Whether you’re drafting an important message to a prospective client or penning the next great American novel, most of us choose to forgo traditional longhand for emails and Word documents. But even though the latest tech makes it easy to get our thoughts down lightning-fast, having an impressive WPM may not be the best skill to enhance your writing. In fact, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychology, typing slower on your laptop or tablet may actually be the key to writing more effectively.
To test the hypothesis that typing slower will improve the effectiveness of one’s writing, researchers at the University of Waterloo decided to conduct three separate but similar experiments. In each of these experiments, university students were first asked to complete a writing assignment as they normally would, and then write the same assignment typing with only one hand. Most people can type with one hand at about 61 to 74 percent of their normal WPM, and the researchers thought that this slight annoyance would interfere with the students’ ability to type just enough to cause them to think more critically while they were completing the assignments.
For the first experiment, the researchers asked participants to write a narrative essay describing a memorable school day in 50 minutes. After the students turned in their papers, the essays were analyzed using the “Coh-Metrix text analyser,” which computes over 100 measures of cohesion and readability. The results of this analysis found that the essays written with only one hand contained more diverse vocabulary, and the writers also used a wider variety of words.
For the second study, participants wrote two 25-minute narrative essays describing an event that had a positive effect on them — again, one essay was typed normally and the other was typed using only one hand. In this experiment, there was little difference between the normal and one-handed essays. “One potential explanation for this is that with the short (half the length) essays in Experiment 2,” the researchers say, “participants did not have sufficient time or practice to familiarize themselves with one-handed typewriting.”
So to test if they could recreate their original results, the researchers then conducted a third experiment very similar to the first — the only difference was that they made the participants write an argumentative prompt-based essay defending their position on a ban of cell phones in high schools. Even with this change in subject matter, the researchers were able to replicate the results of the first experiment, as the one-handed typists had a better score on several key indicators of effective writing when compared to the control.
“This is the first study to show that when you interfere with people’s typing, their writing can get better,” said Professor Evan F. Risko, Canada research chair in embodied and embedded cognition and senior author of the study. “We’re not saying that students should write their term papers with one hand, but our results show that going fast can have its drawbacks. This is important to consider as writing tools continue to emerge that let us get our thoughts onto the proverbial page faster and faster.”
So the next time you feel that your writing needs a stronger argument or some extra pizzazz, consider slowing down your typing pace (or giving it a go with just one hand, if you really want a challenge). We may not be ready to ditch our laptop for longhand, but we’re definitely down to test out typing a little slower if it makes us write like a literary boss. Hey, it can’t hurt to try!
Would you consider typing slower to improve your writing? Tweet us by mentioning @BritandCo.