Writing vs Typing for Journalling

Writing vs Typing for Journalling

Exploring the best tools to make use of journalling

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Hola amigos,

A few days ago, I was watching a few YouTube videos about types of journalling and the best way to do it for retention. I went down a somewhat deep rabbit hole trying to compare the two.

Now writing by itself is not the best way to retain information for the long term, and countless studies point to active recall and spaced repetition as the king of keeping things fresh in your mind for a long time. However, those who journal like me often do it as a way to keep a record of their patterns of thought and reflect upon them later.

Journaling can be done in various formats, each with distinct benefits. Here, we'll compare the benefits of journaling on an iPad, typing, and writing on paper based on recent research.

✍️ Handwriting: "The Feel-Good" and "Remember Better" Method

There is something about very actively writing out each letter of your writing rather than having typing do half of that work for you. The motor skills, tactile sensations, and actively thinking what the next thing to write as you spend your time writing that single letter of that single word really gets you thinking more fully about what you are putting out. Handwriting on paper increases cognitive processing and memory retention because of all these multimodal feedback loops engaging the brain more deeply than typing would. In addition to this, it doesn't matter whether you handwrite digitally with something like an Apple Pen (or any stylus tablet) or on paper, as long as a pen is in your hand, you're basically getting the same benefits according to Ihara et al. (2021) and Gerth et al. (2016).

Ihara et al. (2021) also mentions that the same method is responsible for significantly more positive moods than typing. One caveat that both Ihara et al. (2021) and I can attest to is that writing on a tablet surface will feel a bit "slippery" so it takes time getting accustomed to, but once you are used to it, the benefits of writing on paper and writing with a digital stylus are basically equivalent. However, when it comes to just describing moods in general regardless of whether it had positive effects or not, some college students were found to be able to express their deep psychological thoughts to the same degree of comfort and level of content about the aforementioned (Sharp & Hargrove, 2004).

🦔 Typing: If you Gotta Go Fast!

There are many ways to optimize for speed if you want to bring in as much information possible for now to process later instead. In fact, you probably don't even need to write like a madman, you can outsource it to AI transcription apps if you wanted to. However, I digress the aim of this post is just to compare writing methods. If you have no other choice and your, let's say, professor, boss, or other person is going at a million miles per second and you don't have the permission to record their voice, then typing is the way I would go as well.

One could argue that there is nothing wrong with this method if you put as much active attention and brain use trying to process the notes, which could range from making flashcards and practicing from them, to trying to rewrite the notes' main ideas from memory. However, I haven't found any multistep note-taking studies supporting "post-processing" of typing speed being as effective as doing it from the get-go like writing.

It is important to note that once you have something typed out, it will be easier to run it through apps and even share it to them, like Notion, OneNote, Google Docs. You can use it anywhere this way since it can be on the cloud or on multiple devices at once. Note that, these days, most OS's (iOS, Windows, Android) have some sort of image text extraction functions so if you want the best of both world but started from the "slower" world, you still have the option of quickly integrating it to the apps you usually use for your creative outputs.

🧑‍⚖️ Final Verdict?

Handwriting on paper enhances cognitive processing, memory retention, and positive mood, making it the ideal choice for deep learning and recall. Typing allows you to optimize for speed and to be ready to use and integrate it into different apps like Notion, Obsidian, Google Docs and so on. Importantly, writing on iPad or similar stylus devices combines the tactile benefits of handwriting with digital flexibility, enhancing engagement and potentially improving learning outcomes with familiar use.

There is obviously no one tool to rule them all, and you always have the option to combine the methods of handwriting and typing. Think about what you're optimizing for and use the right tool for the appropriate occasion.


Gerth, S., Klassert, A., Dolk, T., Fliesser, M., Fischer, M., Nottbusch, G., & Festman, J. (2016). Is Handwriting Performance Affected by the Writing Surface? Comparing Preschoolers', Second Graders', and Adults' Writing Performance on a Tablet vs. Paper. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01308.

Ihara, A., Nakajima, K., Kake, A., Ishimaru, K., Osugi, K., & Naruse, Y. (2021). Advantage of Handwriting Over Typing on Learning Words: Evidence From an N400 Event-Related Potential Index. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.679191.

Sharp, W., & Hargrove, D. (2004). Emotional expression and modality: an analysis of affective arousal and linguistic output in a computer vs. paper paradigm. Comput. Hum. Behav., 20, 461-475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2003.10.007.

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