Reading and Writing

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 1181–1207 | Cite as

Specifying the graphic characteristics of words that influence children’s handwriting

  • Claire Gosse
  • Simon Carbonnelle
  • Christophe de Vleeschouwer
  • Marie Van Reybroeck


Research about the development of the graphomotor side of writing is very scarce. The goal of this study was to gain a better understanding of what constitutes graphic complexity of written material by determining the impact of graphic characteristics on handwriting production. In this end, the pen stroke of cursive handwriting was precisely described through an algorithm of detection of seven graphic characteristics: the number of angles, turn backs, curves in X and Y, pen-ups and modified links. Twenty typically developing children in grade 2 completed a single-word dictation task, composed of 48 items, on a digital writing tablet. All 48 words were regular words, highly frequent for second graders, and varied in terms of their graphic structure. Their handwriting production for each word was assessed in terms of both legibility and speed. A general linear mixed model was run to determine the impact of each graphic characteristic on handwriting performance. In agreement with our hypothesis, the results showed that words have different levels of graphic complexity. The following characteristics, in order of importance, significantly influenced negatively handwriting legibility: modified links, angles, curves, pen-ups and length. Regarding speed, the angles were the only characteristic that made children slow down while handwriting. These findings represent novelty in the field of research on writing. Unlike the usual approaches, it focused on investigating the graphic complexity at the word-level. It offers for the first time a universal classification of the graphic characteristics of words and it enables the quantification of the graphic complexity of words.


Handwriting Graphic complexity Writing acquisition 



The authors thank the Fondation Louvain for supporting this work financially. The authors are grateful to all the children and teachers who participated in this study. We would like to offer special thanks to Jean Viviès and Monique de Mattia for their proofreading, and Caroline Vander Stappen for her comments on the text. This work was presented at the SIG Writing International Conference 2016 (Liverpool, UK).


  1. Alamargot, D., Morin, M. F., Pontrat, V., Maffre, L., Flouret, L., & Simard-Dupuis, É. (2014). Les enfants dyslexiques ont-ils des difficultés graphomotrices ? (Do children with dyslexia have graphomotor difficulties ?). Approche Neuropsychologique des Apprentissages chez l’Enfant, 26(128), 59–67. Scholar
  2. Alves, R. A., & Limpo, T. (2015). Progress in written language bursts, pauses, transcription, and written composition across schooling. Scientific Studies of Reading, 19(5), 374–391. Scholar
  3. Amundson, S. J. (1995). Evaluation tool of thildren’s handwriting: ETCH examiner’s manual. Homer, AK: OT Kids.Google Scholar
  4. Bara, F., & Morin, M. F. (2013). Does the handwriting style learned in first grade determine the style used in the fourth and fifth grades and influence handwriting speed and quality? A comparison between french and quebec children. Psychology in the Schools, 50(6), 601–617. Scholar
  5. Barnett, A., Henderson, S. E., Scheib, B., & Schultz, J. (2009). Development and standardisation of a new handwriting speed test: The DASH. British Journal of Educational Psychology Monograph, 6(2), 98–110.Google Scholar
  6. Berninger, V. W., Nielsen, K. H., Abbott, R. D., Wijsman, E., & Raskind, W. (2008). Writing problems in developmental dyslexia: Under-recognized and under-treated. Journal of School Psychology, 46(1), 1–21. Scholar
  7. Charles, M., Soppelsa, R., & Albaret, J.-M. (2004). Echelle d’évaluation rapide de l’écriture chez l’enfant (BHK). [Concise evaluation scale for children handwriting]. Paris: Édition du Centre de Psychologie Appliquée.Google Scholar
  8. Cheng-Lai, A., Li-Tsang, C. W. P., Chan, A. H. L., & Lo, A. G. W. (2013). Writing to dictation and handwriting performance among Chinese children with dyslexia: Relationships with orthographic knowledge and perceptual-motor skills. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(10), 3372–3383. Scholar
  9. Connelly, V., Campbell, S., MacLean, M., & Barnes, J. (2006). Contribution of lower order skills to the written composition of college students with and without dyslexia. Developmental Neuropsychology, 29(1), 175–196. Scholar
  10. Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Fink, B. (2000). Is handwriting causally related to learning to write? Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(4), 620–633. Scholar
  11. Jones, D., & Christensen, C. A. (1999). Relationship between automaticity in handwriting and students’ ability to generate written text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(1), 44–49. Scholar
  12. Kandel, S., & Perret, C. (2015). How does the interaction between spelling and motor processes build up during writing acquisition ? Cognition, 136, 325–336. Scholar
  13. Khomsi, A. (1999). Lecture en une minute (LUM). [One minute reading]. Paris: Les Editions du Centre de Psychologie Appliquée.Google Scholar
  14. Khomsi, A. (2001). Evaluation du langage oral (ELO). [Oral language evaluation]. Paris: Les Editions du Centre de Psychologie Appliquée.Google Scholar
  15. Lichtsteiner, S. H., Geiger, A. S., & Wicki, W. (2008). Schreibmotorische Leistungen im frühen Primarschulalter in Abhängigkeit vom unterrichteten Schrifttyp. [Writing performance in early primary school depending on the type of handwriting style]. Luzern: PHZ Luzern.Google Scholar
  16. Maldarelli, J. E., Kahrs, B. A., Hunt, S. C., & Lockman, J. J. (2015). Development of early handwriting: Visual-motor control during letter copying. Developmental Psychology, 51(7), 879–888. Scholar
  17. Martlew, M. (1992). Handwriting and spelling: Dyslexic children’s abilities compared with children of the same chronological age and younger children of the same spelling level. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 62(3), 375–390. Scholar
  18. Mazeau, M., & Pouhet, A. (2014). Neuropsychologie et troubles des apprentissages chez l’enfant: du developpement typique aux dys. [Neuropsycholoy and learning diabilities in children: From typical development to dys].Google Scholar
  19. Meulenbroek, R. G., & Van Galen, G. P. (1986). Movement analysis of repetitive writing behaviour of first, second and third grade primary school children. Advances in Psychology, 37, 71–92. Scholar
  20. New, B., Pallier, C., Ferrand, L., & Matos, R. (2001). Une base de données lexicales du français contemporain sur internet: LEXIQUE™. (A lexical database for contemporary French: LEXIQUE™). L’année Psychologique, 101(3), 447–462. Scholar
  21. Paoletti, R. (1999). Education et motricité: l’enfant de deux à huit ans. [Instruction and motor function: Children from two to eight years]. Bruxelles: De Boeck Supérieur.Google Scholar
  22. Pech-Georgel, C., & George, F. (2006). Batterie d’évaluation de lecture et d’orthographe (BELO). [Battery for reading and spelling evaluation]. Marseille: Solal.Google Scholar
  23. Planton, S., Jucla, M., Roux, F. E., & Démonet, J. F. (2013). The “handwriting brain”: A meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motor versus orthographic processes. Cortex, 49(10), 2772–2787. Scholar
  24. Pontart, V., Bidet-Ildei, C., Lambert, E., Morisset, P., Flouret, L., & Alamargot, D. (2013). Influence of handwriting skills during spelling in primary and lower secondary grades. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1–9. Scholar
  25. Pothier, B., & Pothier, P. (2003). Échelle d’acquisition en orthographe lexicale (EOLE). [Acquisition scale for lexical spelling]. Paris: et.Google Scholar
  26. Puranik, C. S., Al Otaiba, S., Sidler, J. F., & Greulich, L. (2014). Exploring the amount and type of writing instruction during language arts instruction in kindergarten classrooms. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27(2), 213–236. Scholar
  27. Savage, R. (2004). Motor skills, automaticity and developmental dyslexia: A review of the research literature. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 17(3), 301–324. Scholar
  28. Snowling, M. J. (2000). Dyslexia. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  29. Sumner, E., Connelly, V., & Barnett, A. L. (2013). Children with dyslexia are slow writers because they pause more often and not because they are slow at handwriting execution. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 26(6), 991–1008. Scholar
  30. Thomassen, A. J., & van Galen, G. P. (1992). Handwriting as a motor task: Experimentation, modelling, and simulation. Advances in Psychology, 84, 113–144. Scholar
  31. Van Galen, G. P. (1991). Handwriting: Issues for a psychomotor theory. Human Movement Science, 10(2), 165–191. Scholar
  32. Van Reybroeck, M., & Hupet, M. (2009). Acquisition of number agreement: Effects of processing demands. Journal of Writing Research, 1(2), 153–172. Scholar
  33. Wechsler, D. (2005). Échelle d’intelligence de Wechsler pour enfants (4ème éd.) [Wechsler intelligence scale for children]. Paris: Éditions du Centre de Psychologie Appliquée.Google Scholar
  34. Wicki, W., Lichtsteiner, S. H., Geiger, A. S., & Müller, M. (2015). Handwriting fluency in children. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 73(2), 87–96. Scholar
  35. Wilson, K. M., & Trainin, G. (2007). First-grade students’ motivation and achievement for reading, writing, and spelling. Reading Psychology, 28(3), 257–282. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claire Gosse
    • 1
  • Simon Carbonnelle
    • 2
  • Christophe de Vleeschouwer
    • 2
  • Marie Van Reybroeck
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychological Sciences Research InstituteUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.Institute of Information and Communication Technologies, Electronics and Applied MathematicsUniversité catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

Personalised recommendations