Why Handwriting still has Value in the World of Business

Posted by martin.parnell |

In my role as an author, I write – a lot. In my other profession, as a keynote speaker, I also write in order to keep up with my platforms on social media. If I’m not working on my latest manuscript, I’m blogging, tweeting, connecting on Facebook, preparing talks etc. The list is long. 

Needless to say, all of this work is done on a computer. The other day, I gave a talk and, afterwards, as with most of my events, I did a book signing. For this activity, I write a brief message and sign my name. I find it interesting that, even in this time when most things are written on one form of technology or another, people still value having a handwritten signature. 

They would not be impressed if I were to print off a set of labels with my printed name and stick them in my books. A signature is very individual and personal. It is used to identify us. We have it in our passports and on the back of our credit and debit cards. It is the defining example of our handwriting. 

Graphology, or handwriting analysis, is the study of handwriting shapes and patterns to determine the personality and behaviour of the writer. In the world of forensic science, handwriting analysis fits into the area of questioned documents and expert examiners in this field can recognise signs of alteration, forgery and authorship. The primary basis of handwriting analysis is that every person, in the world, has a unique way of writing. Just look at the criminal cases of Robert Durst and David Allen Lucas, to name but two. 

On a daily basis, I still have a notepad where I jot down ideas and things I need to do. Every year I buy a diary, to keep track of things like appointment, birthdays etc. I must admit, I’m still, to a degree, a pen and paper guy. But, for many people, the thought of having to actually write anything seems a pointless activity. 

They would argue that there is no point when everything can be typed on to their Smartphone, IPad or other device. And I do see their point. However, handwriting appears to be a dying skill and that, I think, is a great pity. I could quote you articles and statistics about the number of schools that no longer teach cursive writing. 

On the other hand, I could also quote you experts who tell us that learning writing is integral to developing fine motor skills in young children and aids in their learning to read. But, I want to focus more on why I believe there is a place for us to incorporate handwriting at stages in our day-to-day life. Who doesn’t get a thrill when a Birthday card, Christmas card or postcard from an exotic destination arrives in the mail. 

It tells us that we are being thought of in a way that goes beyond just sending a quick text, email or message on Facebook. Actor Steve Carell once said “Sending a handwritten letter is becoming such an anomaly. It's disappearing. My mom is the only one who still writes me letters. And there's something visceral about opening a letter - I see her on the page. I see her in her handwriting.” 

On the wall of my office, I have a charming picture drawn by our 4 year-old goddaughter and she has signed it with her name. Upper and lower case letters mixed and a back-to-front “S”, it’s a treasured reminder of her first attempts at writing. 

In business, probably the only time you might see someone’s signature is at the end of a letter. A busy boss hasn’t the time to be handwriting letters, he or she needs to let someone type them up or put them on the computer. It’s so much easier to reach a number of people that way and there’s no denying the convenience of having one’s spelling checked. 

Also, if yours is not particularly clear and decipherable, you may not feel inclined to put something down in your own handwriting. We’ve all heard the jokes about doctors’ handwriting being impossible to decipher and wonder if pharmacists have some sort of extra training to do so and ensure we’re getting the correct meds. 

But I do believe it’s worth making the effort. I keep Thank You cards to hand and will write a brief message and send one to an event organiser, or other contact that has engaged my services. I regularly get feedback as to how much they are appreciated. This personal touch resonates and shows how much you appreciate their business. 

At work, the only time you may only be required to write anything in your own hand is when you’re being passed a card for someone who’s leaving, had a baby or is celebrating some other event. But, why not think about other ways in which to engage by writing a note or card? 

I’m sure, if you are an employee, you’d really appreciate it if your boss dropped you a personal line to tell you “Job well done” or some other way to show you’re appreciated. “Handwritten notes are a rare commodity. They’re also more important than ever.” Those are the words of John Coleman, coauthor of the book Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest in Business. They’re also the title of an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 2013. 

How many of you take handwritten notes when attending meetings? Robinson Meyer, in The Atlantic, May 2014, under the heading “To Remember a Lecture Better, Take Notes by Hand” referred to a study conducted by Mueller and Oppenheimer which found that: “People remember lectures better when they’ve taken handwritten notes, rather than typed ones. What's more, knowing how and why typed notes can be bad doesn't seem to improve their quality. Even if you warn laptop-note takers ahead of time, it doesn't make a difference. For some tasks, it seems, handwriting’s just better.”

The study also found that:  “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down.” If you locate Meyer’s article, you can read the way in which the 3-part study was conducted. In conclusion, the study demonstrates that: “taking notes on a laptop seems to lead to verbatim notes, which make it tough to study well. We don’t write longhand as fast as we type these days, but people who were typing just tended to transcribe large parts of lecture content verbatim,” This result could feasibly be the same for those taking notes at business meetings.

I am not proposing that we all give up our laptops and computers and start writing everything by hand. I, for one, would find this far too time consuming and inconvenient. I need to be able to send written work to multiple contacts. The convenience of cutting and pasting, taking quotes and articles and use them for reference is obvious.

But, I would encourage everyone to at least make some small effort to write something by hand when looking at the ways in which we communicate. We need to find ways in which to show that we are engaged with colleagues and employees.

It doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Make it brief, make it personal and watch it make a difference.

About the Author

Martin Parnell is the Best-Selling author of MARATHON QUEST and RUNNING TO THE EDGE and speaks on having a “Finish the Race Attitude – Overcoming Obstacles to Achieve Your Full Potential”. Martin has written for, or been covered by CNNBBCCBCThe Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Runners World, Men’s Journal, Canadian Business, and Maclean’s.

In a five year period, from 2010 to 2014, Martin completed 10 extreme endurance “Quests” including running 250 marathons in one year and raising $1.3m for the humanitarian organization Right To Play. Find out more about Martin at www.martinparnell.com  and see what he can do for you in the long run.

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