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A while back I decided to downshift my research process back to handwriting notes, quotes, questions, and comments in spiral notebooks.  I worked hard for a few years to develop excellent collections in Zotero based on my dissertation chapters.  (I also had a few other collections of publications related to my non-dissertation research interests.) But even with Zotero’s citation tool that formulated footnotes directly in my word-processing files, I just wasn’t spending enough time writing.

Ball-point pens and spiral notebooks don’t cost a lot of money.  The notebook can be subdivided into any number of smaller sections even if it’s just a single-subject notebook. Pages in the notebook can be used for any number of purposes.  Some pages are just for lists (bibliography, objects studied in my chapter, spelling of foreign words and names, etc.), while others are filled with detailed notes and quotations from my reading.  There is always room to write responses to what I’ve read, questions, insights, ways of applying the author’s ideas to my work. I like the directness of working on the page.

Low-tech groups abound, especially for craft-type activities, DIY enthusiasts, and even some environmentalists. In academia we sometimes accuse low-tech adherents of being Luddites. And this site collects essays written about low-tech places and things in Silicon Valley where high-tech dominates the landscape. I expect we will always be challenged to harmonize the innovation of new technologists with the authority of established scholars who are opposed to the digitization of sources and automation of activities. (Stay tuned for a post on a recent and depressing report on digital scholarship in art history.)

Low-tech research means handwriting and this report shows how we are  beginning to understand the fundamental links between handwriting and reading comprehension, composition, and overall academic performance.  Writing by hand has an impact on how we read, write, use language, and think critically.  The report I referenced above deals with research and curriculum for school-aged children, many of whom are not taught handwriting (let alone cursive) after grade 1.

I have some questions: Is keyboarding really that bad for kids? What is it about the mechanical and physical process that aids in comprehension? I wonder if one could do a study applying the work one author who focuses on schoolchildren but with university students instead, that handwriting contributes to reading fluency and improves the readers accuracy and speed for recognizing letters and words?

I haven’t had a chance to watch this lecture yet, but I have long had a strong intuition that there is a tight correlation between fast writing, fast thinking, and deeper comprehension. Which is why I think in-class handwritten exercises are a great way to teach students how to write about art.