Thursday, February 4, 2010

Handwriting Contest and National Handwriting Day – Part 4 of an Interview with Kate Gladstone

"Here is a golden Rule.... Write legibly. The average temper of the human race would be perceptibly sweetened, if everybody obeyed this Rule!" - Lewis Carroll

I have learned a lot about handwriting from Kate over the past few days. Here are the links if you need to catch up: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Tell us about the World Handwriting Contest. When is it held, who enters and how is it judged?

Kate: The World Handwriting Contest, which I direct, began in 2001 as the successor to an earlier USA-only contest, the Annual American Handwriting Competition which a colleague of mine (Chuck Lehman) had founded seven years earlier. (Hello, Chuck, if you're listening!) By 2000, when Chuck appointed me to succeed him as director of the earlier Contest, the rise of the Internet had led to the contest's becoming known worldwide, so that I had been receiving numerous requests for participation from people outside the USA. This made it logical to open the contest internationally, and to re-name it accordingly.

The World Handwriting Contest, as its name suggests, accepts entries from anyone, anywhere, who can write and who wishes to send in a writing sample consisting of one of the two required copy passages we provide. (We have a passage for children aged 12 and under, and a longer passage for people over 12.) For the convenience of our judges, the copy passages are in English because we simply do not have the resources to establish individual contests for each of the world's other several thousand languages. However, many of our entrants each year – and a great many of our winners – do come from non-English-speaking countries: particularly Asian nations, but over the years we have had entries from every continent except Antarctica.

The Contest accepts entries every year from January 1 through June 30, judges these entries during July and August, and ships prizes to the winners all around the world from late Aug through December. Typically, the prizes are pens or stationery sets for each year's highest-ranking winner, the World Pen-Champ as we call him or her, along with hand-produced certificates of achievement for all winners including the World Pen-Champ. (We have these certificates done for us by a professional calligrapher – currently we use one here in Albany, New York).

Our entrants are of all ages, so we do the judging in several groups based on age. The youngest entrant we ever had was aged five, and the youngest who ever actually won anything was aged six.

We accept all styles of handwriting for the Contest, and our winners have used a wide variety of styles. Irrespective of style, we judge the entries on the basis of legibility, signs of speed, and general attractiveness, in that order of priority.

To offset the fact that some writing styles, such as Italic, are much easier than other styles to perform well, our judges tend to award extra points when they see that a writer performs as well in a difficult style as someone else who used an easier style(For example: if two eleven-year-olds submit writing of equal quality, and one used Italic while the other used a typical “school-style” cursive, our judges will figure that the one who did this well in cursive must have had a harder time than the one who did only equally well within a much simpler style, Italic: so we will assume that the student who did this well with all the difficulties of cursive must have had more skill in order to do that well, compared with the student who did equally well by using a simpler and less accident-prone method of handwriting.) As I mentioned above, the judging takes place within a variety of age groups – children, pre-teens, teens, adults, and senior citizens – and within each age group we further assign a first and a second prize in each of several style categories. To find the absolute best writer of all, we then compare the quality of all the first-prize entries to select the very best one, taking age and writing style into account. (Some writing styles are, after all, more difficult than others to perform successfully.) The very best writer of all gets our top award, the title of World Pen-Champ for that year – we call this top level of our competition the World Champ-Pen-Ship.

Just to make the Champ-Pen-Ship level a little more demanding, when we select the World Pen-Champ we compare the samples not only against each other, but against first-prize samples we have seen from other handwriting contests – local or regional contests in the USA and elsewhere – that have given us permission to look at their own first-prize samples for that year. Very occasionally, it happens that one of those other samples will show better writing – allowing for age and style considerations – than any sample from our own contest: in that case, the World Pen-Champ prize goes to the winner of that other contest, instead of going to any of our own first-prize winners. We have this policy – judging our first-prize winners against their counterparts in other contests – in order to keep our own winners from becoming too complacent, and also to encourage the participants of those other contests to enter our own contest in following years if they think they have a good chance of winning.

The last time anyone from another contest became our World Pen-Champ happened in 2003, when our judges unanimously awarded the Champ-Pen-Ship title to the winner of the contest annually held by another handwriting improvement organization, the Society for Italic Handwriting. Every year since then, some members of that organization have competed within our contest as well as within their own organization's contest, and some of them have become winners or even World Pen-Champs from within our own contest.

I wish I could tell you a bit about our judges, but we have found that we must keep the judges' identities secret in order to minimize the risk of outside influence: to exert undue influence on one or more of our judges. So I can't tell you anything about the judging team except that its membership is not always the same every year, although I am the head of the judging team every year.

What is National Handwriting Day and when is it?

Kate: National Handwriting Day is a day devoted to encouraging the art of handwriting. It falls each year on January 23, the birthday of John Hancock whose clear, bold signature famously led the list of those signing the Declaration of Independence. (Hancock, by the way, was very proud of his handwriting. Like many people of his day, he actually sat down to practice his handwriting every day, just as one would practice a musical instrument or a sport every day, or as people in our own times might go jogging every day. In fact, like many people who could afford it at the time, he actually had a writing master come to his house every week of his adult life to check his performance and give him a lesson so that he could maintain and improve his skills. This sounds a little strange to us today, but not if you think of it as having a personal trainer. We even know the name of John Hancock's personal handwriting trainer who helped him create that famous signature: Abiah Holbrook, who was one of the best-known handwriting textbook authors of his generation.

How do people celebrate National Handwriting Day? Well, two of my colleagues – Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay in Portland, Oregon, who have a web-site called Handwriting Success – celebrate it each year by giving a free handwriting class on the Saturday morning nearest the date. Typically, 200 to 400 people attend this three-hour class each year. If you ever think that people don't care about handwriting, think of 200 to 400 people getting up on a weekend to fight through early morning winter weather so they can spend three hours learning how to write more quickly and clearly.

Other ways to celebrate National Handwriting Day:
• Spend it working on your signature: how legible and fast can you make it without losing its character? (Keep in mind that, contrary to what you may have heard, the clearest and simplest signatures are the most difficult to forge.)

• Buy yourself and your loved ones a few books on handwriting – my site lists some good ones – or some copies of Better Letters.

• Declare National Handwriting Day the first day of your own, personal “Handwriting Revolution” Resolution. The first time you pick up a pen on National Handwriting Day, resolve that – every time you pick up a pen that day and that whole week – you will also pick just one alphabet letter to write well, that week. Resolve, for instance, to write the lower-case letter “n” beautifully at all times – then, when you see your “n” improving, next week expand your focus to an additional letter: perhaps a similarly formed letter such as lower-case “m” or lower-case “h,” so that now you have two letters you have resolved to be responsible for writing well. Start with the lower-case letters – they occur far more often, and most of them are easier than most upper-case letters. At one letter per week, it will take you 52 weeks to tackle all the letters, lower-case and then upper-case, before the next National Handwriting Day rolls around.

Thanks again, Kate. You certainly pack a lot of information into a blog. I love the little tidbit about John Hancock. Find out more about Kate and the contest by visiting Handwriting That Works.

Join us tomorrow when Kate will be talking about one of the more disturbing sides of bad penmanship – handwriting disasters.

Anyone reading this thinking about entering the handwriting contest? Have you ever celebrated National Handwriting Day? Please feel free to leave your comments and questions.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Lewis Carroll, Kate Gladstone, National Handwriting Day, World handwriting contest, John Hancock,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

LOL! Safe to say, it's a contest I'd have no hopes of winning.

Morgan Mandel said...

I definitely would not enter. I've spent so many years typing, my handwriting has suffered immensely. I don't have the patience for it any more.

Morgan Mandel

Joanne said...

I can only imagine the wide array of handwriting styles that are submitted to that contest. I'll bet they're fascinating, and probably indicate that handwriting is an artform in itself.

KateGladstone said...

L. Diane and Morgan -- before you decide that you could never hope to win a handwriting contest, just keep in mind some of our past winners.

In 2003, two of the Contest's prizes went to a grandfather and granddaughter in New Zealand. The grandfather had improved his illegible handwriting during 2002, and had then sat down to help his 11-year-old granddaughter who had experienced even more difficulty with the subject. They both entered in the same year, and I had no idea that they were related until I contacted each of them with news of their respective victories.

In 2005, one World Handwriting Contest prize-winner was a doctor in Washington, DC. He had improved his handwriting a couple of decades earlier (after reading some articles on Italic handwriting and finding a teacher near him) -- which made him very well liked among the nurses, the pharmacists, and others who have to read the handwriting of doctors.

KateGladstone said...

Joanne -- the Contest does indeed receive a wide array of handwriting styles. Although not all those styles are represented in a given year by writers of prize-winning quality, you can get a look at the winning handwritings of the year just concluded (2009) on the Contest page of my handwriting web-site .

Helen Ginger said...

Didn't know there was such a contest. I might have entered it back in college, but my handwriting has deteriorated since the computer came along.

Straight From Hel

KateGladstone said...

Helen -- a lot of people in your situation (deteriorated handwriting in adulthood) have used Italic handwriting (and now Better Letters) to "un-deteriorate" the way they write.

Give yourself -- and your handwriting -- a chance to benefit from the resources available: annually, at least 25% of World Handwriting Contest adult and teen prize-winners are *formerly* deteriorated handwriters.

Anonymous said...

Technology really has become one with our daily lives, and I think it is safe to say that we have passed the point of no return in our relationship with technology.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Ethical concerns aside... I just hope that as memory becomes cheaper, the possibility of transferring our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's a fantasy that I daydream about all the time.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=]r4i dsi[/url] DS QDos)

Anonymous said...

In this day and age of technology, I'm so glad to see someone still values handwriting. It's the one skill I wish I'd work on more!

Anonymous said...

where is the contest held??

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Reply to Anonymous -

I believe you can enter from anywhere, but contact Kate Gladsone for more information -

Raghunath Bylahalli said...

I would definitely participate in the WHC for the simple reason that in todays world with the existence of computer there is someone who still recognizes and appreciates a good handwriting.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world