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Want to improve the quality of your writing? Type slower

There's no rush, folks!

PETER DOCKRILL
22 JAN 2016
 

Let's face it, not everybody's equally gifted when it comes to getting their thoughts down on paper (or the digital equivalent). But according to a new study, there's an easy trick anybody can do to improve the quality of their writing: just type more slowly.

Researchers in Canada have found that when people are forced to write at a slower speed, it can actually enhance their way with words, with the use of word choice in particular benefiting from a calmer pace.

 

"Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process," said Srdan Medimorec, a cognitive psychologist from the University of Waterloo. "It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them."

To examine how an enforced speed limit might affect writing ability, the researchers recruited participants and asked them to write essays using both hands or with only one.

When the researchers examined the essays with text-analysis software, they discovered that the impeded, one-handed typing was better, especially with regard to the sophistication of the vocabulary used.

"This is the first study to show that when you interfere with people's typing, their writing can get better," said Evan F. Risko, one of the team. "We're not saying that students should write their term papers with one hand, but our results show that going fast can have its drawbacks."

The authors of the study – which is published in the British Journal of Psychology – believe that by being forced to slow down when typing, writers enjoy greater time to conduct an internal word search.

This gives them a larger variety of terms to subsequently choose from, whereas fast typists may simply write down the first word they think of, which could result in poorer, less considered prose.

"This is important to consider as writing tools continue to emerge that let us get our thoughts onto the proverbial page faster and faster," said Risko.

The researchers say that writing ability would be improved by a slower pace regardless of how a person chooses to express themselves – whether at a keyboard, using text-to-speech programs, or pen and paper – but acknowledge that further research would be needed to verify this.

It's worth bearing in mind that the researchers in this study used software to rate people's writing, and while a computer analysis of language is certainly useful, it's not necessarily the best or most accurate way of gauging the quality of writing intended for a human reader.

Further, previous research has shown that decreased transcription fluency can have a detrimental effect on text quality, so the key might be trying to find a pace that allows you to consider your language adequately without slowing down too much.

The findings also bring to mind another recent study in which the authors suggested that while speed-reading may be a means of parsing lots of text quickly, it's an ineffective way of maintaining comprehension of what you've read.

The common theme? Don't rush yourself when you're reading or writing, guys! Unless you're working on increasing your words per minute (WPM), you're probably doing yourself a disservice.

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