Common Handwriting Problems And Solutions For Beginners

Learning handwriting can be challenging for many beginners. Surveys estimate that between 5-30% of school-aged children have difficulty with handwriting legibility and speed (cite Handwriting requires the development and coordination of fine motor skills, visual-motor integration, in-hand manipulation skills, motor planning, and cognitive planning. When any of these foundational skills are underdeveloped, it can lead to frustration and setbacks in handwriting. This article provides an overview of common handwriting challenges faced by beginners, along with practical solutions and tips to improve handwriting skills.

Poor Letter Formation

One of the most common handwriting problems for beginners is poor letter formation, which includes issues like inconsistent slant, irregular letter size, poor spacing, and reversals ( Children need to first learn the proper way to form each letter before they can develop a fluid, legible handwriting style. When letter formation is flawed, it leads to messy, hard-to-read handwriting.

Inconsistent slanting, where letters slant in different directions in the same word, is a very common problem. Letter sizes should be uniform, but often beginners will have drastically larger or smaller letters, affecting legibility. Poor spacing between letters or words can make writing difficult to read. And reversals, writing letters backwards like a “b” instead of a “d”, are common with struggling writers.

Mastering letter formation starting with kindergarten age is crucial. Having children first learn to properly form each letter individually before combining into words ensures good habits. Mnemonics like “Letter Families” can help teach formation- similar shaped letters like c, o, a all start at the top and circle round. Reinforcing those patterns builds muscle memory. Consistent practice and feedback from teachers helps engrain proper form.

Weak Pencil Grip

One of the most common handwriting problems for beginners is an inefficient or weak pencil grip. There are several types of inefficient pencil grips that can make handwriting difficult:

  • Fist grip – The pencil is held in a fist with the point sticking out between the index and middle fingers. This does not allow for any finger movement or pencil control (source).
  • Lateral tripod grasp – The pencil rests against the side of the middle finger instead of resting against the pad. This can cause tense muscles and poor pencil control (source).
  • Wrapped thumb – The thumb is wrapped over the index finger so the pencil rests between the creases of the middle and index fingers. This limits mobility (source).
  • Four finger grasp – All four fingers grasp the barrel of the pencil, with the thumb opposed. This causes tightness and tension.

An efficient pencil grip allows the fingers, hand, and arm to move freely to form letters and numbers. Without a proper grip, handwriting quality and speed will suffer.

Excessive Pressure

Pressing down too firmly when writing with a pen or pencil is a common issue many beginners face. This excessive pressure can lead to quicker hand fatigue, poorer handwriting formation, and decreased writing speed and legibility (The OT Toolbox, 2014).

There are several potential causes of pressing down too hard when writing:

  • Weak pencil grip strength and control
  • Tension and anxiety leading to tight, rigid posture
  • Lack of proprioceptive input into the fingers
  • Difficulty with motor control and grading pencil pressure

Excessive pressure is often seen in those with developmental coordination disorders, though it can impact anyone first learning to write properly (Prunty et al., 2020). Occupational therapists frequently work on reducing pencil pressure and improving grip strength and control.

Poor Posture

Sitting with poor posture is one of the most common handwriting mistakes beginners make. Poor posture can lead to tense muscles, fatigue, and sloppy handwriting. Some common posture issues include:1

  • Slouching forward or leaning over the desk
  • Sitting on one leg
  • Resting the arm on top of books instead of the desk
  • Bending the neck and head downwards
  • Not having feet flat on the floor
  • Having knees bent at sharp angles

To maintain proper posture:2

  • Sit up straight with back against chair
  • Keep both feet flat on the floor
  • Bend knees at 90 degree angles
  • Keep neck and head level
  • Rest arm on desk, not on books

With good posture, beginners can avoid fatigue and tension, allowing them to focus on forming letters correctly.

Lack of Motor Control

Many beginners struggle with handwriting due to underdeveloped fine and gross motor skills. According to research, children with developmental coordination disorder often have difficulty with motor control in handwriting tasks (Chang, 2010). Lack of motor control leads to problems with posture, pencil grip, letter formation, and overall legibility.

Without proper motor control, beginners may grip their pencil too tightly or apply too much pressure when writing, leading to poor letter formation, wobbly lines, and illegible handwriting (Skills for Action). They may have trouble controlling the size and shape of letters or keeping them consistent. Their writing may appear shaky or have uneven spacing between words.

As students are required to write longer passages or at faster speeds, lack of motor control can become even more apparent. Handwriting often becomes very slow and laborious for those with motor difficulties (The OT Toolbox). With practice and targeted exercises, motor skills can be improved over time to develop better handwriting abilities.

Illegible Handwriting

Illegible handwriting caused by a doctor can lead to severe consequences, including patient injury or death. According to one study published in the American Journal of Medicine, “Poor handwriting remains a significant problem in medicine” (Sokol, 2006,

Illegible handwriting on prescriptions and medical records can cause errors in medication doses and treatment plans. One analysis found that poor penmanship was a contributing factor in over 7,000 deaths each year in the United States (Gilman & Bedigian, 2021,

Doctors are not the only contributors to illegible records. Nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare workers may also have handwriting issues. However, physicians bear ultimate responsibility for patient care and orders.

Illegibility can stem from rushing to write notes or prescriptions. It may also relate to lack of proper training in handwriting technique. Medical schools once devoted more time to penmanship, but curriculums have since reduced this focus.

The consequences underscore the need for legible writing in healthcare. Steps like taking more time, printing letters, or using digital records could help avoid critical errors.

Slow Speed

One of the most common handwriting problems for beginners is simply writing at a slow speed. Studies show that the average handwriting speed for 1st graders is around 5 words per minute (WPM) on average (Handwriting Speeds). In contrast, the average speed for fluent handwriters can range from 15-25 WPM or higher depending on factors like age and writing task (Words per minute).

Slow handwriting speed in beginners is often simply due to inexperience and lack of dexterity. With continued practice, speed typically improves over time. Using lined paper, working on letter formation, and doing targeted drills can all help increase handwriting speed. Setting goals like writing one more word per minute each week can motivate beginners to gradually write faster. Most importantly, avoiding frustration and making writing practice enjoyable is key – speed will come with time.

Letter Reversals

Letter reversals, also known as mirror writing, are a common issue for beginning handwriters. Reversing letters like b and d, or p and q, is typical in young children first learning to write letters and can persist into the early elementary school years.

According to research, the most commonly reversed letters are those that are asymmetrical or “reversable” in shape. Letters that are symmetrical generally are less often reversed. The letters most often reversed are:

b/d, p/q, p/g, n/u, m/w, f/t, s/z, c/e, 3/E, J/L, 2/5, 2/S, 5/S. (Treiman et al., 2014,

Reversals occur because of the difficulty in recalling the exact motor pattern and sequence of strokes required to properly form the letter. With continued practice and mastery of letter formation, reversals diminish.

While letter reversals are common in young children, they can persist longer in children with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. Adults may also continue to reverse certain letters like b/d into adulthood, which points to the persistence of established neural pathways for letter formation. (Blackburne et al., 2014,

Improving Handwriting

There are a variety of exercises and activities beginners can practice to improve their handwriting. Here are some effective strategies:

Grip exercises – Perform exercises like squeezing a stress ball or playdough to strengthen the muscles in the hand and improve pencil grip. Proper grip is essential for good handwriting (Source).

Letter drills – Devote time to repeatedly writing the letters of the alphabet, numbers, or common words. This repetition trains muscle memory for proper letter formation (Source).

Tracing – Carefully trace over examples of neatly printed letters and words. This helps reinforce the ideal way letters should be shaped and spaced.

Finger exercises – Finger stretches and exercises boost dexterity and strengthen the muscles used for handwriting. Activities like playing with clay or finger painting can help.

Adjusting paper angle – Angle the paper so that the forearm can move freely across the page. This allows for more wrist/finger control versus writing with a straight wrist.

Slowing down – Focus on writing individual letters slowly and deliberately before working up to full words and sentences. Speed will improve with practice.

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