Thursday, 16 April 2009


First of all, let me say that this blog is never going to be political - not because I don't have political views but because I don't think this is the space to air them. Secondly, the recent fiasco over spin-doctors is not the subject of this blog either (for those readers in other countries who don't know about the fiasco - don't ask, it isn't worth it). No - this blog is concerned to day with the thorny subject of hand-writing.
Yesterday the Times published a copy of the letter our Prime Minister sent about the scandal. It is the "look" of that letter that I want to bring to your notice - not the content.
During the years I taught in Comprehensive Schools I used to have a handout which I gave to any pupils in my class. It went something like this:-
First Impressions are Important.

When writing a letter, bear the following in mind:-

a) use good quality notepaper - never lined.
b) write the letter in your best handwriting.
c) use a good pen (fountain pen is best, fine biro if you must.)
d) check your spelling and paragraphing carefully.
e) remember your letter may well be the first impression the recipient has of you - make it a good one.

The Prime Minister has certainly used good quality notepaper - Downing Street heading, no less. If this is his best handwriting then I am appalled. He has used a felt-tipped pen that I would guess is well past its sell-by date as the edges of the words are blurred. The letter is just one paragraph long, although I would have personally split it into three paragraphs. There is one spelling mistake (advizer for adviser). In fact the letter looks as though it has been "dashed off" in a spare minute.
Now in today's Times, on the young times back page - specifically for children to read - there is an article about the letter, which begins "Are adults always nagging you about your handwriting?" It goes on to say that in these days when most letters are written (and spellchecked) on the computer and when most communications are by e mail, handwriting is not that important. The last sentence says "it's what you are writing not how you are writing it that counts" and gives Michael Morpurgo, the author, as a shining example of someone who has succeeded although his writing is bad.
Well, I have a message for these people, and it is this. It is elitist to say that handwriting doesn't matter. OK for the doctor to scribble a prescription which the dispenser can't read; OK for a Prime Minister to dash off a letter in old felt-tip; OK for a journalist on a national newpaper of repute to say it doesn't matter - but the rest of us live in the real world, where it does matter. I used to work for an autocratic headmistress who would not consider an application for a post in her school if the application form was typewritten ' That may be taking things too far in this computer age, but I would like to point out that the people who are showing, or saying, that it doesn't matter are a) our Prime Minister and b) a national newspaper.
Correct me if I am wrong, but aren't these the two major organisations that are forever complaining about standards slipping in our schools?


Coastcard said...

Your point about spellcheckers is interesting. I have just posted a comment on blog from the USA which rejected my spelling of 'splendour'. I hesitated and wondered whether to leave it since this was a message from the UK, but decided in courtesy to my 'host' that I would - on this occasion - remove the 'u'. I am beginning to find this happens quite frequently now that submissions of writing can be sent all over the world so easily, thanks to the web. Do fellow bloggers have their own rule of thumb? I feel I need to work out a system and try to be consistent.

Coastcard said...

p.S. that should read 'on a blog' !!! Sorry.

jinksy said...

I'm with you 100%. Writing is important, for it gives a wonderful 'picture' of its creator - ask a graphologist!

Derrick said...

I wonder if I dare to write all the thoughts that came to mind as I read this, Weaver?! They are many and varied!

I remember when I was in junior school, my eldest sister (15 years my senior), representing my parents at an open evening, commented on my poor handwriting. The teacher said it was the content that mattered and my writing would improve over time. I don't have beautiful handwriting but I think it is better!

I agree that handwriting is important. It ought to be neat and legible but we should not expect 'copperplate' writing.

To Coastguard, I would say that you should ignore the US spellchecker! I once worked with an American lady, married to a Brit, who said she automatically found herself spelling the American way to relatives there but in the English way to her children.

It's true, as Jinksy says, that handwriting is supposed to reveal the person. But that can't be so if a particular, standard writing style is drummed into us. I well remember how we were taught to form each letter when we began "real writing"! Few of mine would be recognisable now!

One might have higher hopes of the Prime Minister. But he probably did dash his letters off in a brief moment, to make them personal rather than bland typewritten assurances from his secretary.

Rant over!

Leilani Lee said...

Yes... I agree that handwriting is important, but some of us simply can't write well -- our handwriting is terrible -- because of coordination or handed-ness or whatever. By the end of term at college, I was unable to read the notes I had taken at the beginning. When I was 13 my father thundered "You will learn to type..." And I am so glad I did and that my handwriting is not the first impression someone will have of me!

Elizabeth said...

I love beautiful penmanship and all sorts of calligraphy.
We learned Italic at school - awfully hard for a left-hander digging holes in the paper going the wrong direction.....(but worth it.)
I do judge people quite a lot by how they present themselves. Ocar Wilde: "Only shallow people don't judge by appearances."
However, when dealing with children, the CONTENT is much more important -- though we should encourage clear handwriting too.
Re spelling. Well, as a Brit in the US, who wasn't a good speller in the first place......sign me utterly confused. In the US it's ADVISOR. As they say here:Go figure.

Teresa said...

It's a delight to receive a handwritten letter with beautiful penmanship. I admire the work and wish my penmanship were half as elegant! I believe learning good penmanship has rewards beyond a fine hand... perservance, an appreciation for form and beauty, and the realization that first impressions do count.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Maybe it's the PM's style statement to go with the 'trouser in sock' look ...

Arija said...

Sometimes I wonder at our slipping stamdards. In the 18 hundreds barefoot children at Dame schools learned to write copper plate on a slate. Are present day children so dumb and uncioordinated that learning to write is impossible for them? Education has sunk to the lowest common denominator, at least in Australia.

Jenn Jilks said...

I make it a point to use my computer to word process. My handwriting is horrible!

I also make it a point to use Canadian (UK) spelling to colour my language and I say to Coastcard to keep it up. It educates others, especially Americans who call their language English, with little understanding of the differences, and sometimes little respect for such differences.

Many of my special needs students could not write worth a darn. I was told in Gr. 11 that I "wrote like a drunken spider" - it still hurts. We used peer editors or scribes in my classrooms and determined that our text said what we wanted it to say.

You'd think the PM would have ensured perfection, however!

Interesting post!

Annie Wicking said...

Maybe that's why our PM is happy with the state of the education in our school, if his handwriting is anything to go by. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for our children. ;-)

Heather said...

I think handwriting is very important. Apart from what a graphologist could tell from examining our handwriting, it is only courteous to send a well thought out and neatly written letter to anyone. We are letting ourselves down if we scribble a careless note and send it off, just as insulting as turning up for a formal dinner in one's gardening clothes.

willow said...

Back in the '70's I was really into handwriting analysis. I think I still have several books on the subject, but haven't thought of it in years. I still think you can tell a lot about a person from their handwriting.

EB said...

I'm amazed that anyone should think the neatness of handwriting doesn't matter. I think how it appears matters to everyone: they merely have different aims in mind. Some wish to appear casual deliberately, I suspect. I treasure most of the letters I've received from family and friends, but I can't say the same for many emails. I should write more.

Kayla coo said...

I think hand writing should be beautiful.
I do think it important that it should be clear and legible.
I have always found spelling difficult,I often write the letters in the wrong order!
I lacked so much confidence at school.
Now I always keep a dictionary to hand even with spell check.

Anonymous said...

Fine principles are being articulated here, Pat, and certainly if our PM wished to personalise his missive by handwriting it then some attention to its presentation would seem appropriate.

However, the worst writing I have witnessed over time has been that of my fellow teachers. Until the vast majority of reports began to be generated by computer, as a form tutor I would spend much time returning report forms for graphological clarification. Never, I hasten to add, in judgement: my own were returned by others as frequently! proof, I refer you to the poetry notebook spreadeagled across the top of a recent post. I included it comfortable in the knowledge that the initial draft of the poem displayed that, when completed, I shall post at some point in the not too distant future would be indecipherable at this stage!

BT said...

I was getting just as annoyed as you Weaver. It is important and it does matter, no matter who says to the contrary. Having said that, my brother has a top job in academia and his handwriting has to be the worst I have ever come across! I can just about read it, but few can. I have a friend who writes itallic even now and it's beautiful. Then she is very arty too.

Content is important, of course, but if you can't read the content it's not much use!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thanks to all of you for taking the time to consider this question. Your answers are fascinating and much more interesting than the original post.
Perhaps I should not have called the piece "Handwriting" - I really wasn't objecting to Gordon Brown's handwriting - I think a graphologist would have a field day looking at my handwriting too - I was objecting more to what I considered a slapdash presentation - e,g, writing with an old felt tip, not bothering to paragraph, making it look as though it was "dashed off".
I think the use of a computer to do one's letters is fine - I have n objection at all - it is just that I seriously feel that if you wish to write a personal letter (particularly one of veiled apology like the one in question)then it is important to make it look as though you have really thought about it, and really mean it. That letter - for me - did none of that.
On the subject of teachers' writing, Dick, I could add plenty to that

The Weaver of Grass said...

On the subject of spelling: a further thought. Elisabeth, Coastcard, Jenn and several others have talked about US spelling as opposed to UK spelling. I don't think that is an issue I really am bothered about - GB spelt adviser/or with a "z" - in fact my dictionary says it can be er or or if you see what I mean!

I do love Raph's comment - there may be more than an element of truth in it too.

Re Graphology - I am a fervent believer in it. My late husband was once given five samples of handwriting by a psychologist who thought it was a rubbish theory. He presented the psychologist with five reports on character drawn from handwriting and they were all pretty much on target.

Thanks again to all you lovely people out there. Keeeeeep blogging.

Jo said...

I didn't see a copy of the PM's letter but the fact that it was written in felt tip says it all really.
But I must admit my handwriting seems so bad these days I confess to writing longish 'catch-up' letters to friends on the computer and printing them off...I do use a nice fancy font though !!

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