Keyboards Are Fine, but Writing By Hand Can Be Better for You

Reject keyboard, embrace pen

Key Takeaways

  • Handwriting can avoid RSI.
  • Handwritten notes force you to conceptualize what you’re writing.
  • The Apple Pencil is as good as a real pencil in almost every way.
person writing with a pen while their phone is in front of them

Tom Rogerson / Unsplash

Writing by hand is quaint and old-fashioned, while keyboards are the future, or so we might think. But maybe writing with pen and paper isn't dead after all. Maybe it's actually better. 

These days, almost everything we write is done via keyboards, either the one on our laptop or the virtual keyboard on our phone screen. Everything from lecture notes to shopping lists is typed. We're so accustomed to typing that writing on paper can even become painful after a few hundred words. But handwriting confers benefits, both physical and psychological. And if you're taking lecture or meeting notes, you'd do well to switch to a pencil. Or even an Apple Pencil.

"Pen or pencil use is advocated especially for fine motor skills and to prevent musculoskeletal problems," chiropractor Steve Hrubny told Lifewire via email. "Keyboarding is okay if you use proper posture and take mini-breaks. I recommend alternating between keyboarding and handwriting to avoid repetitive stress injuries."

Let’s Get Physical

The most obvious difference between pen and keyboard is in the tools you use. But there are more subtle physical differences. One is the orientation of your hands and wrists. While handwriting doesn’t eliminate the risk of RSI (repetitive strain injury), it’s often recommended to avoid it. While a standard keyboard forces you to twist your wrists inwards to address the keys, a pen lets your hand stay vertical, a position that falls more naturally.

Stylus used on tablet covered by screen protector

Paperlike

Keyboards also require repetitive twitch movement, whereas the pen is more of a continuous workout. There’s some overlap, of course, but by switching between the two methods, you may avoid injury. 

If you plan to write a lot, then you should invest in a good pen, one that doesn’t require pressure to write. And you might also consider using an angled board to make writing easier, says Australia’s RSI ACT

This Is Your Brain On Pens

Another benefit of pen and paper is psychological. One 2014 study showed that when taking notes longhand, students understood lectures better. When typing, we tend to transcribe the lecture verbatim or as close as we can manage. With written notes, the slower pace means we have to quickly process the concepts of the lecture to summarize them in our notes. 

"I recommend alternating between keyboarding and handwriting to avoid repetitive stress injuries."

There are other benefits to pen and paper, too. With a sheet of paper, you can write anywhere, underline, doodle, draw arrows to make connections, anything. And experienced pen users will do this without thinking. It's a way of naturally structuring your notes, one which automatically matches how you think. 

"Writing by hand is helpful to visual learners and gives the graphic freedom to sketch nontraditional layouts and visualize connections easily. I personally choose to handwrite because they are artful and prefer aesthetics. Writing by hand is also believed to avoid distractions," handwriting and speech trainer Amanda Green told Lifewire via email. 

With a keyboard, you're limited to the characters in the typeface, with no doodles. A mind map is more flexible, but even then, you're more limited. 

The Apple Pencil

In physical terms, the Apple Pencil shares all these benefits—with some catches. If you've used one, you know it feels just like writing with a regular pen or pencil, apart from the fact that you're sliding plastic over glass (you can buy an adhesive film that makes it feel more like paper). And while the iPad is smaller and thicker than a sheet of paper, it is similar in size to a notepad.

With regular tablet styluses, the iPad (or Android tablet) has to use some smarts to distinguish the pen's tip from your hand resting on the screen. This is called palm rejection, and it's imperfect at best. It also causes the user to try to write with their hand floating over the screen instead of resting their palm on it. This means you're always supporting the weight of your arm from your shoulder, and it's quite uncomfortable. 

Using Apple Pencil on iPad for notes and illustrations

Apple

The Apple Pencil is detected separately from your hand, so there’s zero chance of your fingers making unintended marks. The Pencil uses a wireless connection between pen and iPad, which communicates pen angle and nib pressure, both of which can be used to modify the line you’re making. 

Next time you need to plan something, grab a pen and paper or your iPad and Apple Pencil; you might be surprised at the difference in the process. And who knows, you might even find it better.

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