Michael Patkin's

Coming to grips with faulty handwriting

Publication history, Reflections & comments



Surgery & ergonomics


Information design

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Recent letters about teaching children to write have not discussed the common problems of tense grip and excess force These probably became worse after ball point pens of poor quality became common 40 years ago.

Tense writing shows itself in three main ways - grip, push and "co-contraction". In a grip which is too forceful, the end joint of the index finger is bent back instead of slightly flexed (see diagram, right). The skin over the knuckle is paler, and it is harder for teacher to pull the pen suddenly out of the grip.

Too much push is easy to show by writing on paper resting on a folded handkerchief. Denting of the other side of the paper is easy to see in a slanting light and to feel.

"Co-contraction" is tensing up two opposing sets of muscles at the same time. In handwriting, this excess muscle tension car be felt by a teacher, or with the other hand just below the outside of the elbow. (It can also be shown by a laboratory instrument called an electro-myograph).

Faulty hand-grip of pens is actually encouraged by some of the material given to teachers, some of whom already write badly themselves.

Of course, there are many other reasons for bad handwriting, such as haste, anger thoughtlessness, poor surroundings, bad form design - and ball-point pens of pool quality.

Measurements in some research I did showed that many pens bought over the shop-counter take a force of more than 40g weight to write legibly with, instead of less than 5g.

Tense hand-writing is a worldwide problem. It may cause some clumsiness and carelessness in adult work in Western countries.

In Australia (where it was one of many factors in the office-work pain epidemic) this is too important a question for individual States to deal with. It needs a national effort, like. some other aspects of education.

Michael Patkin
Past President, Ergonomics Society of Australia



Coming to grips with faulty handwriting. Letter to The Advertiser (Adelaide, South Australia), Friday March 10, 1984 ____________________

"RSI" and to a lesser extent handwriting were popular topics in newspapers during the 1980s. However the connection between them was not considered. My study for NIOSH (1988)had shown a direct relation between tense hand-grips and pain typical of so-called writer's cramp. (It was not the whole answer).