A new study by researchers at the University of Waterloo suggests one way to improve the quality of writing: try writing more slowly, or at least try typing with one hand.
Researchers, led by Srdan Medimorec, had student volunteers write essay responses to three different prompts. Some students typed the essays using only one hand and others were able to use both hands. The resulting works were analyzed using software and rated on their word choice, sentence structure, and overall cohesion of the essay. The researchers found a statistically significant difference between essays typed by students using one hand or two. Those who used only one hand produced essays which, on average, had stronger word choice, more complex sentence structure, and better cohesion.
This study cannot address what caused this effect, but there are some plausible explanations. The authors of the study suggest when a person types more slowly, their brain has more time to process and reflect on the writing. The increased cognition time might allow for stronger word and grammar choices. On the other hand (pun intended), a faster typist might just put down the first word which comes to mind.
However, before you decide to tie one hand behind your back before writing, the authors
do caution that their study goes against the current body of evidence. Many previous findings, such as a study where essays written in unfamiliar and normal handwriting, suggest faster output lead to stronger writing.
However, this might be explainable. Many of the earlier studies used handwriting methods. The Mediomorec study slowed typing speed about down to the same rate as an essay written by hand. This suggests there is a writing speed “sweet spot” for quality writing. The writing tool of choice may also have an affect. Like every good study, the conclusion leads to more questions. Is handwriting better than typing? And what about modern speech-capturing software, does that follow the same rules and producing writing by hand?
Results of studies on writing speeds and writing tools will have an impact in the classroom. Increasingly, classrooms are becoming paperless and students are becoming reliant on electronics and computers for their daily work. Many schools are moving to a one-to-one model, whereby every student has their own device by which to take notes and complete assignments. In my classroom, a majority of students now type their notes and assignments. As educators wishing to improve the communication skills of our students is the provision of these devices hindering their abilities, at least in some cases? Future research will have to answer these questions, and the results will be important for educators and authors everywhere.
Medimorec, S. and Risko, E. F. (2016), Effects of disfluency in writing. British Journal of Psychology. doi: 10.1111/bjop.12177
Edit: Changed title from …”writing slower.” to …”typing slower.”