What is handwriting? An ancient art or modern day tool? A universal skill or something personal? Is it something to be taken for granted or a skill many struggle to master?
Handwriting may be some or all of these things. For some it is purely an art form, and the neatness and accuracy of the presentation is the main focus. For others, it needs to be a functional tool that allows them to put ideas on to paper, effortlessly and fast. Here, the look of the script is less important than the fluency of the script. For all of us, there are times when we need handwriting for one purpose and times for others.
Our handwriting is very personal, a part of our self-image and an expression of our personality, just as the way we dress and present ourselves is. We all have a view on how our handwriting appears to others and would sometimes like that image to be different!
Handwriting is a means of expressing language, just like speech, and it also leaves a lasting trace. Some call it ‘Language by Hand’. It is a physical way of expressing thoughts and ideas and a means of communicating with others.
Mark-making is basic to humans. Symbolic representation for others to interpret is uniquely human and it is known that people have engaged in writing since cave paintings were first discovered. However, the production of the symbols of any writing system is not something that comes naturally, like walking or jumping. We cannot write unless we have been taught how to, a fact that is sometimes ignored. The formations of the symbols within each writing system have ideal movement patterns, and the spatial relationships between symbols and the directional conventions on the page have to be communicated between generations.
Handwriting is a very complex skill to master, one that involves linguistic, cognitive, perceptual and motor components, all of which have to be coordinated into an integrated fashion. Although we take it for granted, some people, young and old, find handwriting very difficult to perform and feel they need help to perfect the skill. Support from those with expertise and experience is nearly always appreciated.
To write is to be human.
For more about writing’s evolution and its importance around the world, see these articles collected by the British Library.