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My productivity is hampered by the poor quality of my handwriting. Nobody else can read it, and even I struggle at times. I usually compensate by typing things, but sometimes handwriting is unavoidable. How can I improve my penmanship?

By the way, I'm looking for specific tips on where to start and what to do next. I don't object to book recommendations / courses, but they are not really what I'm looking for.

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Learn calligraphy. It will help you appreciate the art of writing. (And you will naturally start writing better.) – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 10 '11 at 21:33
No, seriously, it will help! – Mateen Ulhaq Dec 10 '11 at 21:34
Well - when my son was in kindergarten and was struggling with his penmanship she recommended he use chop sticks at every meal possible. Not sure if it works with adults but maybe strengthening your finger muscles with other activities would improve dexterity in adult penmanship too?! – KMed Oct 22 '12 at 19:48
My kindergarten teacher once recommended that I write letters with my dominant-hand index finger in a tray of sand to improve my penmanship. I never did it but I have noticed that although my handwriting is jumpy, irregular, and generally unpredictable on a letter-by-letter basis (the key to reading it is following the path my pen took; I write my letters using the standard strokes), I find it much easier to control how the letters turn out if I use my index finger to write (eg. with paint, or in condensation on windows), though this may have something to do with writing speed or letter size. – ksoo Jan 18 '15 at 22:21

13 Answers 13

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Summary: learn how to form the letters correctly (unlearn bad habits) and practice, practice, practice.

Personally, I addressed this same problem by:

  1. Purchasing a fountain pen that I really wanted, so that the act of writing was less of a chore and something that I actually began to enjoy. Doesn't have to be a fountain pen, the point is this new "toy" made it something I wanted to do.
  2. Picking up a book to essentially learn how to write all over again.
  3. Spending some time every evening for about a month just practicing.

I got started with Getty-Dubay's "Write Now: The Complete Program for Better Handwriting" book, which I was able to find at the library. You can even find portions of the book online which is enough to get started.

After getting the basics down, I used these lessons for continued practice.

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The fountain pen isn't just a new toy, it requires less pressure to write with which reduces hand strain and makes writing neatly easier to do. I second the recommendation for Getty-Dubay cursive italic -- this answer contains more detail about it. – HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 5:51

I faced this problem once. I just went to the local bookstore and bought myself a kindergarten book on cursive writing. Finish the book one page per day and notice the change! Repeat whenever you're slacking. :)

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In my opinion, the secret to good handwriting is practice and a fountain pen. I have also found that writing in Cursive Style in a double line notebook helps in improving ones handwriting. But you have to patient as writing will not improve overnight. As mentioned earlier, it will take a lot of practice before changes are noticeable.

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I've tried a fountain pen, but that just added blotches and smudges. – Kramii Jul 10 '11 at 20:20
+1 for double-lined notebook. I can try that. – Kramii Jul 10 '11 at 20:28

This is just one factor, but you can't write well if the muscles in your hand are cramping.

This article helped me realize why my hand hurt while writing. To keep your hand comfortable you need to use the muscles of your forearm and shoulder, and not your fingers. It's not a matter of fine motor skill, it's using the right muscles.

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Thanks for this! I recently started journaling/writing more and I've also begun to have aches in my hand and arm. I hadn't associated the two. – eflat Feb 22 '12 at 16:58

As with most things, deliberate practice. Fortunately you can do that by paying attention as you write and seeing where the problems are.

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+1 for trying to identify the problems and working on these. – Kramii Jul 10 '11 at 20:29
The most practical answer. Practice practice practice! – Gaʀʀʏ Oct 23 '12 at 13:17

While there certainly are things to do to improve your overall handwriting, this most likely takes a lot of time since you'll have to unlearn years of bad habits.
Why not try to keep your handwriting down to a minimum, and type whenever possible, and then, when it's unavoidable, try to print as slowly as possible. Larger letters and bigger spacings help here (both because the shapes become clearer, and because this automatically slows you down).

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Perhaps I am a list cause? I really don't write much down. I email a lot, for example, and always type letters, even to friends. On job applications I fill in the basics on the form and then reference longer answers typed on a separate sheet (employers don't seem to mind). When I do have to write, I tend to print in capitals. At least people grasp my meaning. – Kramii Jul 10 '11 at 20:36
"don't write if you have bad handwriting" is not an answer to "how can I improve my handwriting?" – HedgeMage Jul 12 '11 at 5:48

Fine motor skill is good for better handwriting. You can try pen spinning or sleiting to improve your handwriting. And this just is interesting :)

Pen spinning

Pen spinning is a form of object manipulation that involves the deft manipulation of a writing instrument with one's hands.

from Wikipedia article (there is good gif image inside)

Good videos you can find at youtube.

Sleiting (card sleiting, cardistry, card flourish)

Look like, there is no stable name for this activity, but it looks good. In few words, it is art cards manipulation. Look for videos in youtube here (cardistry) or here (sleiting).

Note: I have very bad handwriting too. I you are interested, I'll describe results after I'll try some of this activities.

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I can spin my pen and will testify that it made no difference in my (bad) handwriting. Also, the article in the answer poster by user11583 offers that fine motor skills are not at all key for improved handwriting. – eflat Feb 25 '12 at 6:05

There are 3 basic steps to learning to write better in a practical way as I have done myself to improve my own handwriting:

  1. Buy a good quality fountain pen.
  2. Write daily and slowly almost one paragraph or more as per your comfort and time.
  3. Have patience as it's a gradual process.

I hope you will start writing better in a few weeks.

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I am interested that most of the answers here are about improving cursive penmanship, as I always find cursive to be much more difficult to read than printing--something that I imagine is becoming even more true as people are exposed to less long-hand penmanship and more computerized typography.

I stopped using cursive for anything except my signature in 5th grade and switched to lettering in all capitals (which as long been the standard in architectural drawing because it is so easy to read).

The motions are simpler and robust to starting and stopping because printing doesn't require the flow of cursive. Because so many of the strokes are straight lines, it may also be easier to improve your legibility.

I know several people who print in all caps and all are frequently complemented on their writing.

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I took a notebook and spent 5-10 minutes a day repeatedly writing single letters; today 'a', tomorrow 'b'. It seemed to help.

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That works for me:
--look how the letters are printed (in books, magazines, etc.) and adapt to their style. There is a big advantage of it: the printed texts are everywhere. --rather than starting modifying all your writing, you can work on some letters, for example the most problematic ones.
In time, you will be happy to see improvement.

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I think it involves a lot more practice writing that this answer appears to show. Especially if adapting different styles of writing found in articles. – Gaʀʀʏ Jun 26 '12 at 1:14

I'm surprised to see that so many answer recommend working on cursive; there are so many more variations, and (because the letters are connected) so much more opportunity for it to become sloppy.

I agree with Adam: try printing in all capital letters. (You can adjust the size, so a true capital is larger than your "lowercase" letters.) Each letter is distinct, which will make it easier to read.

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A problem with printing in all caps is that lower case letters are more distinct. When all letters are roughly the same size you’ve sacrificed one method for deciphering text. – user179700 Aug 3 '11 at 6:59

Here is an alternative solution if you don't have time or can't put in the effort in actively improving your handwriting.

Get a Frixion Pen.

They are just like ball-point pens, but erasable. They come on an assortment of many colors, and there are also erasable highlighters.

I have the same problem as you, but not really the time to learn calligraphy. Instead, I use a friction pen, and whilst writing I'm very mindful to make sure that the text is legible. If I notice that something may be hard to read later, I erase it and just write it again until I'm happy.

This has worked for me, and because I'm much more considerate of what I "leave behind" in written form, my handwriting has also become better with time. Basically, it's all about the active effort you put into your penmanship.

enter image description here

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