Penmanship – Getting Writing Right

By Aaisha Zafar Islam

penmanship- getting writing right

One of my earliest childhood memories is struggling to get the lower case ‘f’ just right as I attempted cursive in school. Another memory seared on my brain is Ma’s wrath when presented with a sheet of writing that was messy and horror of horrors, rife with spelling mistakes. I did get to reap the benefits of these lessons learned early in life. First is my OCD when it comes to spellings – I risk an aneurysm every time I see mangled spellings, and it is a handicap that becomes a skill in my work as an editor. Secondly, and more pertinent here is that focussing on how neat, rounded and evenly spaced out my alphabets were has also accorded me a balance in my personality, or so I like to think. How you write, the slant of words, the spacing and the size of letters themselves reveals many things about one’s psyche.

Later, as I sat on the admissions and interview committee of the University I taught at, we read through each candidate’s handwritten letter assessing not just the words expressing their intent of pursuing a program, but also how they wrote everything down, their penmanship.

And still later, as I taught some of these students, I insisted on frequent speed writing sessions in class on random topics. Again, this enabled me to know my students better, the extent of their vocabulary and how they expressed their ideas on paper, things I’d need to work on with them, and most importantly, what their handwriting revealed about them as persons, beginner’s foray into graphology if you will. Many label it as pseudo-science; however I have had remarkable success at reading a person’s person by looking at their handwritten note.

After all these experiences, it was only natural that I insist that my own progeny master the basics of good penmanship, best me at calligraphy, wow his teachers with the perfection of his letters and win a Nobel Prize for something or the other while he was at it. All before he turns 10!

March of times

My son turned seven early this year, he is a child of the digital age when typing reigns supreme and writing is fading away. If I were to be honest, I’d say his writing is borderline atrocious. It’s not that he cannot write neat, it’s that he will not. Writing something down, as I insist, means that he spends more time bent over his notebooks, which again are in a sorry state because he’s not too fond of them, instead of having his messy mop of hair bent over a book he wants to read.

Adding to my desperation to teach son how to master cursive, or at least a decent print, are these articles that all insist that writing by hand does wonders for your brain.

Learning cursive provides crucial benefit to children at an age when they need it most: a sense of involvement and ownership, hand-eye coordination, patience, and self-control. 

What cursive does for your brain:

In learning to write by hand, even if it is just printing, the brain must:

Locate each stroke relative to other strokes.

Learn and remember appropriate size, slant of global form, and feature detail characteristic of each letter.

Develop categorization skills.

Cursive writing, compared to printing, should be even more beneficial because the movement tasks are more demanding, the letters are less stereotypical, and the visual recognition requirements create a broader repertoire of letter representation. Cursive is also faster and more likely to engage students by providing a better sense of personal style and ownership.

~ Psychology Today

Relic of the past?

I also understand that there are many detractors of this handwriting, arguing it is a dying tradition and well past its date, that the time spent over learning cursive can be used instead on other subjects like learning another language, or sciences that will be of more help academically. And while I can’t disagree with this, I also know that societal traditions are cyclic, what is a lost art now will be a treasured skill tomorrow. A decade or two later, when writing by hand sees a revival, I want my children to be able to teach their own offspring.

More than anything, if there is the slightest bit chance that it will make them better people, I want to go that route. I am a mom and I want nothing but the best of very best for my brats, so I am going to buy as many interlined notebooks as I can, and nag them into writing a neat print and a passably decent cursive. The Nobel Prize can wait till they’ve mastered the loop of a lower case ‘r’.

About the author:

Aaisha Zafar Islam is the executive editor of and harbours delusions of grandeur if she goes long periods of time without a cup of tea. She also has a very neat handwriting, both cursive and print.