Is Cursive Faster?
May 19, 2010 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Is cursive handwriting faster than print handwriting? (Inspired by this question.)

I want to know if anyone has done speed comparisons between cursive and print handwriting (preferably for the Roman alphabet, but other alphabets would be interesting too). Obviously the fastest writing system is whatever you're used to, but I wonder if experienced cursive writers are really any faster than experienced print writers.

Bonus question: I have seen some claims that "Italic handwriting" is faster. As far as I can tell, "Italic" is just a particular style of printing, which would be at least as slow as most people's haphazard printing style. Can anyone shed some light on this?
posted by k. to Writing & Language (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is an impossible question to answer, given all the variables. But all else being equal, I would guess (based partially on my own experience and preferences) that cursive would be faster, simply because it takes less time - I would think - to move from one letter to the next without taking the utensil off the page. IANA physicist.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:08 PM on May 19, 2010

I'm pretty slow writing in neat print or neat cursive. My normal (mostly readable, pretty neat) handwriting is more like a print with connected letters. This may be "italics".
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 12:10 PM on May 19, 2010

You're going to have difficulty getting a good answer. Printing is definitely faster for me but, as you say, that's certainly because it's what I'm used to.

I expect that if you try to find the fastest printers and the fastest cursive hand-writers to compare, you're quickly going to find that the people who are fastest are the people whose style nudges closest towards shorthand.
posted by 256 at 12:10 PM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: I don't think this is hard to measure at all: just get a bunch of people who regularly write in either cursive or print, and time them as they write down the same words using the same pens and paper (obviously, shorthand would defeat the point). I'd be surprised if no one had ever done this experiment--if I knew enough people who wrote by hand in cursive, I could do it myself.
posted by k. at 12:18 PM on May 19, 2010

Yeah, basically what 256 said. Print's faster for me, because that's how I write; I haven't used cursive in like 15 years. So even if you, e.g., do empirical trials with a set of printers and a set of cursive writers, if you find out that the handwriting style you don't use is faster, you're going to waste more time trying to relearn and transition than you'd make up in using it.
posted by penduluum at 12:28 PM on May 19, 2010

When I'm printing fast, no one but me can decipher it. At what point does it become shorthand? Certainly you could get an answer by whatever metric you chose to structure your study around. But as the whole issue of italics makes clear, the difference between one writing style and the next is fluid.
posted by 256 at 12:30 PM on May 19, 2010

Cursive is faster since you don't have to pick up the pen to move on to each new letter.

Here's an easy test: Time how long it takes to write a sentence 20 times in cursive. Now, using the same sentence, see how long it takes for 20 times printing.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:33 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Obviously, I should note that although cursive is clearly faster, the fact that fewer people can read it means it isn't better.
posted by 2oh1 at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2010

for me: cursive much do not lift pencil off page as you form words. With print you do from letter to letter and that slows it a bit.
posted by Postroad at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2010

In high school, my favorite teacher walked around while we were taking notes with a bag of candy in his hands. After making his way through all through all rows, he had not given out one piece of candy.

He said that writing in cursive was faster than writing print because you do not have to take your pencil off the page. I don't know if it was the Reese's cup motivation, but I have written in cursive ever since. And I'm usually the only one doing so.

I feel as if it is faster. But maybe I'm just used to it at this point.
posted by CPAGirl at 12:35 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

A lot of people eventually develop a "print script" style which hybridizes printing and cursive - a semi-connected mix of print and cursive letter forms. It usually combines the more efficient elements of each style - most print and cursive styles have inefficiencies. (You would think that cursive is better because you're not lifting the pen, but is a capital G really quicker to write in cursive than in print?)

I remember reading somewhere that people who develop a print-script hand write more quickly than those who write in all print or all cursive. I can't dig that up right now, unfortunately, but it makes sense to me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:37 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I learned both in school (printing first, then cursive), and stuck with cursive because it's way faster. Maybe at the price of legibility - when I want to make sure people can read what I wrote, I print, but when speed is my main concern, I use script.
posted by Quietgal at 12:40 PM on May 19, 2010

A lot of people eventually develop a "print script" style which hybridizes printing and cursive - a semi-connected mix of print and cursive letter forms.

That's me. The printing is stripped of detail, for instance, an "r" is a vertical line the hooks to the right, without the stem at the top.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:44 PM on May 19, 2010

Cursive is definitely faster for me, even though I print 99% of the time (because my printing is more legible). When I'm in a real hurry taking notes or something, I tend to lapse into cursive just to keep up.
posted by wjm at 12:44 PM on May 19, 2010

Oh, and as an example of hybridizing with cursive, a lower-case g. is more like a figure 8, as it would be in my cursive writing.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:49 PM on May 19, 2010

Cursive is dramatically faster for me, and more legible than my fast printing. My cursive is of course idiosyncratically my own, but I'm only 31 and I've never had anybody who couldn't read it ... even my little god-daughter could read my handwritten notes by the time she turned 8. I'm not sure who these people are of whom 2oh1 speaks who can't read a fairly standard cursive.

But with respect to fast cursive vs. fast print -- I would note that I'm a pretty slow writer generally, so I was fairly motivated to learn the fastest legible handwriting I could so I could take notes. That was definitely cursive for me, but I also have a very heavy hand so print involves a lot of picking up and putting down that really slows me down, and I don't have the fine motor control to write really tiny. My husband prints, and he prints *FAST.* Could he write cursive faster? I don't know ... if he spent the time learning and practicing it, probably, but he's been writing "fast print" for 30 years. He also has a light hand and tiny print, which makes ALL his writing go faster than mine.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:54 PM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry to those of you who want to share your preferences, but whether cursive or print is faster for you is irrelevant to the question.

The only informative comparison is a test of cursive writers (for whom cursive is fastest) against print writers (for whom print is fastest).
posted by k. at 12:54 PM on May 19, 2010

That's actually not an informative comparison because some people write faster than others, whether printing or in cursive. An informative comparison might be if you could find a bunch of test subjects who can write both equally well and then timed them writing out the same sentences each way.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:50 PM on May 19, 2010

Best answer: at one point I, and a graduate student colleage of mine collected a number of writing samples from people who where either dominant cursive writers or dominant printers. There was no statistically significant difference in a persons writing speed for a dominant writing type.

The Comparative Legibility and Speed of Cursive Handwriting, a study from 1930

citation and abstract: The relationship between handwriting style and speed and legibility.
Graham, Steve; Weintraub, Naomi; Berninger, Virginia W.
Journal of Educational Research. Vol 91(5), May-Jun 1998, 290-296.
The relationship between handwriting style and handwriting speed and legibility was investigated. Three samples of writing (narrative, expository, and copying) were collected from 600 students in grades 4–9. The copying task provided a measure of handwriting speed, and all 3 writing samples were scored for handwriting style (manuscript, cursive, mixed-mostly manuscript, and mixed-mostly cursive) and legibility. The handwriting of students who used a mixed style was faster than the handwriting of the students who used either manuscript or cursive exclusively. In addition, papers written with mixed-mostly cursive letters generally received higher ratings for legibility than papers written with the other 3 styles did. There were no differences between manuscript and cursive in terms of legibility or speed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)

And a quote from a comment at this blog post:

Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive. Highest-speed highest-legibility handwriters join some, not all, of the letters -- making just the easiest joins, and skipping the rest -- and use print-like rather than cursive-style forms for those letters that "disagree" between printing and cursive.

Since learning to read cursive takes an hour or less (I've taught five-year-olds to do it), and learning to write cursive takes a year or more, I do recommend that students learn how to read cursive for the sake of those who still write in cursive. But why require students to write in a style that the fastest and clearest handwriters avoid?

Kate Gladstone
handwriting instruction and remediation specialist
Founder, Handwriting Repair/Handwriting That Works
Director, the World Handwriting Contest
posted by not that girl at 1:57 PM on May 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

You seemed cranky so I googled it for you. Also, I was curious, too.
posted by not that girl at 1:58 PM on May 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Though a bit off-topic, this article illustrates the issues that people have with cursive handwriting.

Like most people here, my cursive is definitely faster than my print. I have always thought cursive style evolved from print letters because writing in print was too slow.
posted by xufasch at 2:08 PM on May 19, 2010

That's actually not an informative comparison because some people write faster than others, whether printing or in cursive.

That doesn't matter if you have a decent sample size.
posted by Justinian at 2:13 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive.

This is misleading given that the research also shows that the fastest handwriters avoid manuscript; they use a hybrid style. But I don't believe that's controversial; virtually everybody, including those who consider what they use to be cursive, evolve to use a hybrid style.

Pop quiz: What does a cursive capital Q look like?

Most people have no idea because nobody actually uses one past like 3rd grade.
posted by Justinian at 2:21 PM on May 19, 2010

Well, for me, print is faster, since I can't remember the antiquated cursive. Haven't used it since I was forced to in grade school at least 20 years ago. I'd have to think for every character, and still probably get it wrong and unreadable later even to myself.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 2:53 PM on May 19, 2010

I don't think this is hard to measure at all: just get a bunch of people who regularly write in either cursive or print, and time them as they write down the same words using the same pens and paper (obviously, shorthand would defeat the point).
You need to control for LOT more variables than this and even then the sample size you need would be gigantic. For example, how fast my writing is depends a lot on the pen and paper used, so what if you choose something that favours a different writing type and I'm disadvantaged? Right now I'm writing super super fast because I do a lot of it but there have been times I'm out of practise and my writing is slower, what if other people in the test aren't currently doing a lot of writing making them look slower than I am? Add in the natural variation between humans, which is always much bigger than you'd expect, and the amount of noise and bias would be huge. Just getting together some of your friends would not be an effective test at all.

And what is cursive versus print anyway? One thing that always bugs me about this question is the idea that because I don't use the one specific type of cursive handwriting American's are taught in school then I must be laboriously writing out every letter as a block thing, whereas my writing is much more fluid than that (even though it's not even remotely cursive like). Personally I think my writing is much faster because I spend less time dragging the pen across the paper meaning less friction, if I had to join stuff up I'd be there forever (I don't have awesome fine motor skills).

And lastly why would anyone fund this experiment? There's no money to be made and literacy skills seem to develop overall pretty well regardless (because, again, you can't argue one single handwriting style is or isn't necessary when different countries do different things just fine). So given how hard it would actually be to get a meaningful test and how little payoff there is I'm not surprised no one has done a proper scientific trial of this.

Looking in the literature I do find one small study (abstract) which shows no difference but the sample size is much too small and it's not testing actual writing. There were a couple of education books from the 1930s and 40s arguing about which writing style to teach but they didn't contain actual research, and I'm not sure that studying young children just learning is meaningful anyway given how much a writing style develops as you get older.
posted by shelleycat at 3:23 PM on May 19, 2010

Research shows that the fastest, clearest handwriters avoid cursive.

Where is this research? I didn't find anything like this but then I might not be looking effectively.
posted by shelleycat at 3:24 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Calligraphic italic forms each letter separately, sometimes using multiple stokes (especially true if written with a very broad nib), but that is not the only type of italic writing.

Cursive italic exists, but unlike Palmer cursive is does not attempt to join all letters. Some letter forms naturally join to each other, others are easier, faster and more legible if they are not joined. T's are crossed and i's dotted usually as they are written, rather than at the end of the word, which would not be possible if you never lift pen from paper. Cursive italic can certainly be written quickly, but as to whether it is faster than Palmer I have no idea.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 5:14 PM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: shelleycat, you may be right that there are other variables. The U.S. government funded research on QWERTY vs. Dvorak, so you never know what research people will pay for. (Besides education, I suppose there are still people who handwrite a lot for work, but they might all use shorthand.)

(Your University of Auckland proxy doesn't work for everyone; here's the abstract.)
posted by k. at 5:17 PM on May 19, 2010

Damn, sorry about that! It gets put in automatically everywhere and I've got so used to seeing it it's like it's not there.

A google scholar search did bring up other interesting things, like occupational therapists looking at how school children hold their pens and police specialist working out how fast someone can write a police report. Different typing skills will have a huge impact on productivity in many workplaces so I can see why that's studied. If there is handwriting research that would be interesting too, maybe I just didn't hit on the right combination of keywords.
posted by shelleycat at 5:51 PM on May 19, 2010

My cursive handwriting is absolutely abysmal, though I tried for years to master it. As a professional artist one might be forgiven for thinking that my handwriting would be graceful and smooth, but I just never felt comfortable with the cursive letterforms that I was taught in school. Mine were always clunky; jerky and poorly formed. For a while I tried to write in ALL CAPS, more for style points than for efficiency's sake. That phase was obnoxious.

One day, after years and years of trying to write smooth cursive letters, in a rush I wrote a letter to a friend using proper print letterforms. Lo and behold, the characters that dripped from my pen were long and smooth and graceful and lovely. An entirely new alphabet sprang from my pen - the same pen that had previously been able to render only the angular, maladjusted letterforms of a dissatisfied alphabet. My writing was fluid, quick and pleasing to the eye. Easily readable, and soothing to do so, I sat down that afternoon and wrote out the alphabet, taking note of how each letter had taken on a new and completely novel shape. Now I print all the time.

And I print exponentially faster than I write in cursive.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:04 PM on May 19, 2010

Bonus question: I have seen some claims that "Italic handwriting" is faster. As far as I can tell, "Italic" is just a particular style of printing, which would be at least as slow as most people's haphazard printing style. Can anyone shed some light on this?

Time to give back to metafilter a link I found on metafilter! The circle is complete.

An excellent source for information on italic writing is I'd recommend starting here:

About a year ago I began a quest to improve my handwriting, using the information on as a guide. It took a lot of practice but amazingly enough, it worked. (Unfortunately it also started an expensive fountain pen habit, but these things happen.)
posted by kprincehouse at 8:20 PM on May 19, 2010

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