. They don’t need to write much, just 1-2 sentences listing key takeaways from their training session or a note on what they liked the most.
  2. Jot things down. Rather than typing training notes, encourage learners to write down key words or phrases that will remind them of the main themes.
  3. Make lists. Suggest to learners that they should organize their thoughts by creating hand written lists. The more information that learners can write down and organize, the more likely they are to remember.


Maximizing memory is a process, one that can’t be rushed. Although typing notes is convenient and quick, handwriting allows learners to activate parts of the brain that typing does not. Writing by hand helps learners synthesize information and retain more of it.

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