Penmanship Breakthrough: Exercises For Breaking Bad Habits

Penmanship is an important life skill that is often overlooked in our modern digital age. While computers, phones, and tablets allow us to type our communication, handwriting remains a core component of education, professionalism, and cognition. Mastering good penmanship provides benefits for students, professionals, and all individuals. However, many people develop bad habits that hinder their handwriting ability. Breaking these habits and learning proper technique can dramatically improve penmanship.

This article will provide exercises and strategies for improving your handwriting by targeting common bad habits. We will cover proper posture, grip, letter formation, word spacing, slant, letter sizing, writing speed, and more. With consistent practice of the techniques outlined here, anyone can retrain their hand to produce beautiful and legible handwritten text.


Proper posture is crucial for developing good handwriting skills. Sitting up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor helps promote good alignment in your spine, neck and shoulders.

When writing, your wrists should be resting comfortably on the writing surface without bending too far up or down. Keep your writing hand close to your body and avoid overreaching. Your elbow should be bent at around a 90-120 degree angle. Let your upper arm hang relaxed at your side. Support your writing hand by resting your non-dominant hand on the page.

Avoid hunching or raising your shoulders up. Keep them relaxed to prevent neck and shoulder tension. Your head should be balanced above your spine, not tilting down towards the desk. Sit facing your desk straight on rather than twisting your body.

Proper posture distributes weight evenly through your joints and allows you to write with control. Take breaks to stretch and readjust if needed (Source: Maintaining good alignment sets you up for fluid, efficient handwriting.


Proper grip is essential for good handwriting and avoiding hand pain and fatigue. Here are some tips for holding a pen or pencil correctly:

Use a tripod grip, with the pen resting on the middle finger and held in place lightly between the thumb and index finger. The thumb and index finger should have a rounded shape, not pinch the pen tightly. Place the pen about 1-2 inches above where the tip touches the paper. This allows flexibility in the fingers and wrist (Source:

Keep your grip relaxed. Holding the pen tightly can cause hand cramps and tension. Let the pen rest gently between your fingers.

Maintain good posture while writing, with the pen pointed toward your shoulder. This allows your arm and wrist to move freely across the page (Source:

Adjust your grip as needed for different writing tasks. A dynamic tripod grip works well for print writing, while a lateral quadrupod grip allows more flexibility for cursive writing.

For left-handers, angle the paper clockwise and keep your wrist straight to avoid smudging as you write. A hook grip may feel more natural for some lefties.

Pay attention to any tension, cramps or discomfort as you write. Take breaks to stretch and relax your hand as needed.

Letter Formation

When it comes to good penmanship, proper letter formation is key. Each letter of the alphabet has a specific shape and set of strokes that need to be followed. Common mistakes in letter formation include starting strokes in the wrong place, using the incorrect number of strokes, or having inconsistent slant, height, or proportion between letters. To shape letters correctly:

  • Start each letter at the appropriate starting point.
  • Use the correct number and sequence of strokes.
  • Maintain consistent slant and shape.
  • Make taller letters (b, d, f, h, k, l, t) reach the top line.
  • Make letters the appropriate height in relation to one another.

Resources like letter formation charts or worksheets can be helpful visual guides. Tracing activities allow practice with stroke sequence and direction. When first learning letter shapes, go slow and be mindful of how each letter is formed rather than rushing through writing. With repeated, focused practice, proper letter formation will start to feel natural.

For more tips, see this comprehensive guide on letter formation from Begin Learning:

Word Spacing

Proper word spacing is important for legibility and readability when writing by hand. It helps the reader distinguish between where one word ends and the next word begins. Experts recommend leaving a finger space between words, which translates to about a 3/8 inch gap between words (Growing Hands-on Kids, 2022).

Too little spacing between words will crowd the letters together and make it difficult to differentiate words. On the other hand, too much spacing will break up the flow and make the writing look disjointed. A happy medium of around 1 finger width allows a reader’s eye to smoothly flow from word to word (The OT Toolbox, 2021).

When first learning to space words appropriately, it can be helpful to have students practice writing on lined paper turned sideways, so the lines help gauge proper word spacing. Popsicle sticks can also be used as word spacing tools, placing one between each word to physically see the gap. With consistent practice, proper word spacing of around 3/8 inches will start to feel natural (Growing Hands-on Kids, 2022). This improves legibility and makes handwriting easier to read.

Line Spacing

Proper line spacing is important in handwriting to keep words and letters clear and legible. Lines that are too close together can cause letters to overlap onto the line below. Lines that are too far apart can make handwriting look disjointed.

A good rule of thumb is to have about 2-3 finger spaces between each line of writing (Source: Using lined paper or guides can help children learn to regulate line spacing.

Some strategies to improve line spacing include:

  • Use paper with wider line spacing
  • Draw lines on blank paper using a ruler to create proper spacing
  • Use paper with horizontal lines close together and every third line accented to guide handwriting

With practice and prompts, students can learn to actively monitor and control their line spacing for neat and readable handwriting.


Having a consistent slant to your handwriting is important for legibility and aesthetics. Here are some tips for developing a steady slant:

Practice writing on slant lines drawn at a consistent angle to train your hand to move in the same direction. Use a 30-45 degree slant line for reference. Drawing slant lines before writing letters can help reinforce the habit.

Focus on keeping vertical lines in letters like “l”, “b”, “d” perpendicular to the slant instead of leaning left or right. The slant should come from angling the downstrokes of letters not the entire letter form.

Be mindful not to mix right and left slanting. Pick one direction and stick with it. Left slanted writing is more common but use what feels most natural.

If you notice inconsistency, try slowing down and really focusing on the angle of your strokes. Over time this conscious practice will become an unconscious habit.

For inspiration and visual examples of consistent slanting, refer to master penmen like this article.

Letter Sizing

Keeping letters uniformly sized is an important component of legible handwriting. Children often struggle with inconsistencies in letter sizes, writing some letters much larger or smaller than others. This makes words difficult to read.

To improve size consistency, have students practice writing alphabet letters using guide lines. Model writing letters between the top and bottom lines. Use dotted line paper or create letters with highlighters on regular lined paper. Emphasize the concept of tall letters (b, d, f, h, k, l, t) and short letters (a, c, e, i, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z).

Also try size awareness activities like tracing letters drawn in different sizes or sorting letters cut out in various sizes. These hands-on games reinforce appropriate letter height while keeping writing fun.

With practice monitoring letter size, students can develop more consistent, readable handwriting. Check work frequently and provide feedback to help strengthen size awareness.

Improving Writing Speed

Increasing handwriting speed often leads to a decline in legibility. However, with focused practice it is possible to write faster while maintaining neat penmanship. Some tips for improving writing speed include:

Decrease letter size slightly, but keep letters uniform. Writing smaller letters takes less time but make sure they are still readable. Keep letter height consistent. According to Dayspring Pens, the key is finding the optimal letter size for speed versus legibility.

Use more print letters when appropriate. Certain cursive letters like f, r, s take more time. Using the print form can increase speed.

Reduce superfluous strokes. Simplify letter forms by removing extra strokes. For example, write a print “a” instead of a cursive “a”.

Practice words and letters that slow you down. Identify individual letters or common words that reduce your speed. Isolate those letters and words for focused drills. Master them individually before adding them back into sentences.

Do targeted speed drills. Set a timer and practice writing the alphabet, common words, or familiar sentences again and again aiming to beat your time. This engrains the patterns into muscle memory.

Maintain good posture and relax your grip. Tension hinders speed. Sit upright and hold the pen lightly between the thumb and index finger.


The techniques covered in this guide, such as improving posture, grip, letter formation, spacing, slant, and sizing, along with maintaining proper writing speed can lead to a dramatic breakthrough in your penmanship. It’s important to understand that while some people are naturally gifted writers, penmanship is a skill that requires conscientious practice and repetition to master.

With diligent daily practice of the exercises outlined here, you can undo years of bad penmanship habits and develop clear, consistent, and aesthetically pleasing handwriting. Having excellent penmanship not only looks professional in a work or academic context, but studies show it also boosts retention and comprehension when taking notes by hand. Beautiful handwriting has an artistic, therapeutic quality as well.

Be patient through the process, as retraining your muscle memory takes time. But stay motivated knowing that with concerted effort, nearly anyone can transform their penmanship. With less concentration going toward the physical letter formation, you can devote more mental energy to the content of what you write. Writing by hand will become faster, easier, and more enjoyable as your skills improve.

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