If you wrote someone a letter, could they read it?
It’s not surprising if the answer is no. We all type more often and practice writing things by hand considerably less than we used to, so naturally many people’s handwriting has gotten worse.
Even so, handwriting remains an essential skill. You use it every time you fill out a form at the DMV, write yourself a reminder on a sticky note, or write anything at all during a power outage. Handwriting is also useful in less obvious ways. Writing notes by hand helps you learn better. Keeping handwritten journals can make it easier to think situations through logically and help you make clearer decisions.
More fundamentally, some things simply demand to be written by hand. Typed thank-you notes and love letters can seem cold and distant, but handwriting renders them heartfelt.
Read on to discover how to make your current handwriting more readable, how to approach more focused handwriting practice, and some helpful writing tools.
QUICK TIPS FOR MORE LEGIBLE HANDWRITING
If you want to make sure that people can read your writing but aren’t concerned with producing a specific script or beautiful longhand, a few tweaks to your existing hand might do the trick. It will take practice to make these changes stick, but they can dramatically improve your handwriting’s legibility.
Looped writing makes it harder to recognize letters.
We recognize letters by looking at their tops, but loops obscure their shapes. Removing loops from your writing makes it easier to read. If you like how looped writing looks, an effective compromise is to only use loops in the lower parts of your letters, such as the descenders in “j” and “p.”
Close Letter Tops
Fully close the tops of your letters.
For the same reason, letters without fully-closed tops quickly become ambiguous. An “a” or an “o” may look no different from a “u.” Make sure to close the tops of your letters and your writing will be much easier to read. It’s also helpful to close the bottoms of letters like “p” and “q,” but that’s less important.
Slightly Slant Your Writing
Relatively upright writing is easier to read.
Most people write with a slant when they write quickly, whether they’re writing in cursive or print. This makes writing both easier and faster. However, a severe slant makes words harder to read. Aim for a slight slant of about 5-15° to balance comfort and speed with legibility.
Keep your writing clear by not allowing long letters to mix.
The long parts of letters that rise above or fall below the bodies of lowercase letters are called ascenders and descenders. If they get too long, ascenders and descenders that occur on adjacent lines can get tangled together, camouflaging the letters they belong to. Make your tall letters a bit shorter or leave more space between lines for clarity.
Make Straight Connections
Use straight connectors between letters instead of curvy lines.
Some people use curved connectors between letters when they write in cursive. These can confuse the letters’ shapes or even look like letters in their own right. Use straight connectors instead to clearly differentiate them from the substance of your writing.
Use Consistent Forms
Follow a straight baseline and keep your letters looking similar.
Everyone’s handwriting is different, and it’s normal to experiment with everything from letter shapes, the size of your handwriting, and how much slant to use. Whatever your style looks like, make sure that you stay consistent. This includes the placement of your baseline. Spidery handwriting with regular letterforms is easier to read than writing that’s all over the place.
Perform a Handwriting Analysis
Analyze your handwriting to find out what to work on.
To figure out what parts of your handwriting to focus on, write a paragraph and evaluate it according to the tips above. If you see any individual letters that have more problems than others, give them special attention.
POLISH YOUR PENMANSHIP
If you want to improve your handwriting further, the next step is to systematically learn a specific script. It’s a good idea to pick one that is easy to read, easy to write, and attractive – after all, you’ll be using it a lot. We recommend Italic handwriting for its clarity and simple elegance. Whether you choose Italic or another script, the approach we outline below will help you produce beautiful writing.
Sit comfortably straight so that your forearms lay gently on the desk.
The way you position yourself can make it easier or harder to write well. Sit so that your feet are flat on the floor and your forearms lay gently on the desk when your back is comfortably straight. Make sure that you have room to move your arm freely.
Set Up a Tripod
Hold the pen gently, but firmly.
The tripod grip lets you control the pen without hand tension and produce smooth, flowing lines.
- Hold the pen lightly between your thumb and index finger.
- Rest the pen near the nail of your middle finger.
- Don’t choke the pen – keep your fingers about an inch from the tip.
- Angle the shaft of the pen so that it rests near the index finger’s large knuckle rather than falling next to the thumb.
- Keep your fingers and wrist still and relaxed. Move the pen with the large muscles of your arm.
- Dubay, Inga, & Getty, Barbara. “Op-Art: The Write Stuff.” Web. The New York Times. 8 Sep. 2009.
- Dubay, Inga, & Getty, Barbara. “Italic Letters: Calligraphy & Handwriting” Print. Revised Ed. Continuing Education Press, 1992.
- Florey, Kitty Burns. “Script & Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting.” Print. Melville House Publishing, 2009.
- Gladstone, Kate. “illegibility: can America write?” Web. Handwriting Repair.
- Gladstone, Kate. “FAQ” Web. Handwriting Repair.
- Konnikova, Maria. “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades.” The New York Times. 2 Jun. 2014.
- May, Cindi. “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.” Scientific American. Web. 3 Jun. 2014.
- Post, Peggy. “Why Handwriting Matters in a Digital World.” Web. TIME. 22 Jan. 2016.
- Walker, Gay. “Lloyd Reynolds, Robert Palladino, and Calligraphy at Reed College.” Web. Reed College.
Watch Your Form
Trace and copy examples of the script you’re learning.
Find examples of the script you are learning and keep them in front of you when you practice. First trace them to get a feel for the letterforms and then imitate them freehand. Pay as much attention to the shape of the blank space within the letters as to their outlines. Download our samples of cursive Italic Capitals, Lowercase Letters, and Pangrams to practice with, or find others online. Don’t worry if you’d rather print than write in cursive – the letterforms are the same.
Turn The Page
Try different paper positions if you’re not comfortable.
Experiment with your paper position if your slant is off, you find it difficult to follow the page lines, or your letters seem narrow. Right-handed writers may be comfortable with a vertical or left-angled page, while lefties often prefer to angle their paper to the right.
Practice with big letters to see mistakes more easily.
It’s hard to see the details of smaller writing, so start out writing larger than you normally would to identify mistakes more easily. Shrink your writing back down once you are routinely satisfied with how your letters look.
Practice, But Not Too Much
Practice often and take plenty of breaks.
Regular, brief practice is more effective than marathon writing sessions. This helps you pay attention to what you’re doing and stay relaxed so that you can move freely and make smooth lines. If you find yourself becoming tense, cramped, or unable to focus, take a stretch break or stop for the day.
WRITING TOOLS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Sometimes you have to use whatever pens and paper are handy, but low-quality writing implements that bleed or only write when used with heavy pressure can lead to uneven letters, blotchy lines, and frustration. Whenever possible, use smooth-writing tools that help you write quickly, freely, and well.
Gel Pen: Uni-ball Signo Gel Pens
The Uni-ball Signo writes easily with crisp lines.
We’ve heard the Uni-ball Signo UM-151 described as the best pen ever made. There’s a lot of competition for that title, but there’s no denying that all varieties of the Uni-ball Signo are beautifully smooth, producing vibrant, clean lines in a wide range of colors. They come in several tip sizes, from the ultra-fine 0.28 mm to the broad 1 mm.
Ballpoint Pen: Uni Jetstream Ballpoint Pens
Uni Jetstream ink dries fast, so it’s great for lefties.
Uni Jetstream pens are equipped with a hybrid, low-viscosity ballpoint ink that produces remarkably smooth and consistent ink flow – so smooth that they’re often mistaken for gel pens. Their well-pigmented ink dries remarkably quickly and comes in tip sizes ranging from 0.38 mm – 1 mm. Jetstream pens are available in several body styles, including the extra-comfortable Alpha Gel Grip Series.
Fountain Pen: Lamy Safari Fountain Pen
The Lamy Safari writes well and helps you use a tripod grip.
The Lamy Safari is an easy-writing fountain pen that is highly recommended for beginners and experienced fountain pen users alike. It can use convenient ink cartridges or a converter that lets you use any of the myriad colors of bottled fountain pen ink. The Safari is especially good for people who are trying to improve their handwriting because it has a molded grip section that guides your fingers into a tripod grip.
Notebook: Apica Notebooks
Apica Notebooks are simple, refined, and have excellent paper.
These elegant notebooks come in multiple sizes, styles, and paper types to suit your specific needs. Apica CD Notebooks are perfect for everyday notes. They are thin enough to slip into a bag easily without feeling the extra weight, have surprisingly high-quality paper, and come in three convenient sizes. Apica Premium C.D. Notebooks are equipped with luxuriously silky paper that is ideal for journaling with a fountain pen.
Notepad: Clairefontaine Triomphe Notepads
Bright white Clairefontaine Triomphe Notepads are fantastically smooth.
Exquisite Clairefontaine Triomphe Notepads feature ultra-white, smooth, fountain-pen friendly paper. Choose between lined paper with an 8 mm rule or blank pages with a guide sheet to help keep your writing straight. The A4 size has matching envelopes for sending letters. To see more letter-writing materials, check out our Guide to Snail Mail.
Writing Board: Sun-Star Grid Shitajiki Writing Board
Use a writing board for a softer surface.
Hard tabletops can make for a scratchy, unpleasant writing experience. Soften your writing surface by using a shitajiki, or writing board, under your paper. Lined versions like the Sun-Star Grid Shitajiki Writing Board double as guide sheets, allowing you to keep a steady baseline on unlined paper.
Ruler: Kyoei Orions Grid Rulers
Transparent grid rulers let you make guide sheets more easily.
If you’d like to make your own guide sheets and lined paper, a transparent grid ruler is essential for making sure the lines are straight, even, and the same distance apart. Since the Kyoei Orions Grid Ruler has millimeter markings on each end that start right at the edge, it is easy to measure and mark evenly spaced lines without ever having to lift the ruler.
Protractor: Sonic Nano Pita Non-Slip Reversible Protractor
Mark slant lines with a protractor for more effective practice.
Most lined paper doesn’t come with slant lines to help keep your writing to a uniform angle, but it’s easy to mark your own with a protractor. The Sonic Nano Pita Non-Slip Reversible Protractor has an anti-slip texture on one side to help you measure accurately.
Whether you want to learn better, send more meaningful letters, or simply leave someone a note, good handwriting can help. Are you trying to improve your handwriting? Let us know in the comments below!
Use our cursive samples to perfect your own handwriting. You can see practice sheets for Italic Capitals, Lowercase Letters, and Pangrams below.