Journaling by Hand vs. Computer: The Results are In! 19

EVER wondered if journaling by hand was better than journaling on the computer? Way back in April of 2010, I posted an article about why I (generally) prefer journaling on the computer to using pen and paper. Then, in November, I posted an article about recent research that detailed the benefits of handwriting. In the article, I challenged readers to participate with me in a journaling experiment that would begin after the new year. Eleven people volunteered.

Beginning January 5th, the twelve of us journaled only by computer for one week, then we journaled only by hand for one week. During the third week, we journaled using a combination of handwriting and the computer. Finally, during week four, we analyzed our journal entries using a survey that I created for the purpose.

Here are the results:

Of the original twelve, nine responded to the survey (I have no idea what happened to the others and just have to assume they dropped out somewhere along the way). Of the nine participants, all of us were women, one between the ages of 26-40, three between the ages of 45-55, and five between the ages of 56-70.

At the beginning of the experiment, four of us preferred journaling by hand, two had no preference (usually did either or both), and three preferred to journal on the computer.

Over the course of the experiment, the average number of handwritten journal entries was 9. And the average number of computer journal entries was also 9. (I couldn’t have asked for it to be more even!)

For each of the following statements, I asked the participants to rate each entry on a scale of 1 to 3, where 1=Not at all, 2=Some, and 3=Quite a bit. Then, they were to average their handwritten and computer entries separately and enter the results to the survey.

Handwritten Computer
Entry is highly descriptive and/or evocative: 2.44 2.11
Entry explores thoughts & attitudes: 2.78 2.22
Entry explores emotional issues: 2.56 2.00
Entry is about daily activities: 1.78 2.00
Entry is about problems: 2.11 2.11
Entry is insightful 2.56 1.78
Entry expresses profound truths 2.11 1.89

All of the responses are necessarily subjective, but it’s interesting to me that the handwritten entries scored slightly higher on all statements except for the two related to daily activities and problems.

When asked what their overall experience was with the experiment, and whether or not they discovered anything about themselves, participants wrote the following (some entries have been edited for brevity):

  • I was quite surprised that I found the computer journaling beneficial! What further amazed me was that on the days I was doing both methods, I felt a synergistic link between the two, almost as if it was one process.
  • I tend to move more quickly through the day, through the entries written on the computer. There were some entries that had bits of insight and some were quick run throughs of the day. Even though my entries are a bit shorter when written, they are more thoughtful and have more substance. I use the computer to sometimes avoid the hard stuff, just to get the top layer written. I take a little more time and do more digging when I write.
  • I found that I write differently; maybe because I journaled by hand for so many more years than I have blogged on the computer, but it seems that the sweep of my hand across the page stimulates more thought, and I go on and on, sometimes in tangents I hadn’t been conscious of thinking when I began. I tend to write and not stop for anything, until something in me seems to say ‘that’s it….;’ and I would lay the pen down, whereas with blogging, I might sit and stare at the screen for a while and not really know what I wanted to say. And with computer journaling, I found that I was stopping, deleting, re-writing as I went, and while I loved the finished work it seems likely that I interrupted my own creative thought process.
  • I enjoyed writing by hand more than I thought I would, after so long at the computer. Still, though, I felt relieved to go back to the computer when I was done. And I didn’t like having to transcribe my handwritten entries to the computer later. In general, neither seemed to have a higher percentage of description or emotional content, which surprised me. I thought that the handwriting would score much higher in that regard. It was really more about what I was focused on.
  • I was amazed that my “results” for hand vs. computer were so similar. I would have sworn that I went “deeper” by hand, but apparently not.
  • It seems to me that I have more trouble getting started when I write with pen and paper as opposed to the computer. However, once I get that first line or thought written, I believe that I write much better when NOT in front of the computer.
  • I’ve always believed I can get to more subconscious thoughts and feelings through handwritten journal entries. I find that writing on the computer releases more technical writing and seems to trigger my mind in the kind of writing I use for business letters and reports.
  • I found that I was much more apt to tap into inner emotions when handwriting entries vs. using the computer. When I used the computer I tended to go back and correct typos as I wrote which seemed to disrupt the creative flow. The entries that were handwritten became the seeds for several stories. I also found that I had easier access to handwriting entries than using the computer i.e., if a had a thought in the grocery store, I could write it on a piece of scrap paper rather than lugging a computer around!
  • I became more aware of the advantages of computer journaling, and I could get used to it. Over time I think I’d relate to it more and begin going deeper. But there is no way around the fact that I already spend too much time on the computer and face distractions there, the biggest being the constant backing up to fix erratic results of my touchy laptop keyboard. I tried eyes-closed typing but the results were such a mess … Also, I did not get the satisfying meditative feeling that usually accompanies hand-written journaling sessions.

In an “any other comments” field, all participants reported some surprise, either in that journaling on the computer worked better than they thought it would or that writing by hand was so satisfying, after journaling on the computer for a long period of time. One person said that when she altered her computer document to display a delicately shaded paper and used a handwriting font she had better results, but still missed the ability to turn the page and do improvised mind-mapping without a lot of effort. I was surprised to discover that I actually wrote more by hand than on the computer (a big surprise, since I type so quickly) and I enjoyed the fact that I could write in the garden or in any space I chose, rather than being tethered to my desk.

Whatever our preference, I think we all felt a little relieved to get back to our usual way of doing things.

So what does it all mean? I leave the interpretation up to you, my faithful readers. What do you think?


Image credit: mtsofan

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19 thoughts on “Journaling by Hand vs. Computer: The Results are In!

  • Eden

    Fascinating….and I think that we can interpret these subjectively too!! LOL!! As a hand journaler…I tend to take more stock in the kudos for that form…..but really…. possibly they do benefit each other, since I blog, I am enjoying my computer entries as well. However, I know that it’s my years of journaling that have helped me to express myself in the written form, regardless of the format 😀

  • melydia

    What an interesting experiment! I’ve kept a paper diary since 1991 and a computer diary since 2001, so I have a fair amount of experience with both. I’ve found the computer one easier to keep up with because I spend so much time on the computer anyway, particularly at work, so it’s easy to quickly jot something down. I don’t feel so comfortable about bringing my diary to the office, and often evenings go by without writing anything in it. However, I’ve never done a side-by-side comparison in terms of emotional content; maybe I should. It could tell me interesting things.

  • Sharon Lippincott

    Amber, thank you so much for conducting this experiment. Though small in scope, it seems to be a valuable addition to the literature. I feel enriched by the experience of participating, and am sharing the results with anyone who will listen.

  • Kathleen Pooler

    Amber, thank you so much for conducting this study. It was a very enlightening experience for me and has prompted me to pull out an empty journal from my past and start writing in it again. I will use a combination of both but appreciate this nudge to get back to pen and paper!

  • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

    Eden, Melydia, Sharon, and Kathleen, thank you all for your comments and participation. The differences are probably not statistically significant, but the numbers do seem to indicate writing by hand encourages us to write more about our emotions, attitudes, and to describe more of what we see around us, while writing on the computer encourages more linear thinking (daily tasks and problems).

    As a person who has preferred computer journaling for a couple of years (and still do), I feel a little chagrined 🙂 … so confident was I that the “results” would show no difference. So I think I’ll take my paper journal down to the park or the coffee shop once a week or so and allow myself to dig in.

  • K.M. Weiland

    This is fascinating. In writing “serious” stuff (e.g. first drafts of my novels), I always use the computer. The clarity and precision offered by the clean typeface and the ability to maneuver and edit as I go is invaluable at that stage. But I’d be lost without the ability to get down and dirty with a pen and notebook in the raw creative stages of outlining. The very things that *don’t* work during later stages – the sloppiness of my handwriting, the inability to edit – are what I appreciate during the early creative part of the writing journey.

  • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

    Thanks, K.M. You make a good point about the creative process as necessarily messy … mind mapping, making/drawing connections, things that are not linear. And that the writing process — whether it be for journaling or creative writing — is multi-layered.

  • Dawn Herring

    I was very interested in the results of this experiment. I have never tried journaling on my computer, since I already spend many hours on it. I have always preferred writing in my journal by hand.
    I appreciate your initiating such an experiment and sharing the results on your blog.
    It truly reflects how unique each person is to their experience with by hand vs. computer.

    I have chosen your post, Journaling by Hand vs. Computer: The Results are In!, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 2/9/11 for all things journaling on Twitter. I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and my blog, Refresh with Dawn Herring.

    @JournalChat is for all things journaling on Twitter. 🙂

    Thanks again for posting these results. Perhaps other will try it out too. 🙂

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    @JournalChat on Twitter for all things journaling

  • Linda Sievers

    Fun experiment. Thank you Amber for designing it and for all who participated. Personally, I love curlng up anywhere with a notebook and pen. I find it relaxing for both body and mind, and I don’t five a hoot about correctness or linear thought when writing by hand. My typing skills are not great and sitting for more than 30-40 minutes at the computer makes me feel edgy and stiff. However, next time I’m free at the computer I will try some journaling and see how it might be differnt for me.

  • Rosemary Nissen-Wade

    I must apologise — I think I may have been one who said I would do it; certainly I had the intention. I just got so busy in January that I confess I forgot all about it, and didn’t do any journalling by any means. (Though I did write a small poem every day.)

    I’m interested in your results all the same. I miss hand writing my journals, despite the convenience of the computer, which has gradually taken over in recent years. I miss sitting out in the garden, for instance, with a notebook on my knee. Perhaps it’s time to do a bit of both … or do your experiment belatedly and see how it feels for me.

  • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

    Hi Linda. Thanks for joining in the conversation. Computer journaling is a good fit, I think, only for those of us who type very quickly (I’m somewhere in the 85-93 wpm range, for example, and can type the words almost as quickly as I can say them in my head). Still, it’s nice to slow down once in a while. One outcome, which I expected, is that we all pretty much have a preference and stick to it because it works for us. Participating in the experiment, however, opened our minds to the benefits and rewards of each method.

  • Marie E. LaConte

    What a great experiment, Amber! I’m not surprised at the results.

    I think that computer-writing would rise to the same or higher evaluation than hand-writing (with regard to emotions and inner experiences) when writers are committed to it.

    I wrote for nearly half my life with a pen because I couldn’t type. By the time computers became available, with their tools for fixing typos as quickly as they are made, I had developed tendonopathy in my wrist and fingers. I had also learned how to write, so the transition became a godsend for me.

    A valuable advantage to computer writing is easier revision and preparation for publication. With Track Changes and Versions, one can revise even one’s most intimate entries.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Marie, thanks for your comment. I think my favorite aspect of computer journaling is the ability to search for specific keywords and/or phrases. Sometimes it’s just out of curiosity (hmm… I wonder how often I write about being tired), and sometimes it’s because I want to gather resources for something I’m writing. Either way, having a search function for my journal writing has proved invaluable.

  • James Jordan

    I use to write a journal by hand and take it with me everywhere and frequently wrote down my thoughts. I later turned to the computer because I wanted to be able to tag, retrieve information and not have many journals hanging around. Other than being embarrassed by my spelling, I found a hand written journal to evoke deeper thought.

    Later, I attached Dragon to my journal and spoke my thoughts and this seemed to be the best of both worlds. Yet that was not a mobile solution.

    Recently I started back to hand writing using an optical pen called Livescribe I allows me to go mobile, evokes the thoughtfulness of the handwritten journal and is completely fillable and searchable.

  • Lisa Hines

    Hello Amber, Nice to meet you, virtually. I was searching the web for studies and articles on the benefits of hand-written vs. computer typing and came upon your article. Whereas it’s an informal and subjective study, it spoke to me on the personal and creative level which I was seeking.

    I’m in a Master’s in Transpersonal Psychology program, specializing in Creativity and Innovation. In this particular course, we are referencing works from an array of theorists and writers, specifically relevant are Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life, and Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way. During the past week, we were experimenting with activities of hand-writing as creative expression. I am not fond of hand-writing because my hand hurts during the process and I find my words get truncated, due to laziness I’m sure. However, I also found the rhythm of hand-writing did feel more connected to that of my heart, on an energetic level.

    I feel like I’ve adapted my abilities to the computer over the years since so much of my writing is done on the computer so I wanted to research. Your article has eloquently described the differences of these 9 individuals’ results, showing the depth of heart-felt meaning and purpose in their hand-writing vs. computer. I also appreciate that each person had their preference which was probably not going to change much. I’m recognizing in this moment the value that each brings and therefore, am opening my mind, and heart, to freely flow with either that feels right for the moment.

    Thank you for this inspirational and insightful blog post.


    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Lisa, thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent comment. Before I conducted this little “experiment,” I felt strongly that journaling on the computer was the best choice for me (I’m left-handed and my hand tends to hurt when I write for an extended period, as well). I still feel that way. However, after gathering the results from our wonderful volunteers, I became more open to the benefits that each method offers and, when I want to slow down and be particularly reflective, now grab a pen and notebook.

  • Alisha Hernandez

    I found this interesting to read. I am torn between writing and typing. I feel I can get more said when I type only because I have much to say and writing it all out, my hand gets tired. I have been typing with the plans to go to transferring into written. I am also involved with my family tree and it is so awesome to see what my ancestors wrote. I feel typing will lose that generations after I am gone.