Handwriting Repair

Handwriting is an important but severely neglected skill; yet we encounter the problems of lost productivity resulting from poor writing almost daily. However, we seem unable to address this problem effectively at any level of our society. This is not a new problem. Solutions do exist. We need to adopt the simple methods used in the renaissance to correct our handwriting in the computer age.

If you don’t think this is a problem consider this: Roman Vasquez of Monahans Texas who died a few years ago when his doctor prescribed Isordil, a heart drug, but the pharmasist read it as Plendil. The Vasquez family won a $450,000 judgement.

According to the Institute of Medicine, prescription, errors kill 7000 Americans every year.

Most people learn cursive writing in school and as time goes on and the pace of everyday life increases, their writing degenerates into an intelligible scrawl. For people like medical doctors who write constantly and always feel rushed this has serious repercussions. The same thing happens to police officers, and investigators, though the resulting embarrassment does not usually result in death.

People who write a lot and need to write quickly need to adopt a different script than the one they were taught in school. The problem with the cursive script taught in school is simply that it is slanted too much and the letters are formed with too many loops. The connecting lines between letters are too curved for legibility. The more slanted the writing, the more illegible the writing.

Recent studies have shown that basic italic handwriting produces easily read letterforms when written quickly, where common cursive results in illegible scrawls. These recent studies reaffirm the practices of renaissance merchants who required all business documents to be written in italic script.

The Modern Problem

The problem of dangerously illegible handwriting begins with a gentleman named Platt Rogers Spencer who introduced a system of cursive writing in 1848 which became the basis of how all handwriting is taught in North America. In 1894 Austin Palmer conceived the Palmer method and he wrote Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing. By 1925 the Palmer Method replaced other methods of teaching cursive hand writing in American schools. Unfortunately, these methods require proper posture, full arm movements, and in the case of the Spencer method, either a quill or oblique pen for proper execution. No wonder the US Post Office spends four million dollars each year to decipher poorly handwritten addresses.

The Acient Italic Solution

Italic script has maintained a devout following since it first appeared in the 15th century. This script, in its cursive form, does not have looped letterforms. The letters are formed using a bold downward stroke of the pen and all other parts of the letterform are lighter diagonal strokes with quite a few pen lifts, and no loops to confuse the reader. This script does not rely as heavily upon proper posture and full arm movements to make it legible.

In 1743 George Bickham published The Universal Penman. In it were illustrated many scripts reserved for specific genders, occupations, or classes. In time merchants adopted a stripped-down version of italic as it was legible when written with poor posture or when written quickly, the two greatest enemies of legible looped cursive as taught in the Palmer Method. This script is less slanted and more compact than looped cursive, which makes it ideal for writing in small notebooks.

To find examples of italic script go to: http://www.studioarts.net/calligraphy/italic/hwlesson.html

For twelve rules for good cursive handwriting go to http://teachers.dadeschools.net/mmarcus/cursive_hints.htm

George Bickham’s books are still available at:

http://st38.yahoo.com/cgi-bin/nsearch?query=bickham&count=20&catalog=DOVERPUBLICATIONS

6 Responses to “Handwriting Repair”


  • I thought you might like to hear from a fellow supporter of Italic handwriting, I founded my Italic handwriting instruction firm (called Handwriting Repair) in 1993. Readers interested in Italic handwriting can reach many resources at http://www.learn.to/handwrite … and may also enjoy the teach-yourself Italic course available free on-line at briem.ismennt.is/4/4.1.1a/4.1.1.1.quick.htm

    Other self-study Italic resources appear on-line at the following URLs —

    http://www.cep.pdx.edu/titles/italic_series/excerpts.htm
    and
    http://www.BFHhandwriting.com

    Getting back to your own Italic information, though … please explain why your page in support of Italic promotes non-Italic systems such as the Palmer Method (a difficult looped cursive system which many people find very hard to write legibly). Please also explain why your pro-Italic page promotes George Bickham\’s UNIVERSAL PENMAN (most of which concerns looped cursive and other very elaborate non-Italic styles.) People wanting early Italic handwriting resources (as opposed to non-Italic resources) can still get the first book ever published on handwriting in Europe (a Renaissance-era Italic textbook) from the handwriting/calligraphy supplies firm John Neal, Bookseller at http://www.johnnealbooks.com — ask for LA OPERINA by Ludovico Arrighi (published in Rome, 1522; most modern editions include a full English translation.)

  • Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • You can now buy software for Italic handwriting practice and instruction –
    Better Letters (designed ointly by me and by a physician concerned about the handwriting woes of his colleagues and others).

    This application for the iPhone and iPodTouch costs $2.99 — download it at http://bit.ly/DownloadBetterLetters

  • Well, this is my first visit to your blog! We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvellous job!

  • And now some PowerPoints will teach you Italic handwriting:

    Handwriting Repair PowerPoint for ages 5 through 105:
    http://www.tinyURL.com/HandwritingPowerPoint

    For doctors: Handwriting Repair, extra strength:
    http://www.tinyURL.com/DoctorHandwritingRepair

  • Great post. I really like your blog and I will definetly bookmark it!

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