Writing legibly still counts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am


My son's handwriting is terrible and he is in Primary Four. I know things have changed since I was at school, but surely neat writing is still important.

Certainly, the days have gone since students needed to produce reams of beautiful copperplate writing in pristine copy books. And though you do not say when you were at school it is only until fairly recently that neat handwriting was a universal expectation in the classroom.

As you say, things have changed, and it is as common nowadays to see students tapping away at a keyboard as poring over a piece of paper, pencil in hand. And of course the need to use word processors is crucial in the modern world. Many schools even teach typing skills, once the domain of secretarial classes. A lot of exams now allow the use of technology, and using a computer reflects the world of work and leisure outside school.

However, the ability to be able to write legibly is still far from outdated. Taking notes, brainstorming ideas and compiling lists are just some of the tasks still best suited to traditional methods. But of course, there is a difference between legibility and the neatness you mention.

Educators know that the successful manipulation of a writing tool carries many advantages. It encourages hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills, for example, and can aid the imagination by not restricting writing to the more linear and restricted template of much of the word processing software.

Handwriting can also aid creativity, allowing students to move quickly from one place on a piece of paper to another and add notes or a rough sketch.

All too often, neatness was given a higher priority in school than the content or quality of composition. However, using neat script in school is still needed, and probably will be for some time. One advantage of maintaining traditional standards is that, rightly or wrongly, studies show that people, including teachers, respond more positively to good presentation, and this can give an advantage in assessments and results. In fact, some standardised tests explicitly have neatness as one of the criteria for evaluation.

So, is neat writing important? The case can be argued either way, but, on balance, the answer would probably have to be yes. It is not a barrier to success at school, nor do standards of presentation determine the quality of what is being written, but the subtle issues embedded in this issue make the ability to write neatly as least a useful addition to your son's educational toolbox.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong