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Neatness Counts

Legibility is the goal of handwriting. In this day of computers, emails, and cell phones, some people seem to think that handwriting is and ought to be a lost art. Yet even a very intelligent person looks oddly inadequate when their cursive or printing looks incredibly horrid.

Neatness contributes to legibility. These are universal factors of neatness in handwriting:

  • Consistent height of short lower case letters.
  • Consistent height of capitals and tall lower case letters.
  • Sufficient and consistent space between words.
  • Consistent spacing of letters.
  • Consistent slant of letters for italic or cursive letters, or vertical strokes for block letters.
  • Consistent shape of letters.
  • Adequate distinction between letters ('r' vs. 'v', etc.)
  • Base of all letters touching the baseline.

Letters and numbers must be distinct.

  • A '5' that is made with one stroke can come out looking like an 's'.  Not good when it comes time for Algebra. Therefore, make a '5' with two strokes starting at the upper left corner.
  • A '2' and 'z' can be confused, so the '2' must be curved and the 'z' straight. This distinction can be slight, so many mathematicians add a small crossbar in the middle of the 'z' to make the distinction clear, following a common European style.
  • Similarly, a stick-'t' can look like a plus sign '+'. So a 't' should always be made with a lower curve on it.
  • A 'B' can look like '13' if the two strokes are not connected. Letters should always be well formed.

Printing neatness can make a huge difference in a student's success in math, as well as spelling and other more "subjective" subjects. For many students, sheer sloppiness is the cause of most of their errors in math.

Posture and comfort contribute to neatness. Cramped form or a painful grip cannot result in the best possible handwriting from the student.

  • Student should be seated squarely in front of desk or table at a comfortable height. A straight back and upright head (good posture!) will reduce strain and pressure on the arms.
  • The paper for should be towards the writing hand (to the right for right-handers, and to the left for left-handers).
  • A softer writing surface (several pieces of paper or a writing pad) increases pencil/pen traction and assists in writing control as well as comfort.
  • For large block letters, paper should be square to the table in order to achieve vertical strokes and uniformity of slanted strokes (for 'A', 'V', 'M', 'W', etc.).
  • For math problems, paper should be square to the table in order to achieve vertical alignment. Sloppiness in alignment is one of the primary causes for errors in many math problems from arithmetic to Algebra and beyond.
© Copyright 1998-2007 Joe A. Friberg. All Rights Reserved.