I have both heard and experienced (perhaps as a placebo effect) that writing things out by hand allows the text to be better remembered than typing it. This particularly applies to taking notes during a lecture or seminar.

I would hazard to guess that with this effect there is more manual effort involved in handwriting, whereas typing is quicker and takes "less thought" (particularly when what is typed isn't completely thought of by the subject), but rather is based on someone else's spoken words.

Is there any basis to this at all?

  • 2
    I believe it also has to do with the type of learner you are. I personally do not learn well from writing notes. I am a visual and aural learner rather than kinesthic.
    – Chad
    Aug 18, 2011 at 18:06
  • Anectotaly: At the grammar school I was regularly handwriting lecture notes while thinking about other things and not remembering a single word after the lecture.
    – Suma
    Aug 18, 2011 at 18:18
  • I had two forms of Dyslexia (and other stuff) when I was a kid, and when I started using a computer I found it a lot easier to study because hand-writing was problematic for me. +1 for Chad's comment for bringing up the "type of learner" perspective. Aug 18, 2011 at 18:38
  • 1
    I think that there's certainly some basis in that proprioreception has been linked to memory (source "59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot", Richard Wiseman) but whether pen is better than kb, I couldn't find reference in that book. Aug 18, 2011 at 21:15
  • @Chad actually, it's no longer thought that various learning types actually exist. I am also surprised by this because I definitely feel different learning styles work better for me, but perhaps it's a placebo. See this related question: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1904/…
    – ribs2spare
    Jun 1, 2022 at 18:05

1 Answer 1


I had a brief look at the literature and found a few reasonably relevant papers.

First, individual letters are more accurately recognised when written than when typed:

Recent data support the idea that movements play a crucial role in letter representation and suggest that handwriting knowledge contributes to visual recognition of letters. If so, using different motor activities while subjects are learning to write should affect their subsequent recognition performances. In order to test this hypothesis, we trained adult participants to write new characters either by copying them or by typing them on a keyboard. After three weeks of training we ran a series of tests requiring visual processing of the characters’ orientation. Tests were ran immediately, one week after, and three weeks after the end of the training period. Results showed that when the characters had been learned by typing, they were more frequently confused with their mirror images than when they had been written by hand. This handwriting advantage did not appear immediately, but mostly three weeks after the end of the training. Our results therefore suggest that the stability of the characters’ representation in memory depends on the nature of the motor activity produced during learning. (Longcamp et al., 2006)

A subsequent fMRI study found that when people were required to recognise letters they had learned before, participants' brains were more active in areas associated with execution and observation of actions, suggesting that you're right, it seems the movement associated with handwriting does help with recognition.

Secondly, and more directly relevant, children's spelling is better when words are written when learning them, than when words are typed:

Previous research has demonstrated the superiority of a Simultaneous Oral Spelling method for young children beginning to learn to spell words. In this technique, children learn words by repeating a word spoken and written for them, writing the word while pronouncing the name of each letter, and then repeating the whole word again. In two experiments, we manipulated the motoric element of this training and obtained results indicating that having first-grade children write words leads to better spelling performance than having the children type them on a computer or manipulate letter tiles to spell them. The superiority of handwriting was maintained even under conditions where post-training spelling assessment was done on the computer and with tiles. (Cunningham and Stanovich, 1990)

It seems rather unlikely that the handwriting advantage would exist at the letter and word levels, but end there, so I strongly suspect text would be better remembered when written by hand compared to when typed.

  • Stellar answer! I wonder if all of this is because words were meant to be written or otherwise inscribed, not typed. And if in the future we'll get psuedoscientific claims that East Asian cultures are dominating education because their children still have to use electronic input systems that require some degree of writing out a radical or character, while western children are all typists and subvocalists. Aug 23, 2011 at 0:20
  • Thanks. I don't know about 'meant to be'. We haven't been writing for long enough for it to have been selected for, in evolutionary terms. Did you mean something else? It seems to be mostly due to the particular movements associated with writing. Possibly something to do with the way the movements involved in writing flow together more coherently than typing (but that's pure speculation). Aug 23, 2011 at 8:36
  • 1
    While useful and relevant, this answer doesn't cover memory retention generally, but instead hypothesises that it might have an effect. It seems unsurprising that text input method affects learning of words. How does it affect learning of everything else?
    – Anko
    Nov 8, 2014 at 16:02
  • @Anko, I think that's a good question, but also a separate one. Nov 9, 2014 at 18:54
  • 1
    @MarkL I don't understand. Is this question not about memory retention in general?
    – Anko
    Nov 9, 2014 at 18:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .