How to Write Neater: Old School Techniques to Develop Neat Handwriting

Is handwriting on its way out? Just a few decades ago, children were taught how to write neatly in elementary school, and had to use and develop that skill throughout high school, college, and work life. Now we use text or email for most of our written communication, and many feel that writing by hand will slowly fade away in our culture.

The trend may have started among the hipsters, but there’s a clamoring now for handwritten, hand-lettered signs and missives. Fountain pen sales are rising, and there’s a growing demand for vintage pens. We are starting to want to enjoy the experience taking pen to paper again.

But most of us suck at it.

Problem: We’ve Forgotten How to Write Neatly

Many people nowadays seem to lack the basic skill of writing neatly, whether it be print or cursive. This is largely due to lack of practice, because there’s always the option to type it instead of write it, so why bother, right? And thus the penmanship of the general population suffered. The chicken scratch, illegible style of writing that used to stereotypically refer to doctors’ handwriting seems to apply most people now, medical degree or not.

We may have forgotten how to have neat handwriting, but with a little bit of practice, we can regain that skill just as easily as we’ve lost it. We can learn how to write neater. Handwriting is a skill that has been taught for thousands of years. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel; we’re simply going to start using it again.

Learning How to Write Neatly with Old School Drills

Writing neatly is really about uniformity. Uniformity in the size of the letters, the style of the letters, and uniformity in the spacing between letters.

We can relearn handwriting the way it has been taught us when we were kids, albeit with a few differences. Getting better at something inevitably takes practice, and when it comes to learning how to have neat handwriting, the principle practice makes perfect still applies.

We’re going to do drills. Repetition creates rhythm and instinct. We have to practice these drills until they become part of who we are, until beautifully formed letters just flow out of us effortlessly and naturally.

Writing neatly is really about uniformity. Uniformity in the size of the letters, the style of the letters, and uniformity in the spacing between letters.

Writing Print

We all started with print letters. And this is where we’ll begin again.

Here some drills to get us started. These exercises are the key to how to get neat handwriting. The secret to how to write neat print or cursive letters is really just making them the same size.

Drill Series 1: Strokes

Make the following marks on lined paper:

how to write neater - strokes

  • Vertical strokes that connect a line to the line below. Continue until you come up with evenly spaced parallel strokes.
  • Horizontal strokes (dashes) around half a centimeter long between lines. Do this until the dashes are right between the lines and evenly spaced.
  • Slanted strokes (slashes and backslashes). Keep doing it until the strokes are perfectly parallel and evenly spaced.

Once you get the spacing down pat. Do all the above strokes again, this time on unlined paper.

Drill Series 2: Curves

how to have neat handwriting - curves

Make the following marks on lined paper:

  • Curves that begin in a point in the upper line and end in the point directly below it in the lower line.
  • Arches that begin and end in the lower line that touch the upper lines.
  • Arches that begin and end in the upper line that touch the lower lines.
  • Circles that touch the lower and upper lines.

Once you get identical or close to identical curves. Do all the above again, this time on unlined paper. Practice until there’s an evenness in the spacing between your curves.

Once you’re satisfied with the uniformity and evenness of your work, move on to writing passages on your blank paper. You may copy from a book or newspaper. Leave an inch of space between your writing and the edge of the paper if you’re using standard letter-sized paper and proportionally smaller if you’re writing on a smaller sheet.

Writing cursive

Also, part of the beauty of writing in cursive script is being able to write a complete word without ever lifting your pen away from the paper. This conserves both time and energy on your part.

Improving your print writing will naturally improve your cursive writing. Those parallel strokes and identical loops will naturally bring a sense of rhythm and balance in your script, which makes for neat handwriting. The only added elements are the connections between the elements within each letter and the connections between the letters. These connections create a fluid aspect into your writing.

Also, part of the beauty of writing in cursive script is being able to write a complete word without ever lifting your pen away from the paper. This conserves both time and energy on your part.

So how do we learn to how to write neater in cursive?

DRILL SERIES 3: Continuous Marks

learn neat handwriting - loops

On lined paper, make the following marks in one continuous stroke, going from the left side to the right side of the page, with the highest points touching the upper line, and the lowest points touching the lower line.

  • Zigzags
  • Waves
  • Coils / loops

And as always, once you achieve that evenness in the results, switch to unlined paper. Do the same thing without any lines to guide you.

Once you get the hang of it and your loops, waves and zigzags are all neat, its likely that neat cursive handwriting will soon follow.

Once a utilitarian activity has been made most efficient, beauty comes out, and the natural instinct for the aesthetic makes us want to add more beauty into it, elevating the functional to artistic form.

Now if you find that you have achieved that neat penmanship, with parallel strokes and uniform sizes in all in your letters, if you find that your handwriting is still hard to read, you may have a legibility issue.


Legibility is about suitable word spacing and line spacing, and making the individual letters distinguishable. Learning how to write neater is pointless if it’s not legible. If you have this issue, work on it by practicing writing individual letters.

Observe how you form your letters, and work on the ones that have problems with. For lowercase letters, this means crossing those t’s so they don’t look like l’s. This means making that tail on your letter g so it doesn’t look like the letter a, and curving it to the left so it doesn’t look like the letter q. It means closing that lower curve of your letter b so it won’t look like the letter h.

Learn how to Write Neat and Fast

When we think about what role our handwriting plays in our daily lives, we have to not just think about how to make our handwriting neat, but how to write neat and fast.  First of all, please don’t sacrifice the legible and neat handwriting that you’ve acquired for the sake of speed. But how do we take notes during lectures or interviews without missing a huge chunk of what the speaker says, or making a total mess of it in our notes?

Well there’s a cognitive aspect to note-taking, and that’s how to distill the information into the smallest most coherent pieces, so that we can take them down on paper and somehow make sense of them later when we review them. This is another topic altogether.

The other aspect to note taking is the mechanical one, which has to do with physiology and ergonomics.

Muscular Training

The only way to improve this is to build and strengthen the muscles that we use to write.

Writing is a physical activity that requires fine motor skills, which involve the use of our muscles. As with any sustained activity, marathon writing can tax our bodies. And the only way to improve this is to build and strengthen the muscles that we use to write.

  • Give your fingers a workout with some squeeze balls. Strengthen your wrists and forearms with some wrist curls.
  • Do some bouts of writing. Write cards and letters or write on a journal. You need to keep using those muscles lest they atrophy.
  • Do some warm-ups, flex and stretch those fingers and wrists before that 2-hour written exam, then do some cool down massages afterwards.


You can adjust your surroundings, your tools, and your body, so that writing creates the least amount of strain on your body.

  • Observe proper posture so that you don’t strain your spine when you write — so sit up straight and don’t slouch.
  • Position the paper so that the upper right and lower left corners line up with your nose if you are right-handed. For the left-handed, align the upper left and lower right corners to your nose.
  • Find the optimal height for your desk or writing surface so that you can write without slouching.
  • As you move lower down the page, move the paper up rather than moving your arm and writing hand down.
  • Don’t grip your pen too tightly. Keep your hold relaxed so you don’t strain your writing muscles too soon. This means you should get a pen that is thick enough so that you can hold it without straining your fingers.
  • Find a pen with a tip that glides over the paper. Less friction means less work. Lose the ballpoint pens, go with gel pens or fountain pens.


There’s a primal instinct within the human person to hold a tool and make a mark with it. No matter how much we have come to rely on touch screens and keyboards for our writing, that instinct to pick up a tool and make that physical, tangible mark will remain deeply embedded in our DNA.

That’s why the stylus and its descendants will never grow obsolete — it has worked for human beings from the time of the Mesopotamians and other ancient civilizations, and will continue to work now and in the future. Chances are, long after touch screens and keyboards are obsolete, writing by handing will still exist – and it’s likely that having neat handwriting will still be a useful skill. 

Learning how to write neatly will give you an edge, regardless of whether you’re still in school of whether you’re already working. Being able to take organized notes quickly and neatly will help you immeasurably all throughout your life – after all, most exams are still handwritten, and as far as we’ve seen, it’s still not considered polite to pull out your smartphone or tablet to take notes in an important meeting.


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