Illegible handwriting causes problems for business, survey says

''The process whereby man learned to embody his language in writing is one of the great miracles in the history of civilization.'' So wrote Donald Jackson in his book ''Alphabet: The Story of Writing'' in which he covers 6,000 years of writing.

Mr. Jackson is doing much, as a teaching scribe, to encourage the return of fine penmanship. And the need to do so is apparently great, according to recent surveys made by the Parker Pen Company. In a survey of 500 members of the National Secretaries Association, 57 percent of the respondents said that their boss's handwriting was either difficult or impossible to read.

Most of the respondents said that they spent from two to three hours a week redoing work because of misread handwritten messages, notes, or reports. All but one respondent indicated there was a need to emphasize the requirement for good handwriting in school systems across the country.

All but five of the respondents said that illegible handwriting was a costly problem in business today, and that the unreadable ''executive scrawl'' contributed to such waste and inefficiency as missed deadlines, misfiled papers, reports being mailed to the wrong persons, and other disruptions.

The company, in a survey, contacted 174 teachers of primary grade penmanship classes in 27 states and inquired why this situation existed. Most teachers who responded said they felt the need for legibility was not emphasized enough in upper primary and high school grades. Many of them pointed to requirements to have school papers typed, the crowded curricula of students, and a shortage of time to practice penmanship in an electronic age. They also blamed a lack of interest in setting higher standards of penmanship by local, state, and federal governments.

The study revealed that at least 12 different systems of handwriting are currently taught in the United States. About half the teachers reported that they devoted less than two hours a week to handwriting training. And only on rare occasions, they said, was a student downgraded because of illegible handwriting. One teacher felt that teachers were sometimes too subject-oriented to take the time to teach penmanship. Another said, ''There is a lack of pride in the appearance of handwriting today.''

Some teachers said students thought that illegible writing was faddish and wanted to imitate the indecipherable scribble of their elders. Seventy-seven teachers felt that adults as well as students were too rushed to communicate clearly with handwritten messages. Some teachers said they felt they could do less complaining about poor handwriting and do more in emphasizing a need for legible penmanship.

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