FAQ: To write by hand or type?

Should we let our teens type everything, or do they still need to write by hand?

Another question from the WriteShop mailbag . . .

Q:  My 12-year-old is a very reluctant writer who has done little writing. I want to know if he is supposed to write each of the assignments by hand, or can he type them? I want him to be creative and hopefully begin to like writing, but if he’s having to concentrate on his handwriting I’m afraid he’ll never learn to enjoy it. Is it okay to let him type each copy of the assignment?

A:  Kids should start getting comfy with a keyboard at an early age. After all, they’ll use computer skills all their lives! But unless students have a learning disability, we generally encourage them to hand-write the sloppy copy (rough draft) and type the next two revisions.

The Benefits of Writing by Hand 

It’s important for students to keep up this skill. Even though you might hear that typing is the wave of the future, rest assured that your kids will always face situations where they must write by hand—note-taking, job applications, and timed essays come to mind. If they’ve had very little practice putting pen to paper, trust me, they’ll have a tough time of it when faced with an SAT question that must be answered without the benefit of a laptop!

Writing by hand also allows your child to proofread for spelling and grammar errors without depending on spell-check. Kids need to practice the lifelong skill of self-editing because, among other reasons, spell-check isn’t always accurate.

Making Exceptions

Your student may be on the younger side, extremely reluctant, or struggling with the physical act of writing by hand. This describes our own boys before they turned 13! In this case, you might bend a bit to let him type his sloppy copy, especially in the beginning.

Another idea: Have him dictate his sloppy copy to you first. Then ask him to copy it onto fresh paper before he begins to self-edit.

As his small-motor coordination, hand strength, and overall handwriting skills improve through exercises like copywork and dictation, he can eventually begin writing the sloppy copy by hand.

Typing Is a Good Thing! 

Once your child has self-edited his rough draft using the Student Writing Skills Checklist, he can go ahead and type his first revision. When we were teaching WriteShop classes, we actually preferred that our students type their revisions!

Not only is a neatly typed paper easier for the parent to edit, it’s also easier for the student to make changes before printing out a polished final draft.

. . . . .

WriteShop I homeschool writing curriculumCurious about all this talk of sloppy copies and parent editing and polished final drafts? This is all part of the writing process, which is incorporated into every WriteShop I and WriteShop II assignment. To learn more about WriteShop for your junior high or high schooler, visit our website at writeshop.com.

Photo: John Ward, courtesy of Creative Commons
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  • Posted May 21, 2008

    Elisheva Levin

    Much of what you say is true, and yet, for children like my son, writing more than a sentence or two is simply not an option. He has dysgraphia that is part of his autism spectrum disorder.

    Although the SAT currently requires a handwritten essay, his disability will allow him to use an alpha-smart or a computer. I believe the SAT will soon be computerized, just as many professional licensing tests currently are. So writing for many people like my son will be limited to signing their names and making short notes.

    Also, in university settings, more and more students are using laptops to take notes, and professors are publishing their notes and Powerpoint presentations online through WebCT and other course management tools.

    Writing by hand is more and more confined to short notes and personal correspondence–but even the latter is often done by word processing.

    All of this is to the benefit of people with certain types of disabilities.

  • Posted May 25, 2008


    I appreciate your thoughtful reply, Elisheva! I totally agree with your comments about students with learning disabilities, which is why I did make mention of letting up on such kiddos by allowing them to type all their drafts.

    While notetaking in a university setting can certainly happen on a laptop these days, other settings are not so conducive. For example, it’s not always convenient or “proper” to drag one’s laptop into church or other venues. Hand notetaking skills come in handy in these cases.

    And perhaps some day the SAT essay will be computerized. For the time being, while it’s still a handwritten assignment, students will need to be able to both think and write on paper rather than keyboard.

    I still hold to my belief that, at least for now, it’s good for students to write one of their three drafts by hand rather than on the computer. However, I’m delighted that there are options for students like your son who learn with difficulty. The computer is a wonderful thing.

    Thanks for commenting!

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