Edward L. Thorndike


Handwriting may profitably be studied from three points of view:—that of the physiology and psychology of movement,[1] that of the part it may play in the intelligently directed activities of child life in schools,[2] and that of the direct examination of the quality and speed of handwriting secured by various forms of school training. But to any study of it there is one very desirable preliminary—some means of measuring the quality of a sample of handwriting.

At present we can do no better than estimate a handwriting as very bad, bad, good, very good, or extremely good, knowing only vaguely what we mean thereby, running the risk of shifting our standards, with time, and only by chance meaning the same by a word as sonic other student of the facts means by it. We are in the condition in which students of temperature were before the discovery of the thermometer or any other scale for measuring temperature beyond the very hot, hot, warm, lukewarm, and the like, of subjective opinion. We opine roughly that, at a fairly rapid rate, writing-movements in which the fore-arm shares are able to produce a better quality of handwriting than

( 84/ 2) movements confined more exclusively to the thumb and fingers, but no one could estimate with surety and precision how much better the best rapid " free-arm "'writing is than the best equally rapid " finger-movement " writing. We opine roughly that drills in which good writing serves some end of consequence to the children will be more efficient than drills for mere penmanship, but no one could estimate how much more efficient they will be. We know that some schools secure better writing at a given speed than do other schools, but no one could tell how much better in any terms sure of understanding and agreement ; for we have no scale to measure handwriting by. No pupil, teacher, or superintendent of schools knows how well any child, class, or group of children writes in anything approaching the sense in which we know how hot any liquid is or how long a wire is.

The main purposes of this number of the RECORD are to describe the means by which a graphometer or scale for hand-writing may be made, to present such a scale for the handwriting of children in grades 5, 6, 7, and 8, to explain how such a scale is to be used, to present a similar scale for adult women's handwriting, and to mention some of the facts and questions of importance to which the discovery and use of these scales have led.

Many circumstances have combined to prevent me from giving at this time anything like a perfect scale. The individual differences amongst competent judges in rating any example are so great that to get for it a measure accurate within one per cent of the difference in merit between the best and the worst of grammar-school (i. e., grades 5 to 8) writing requires that at least 200 judges rate it. I have not been able to command the services of so many. For the greatest practical convenience a scale should have for any quality samples of all the common styles of children's writings, and should include about ten qualities differing each from the next by equal steps (equal, that is. within, say, four per cent of a step or one half of one per cent of the difference between the worst and the best grammar-school writing. But to get such samples one would need to have several thousand samples of each style of writing, and to have about half a million ratings made. This means roughly four thousand hours of labor. The final selections of samples for

( 85/ 3) the scale should properly be made from very many printed reproductions such as will form the scale itself. The cost has prohibited me from making many of these.

The scale is presented now, in spite of its imperfections, for these reasons : It is the result of some twenty thousand ratings and ensures measurements far more accurate than anyone could make without it. For the present needs of school practice and educational research, a very precise instrument for measuring handwriting is not required. The best way to get a more perfect scale is by the use of this one as a starting point.

This scale is then offered as a preliminary scale whose imperfections the maker is, perhaps, more conscious of than any critic will be. I beg the reader to bear this in mind, since, for the sake of simplicity in description in what follows, I shall not in each case state the fact that a quality or point on the scale is determined only to a certain approximation, and the fact that the differences between successive qualities are only approximately equal.


  1. No attempt is made in this article to report any results of physiological or psychological analysis of the behavior involved in hand-writing. The student of this aspect of the subject should consult especially the investigations of Preyer, Judd and Freeman.
  2. No attempt is made in this article to report the experiences or opinions of students of education with respect to the utilization of the original tendencies of children so as to secure a rational and economical cultivation of handwriting as an expressive art.

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