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What Is the Palmer Method?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 23, 2024
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The Palmer Method is a system of writing that gained prominence in the United States in the early 20th century. It involves emphasizing arm movements when writing rather than finger movements. Writing speed and efficiency thus supposedly increase. During its prime, it became one of the most widely used methods of cursive writing.

This form of writing was first introduced to the world in an 1894 book entitled Palmer’s Guide to Business Writing. Austin Palmer wrote the book, in which he advocated a fluid and rhythmic system of writing that would allegedly serve business professionals well in creating manuscripts. Speed, clearness, and discipline were among the proposed benefits of the writing style. The Palmer Method became so popular that it received numerous awards and a primary slot in the American educational systems.

Some favored this method because it differed from the traditional learning style of students copying letter and word models from books. Such methods restricted movements and made writing much slower, critics claimed. Students also allegedly spent too much time attempting to perfect a letter or word rather than simply learning to write the word efficiently and swiftly. The Palmer Method, on the other hand, focused the writer on constant and fluid movement.

A degree of organization is evident in this method, however. Like other handwriting methods, the Palmer Method did rely on repetitive practice exercises known as drills. Certain designs for particular letters also became commonplace. In fact, every letter in the alphabet had a general look in uppercase and lowercase form in the Palmer Method. Most letters were characterized by loops and curved lines, and individual letters were usually joined together.

While the Palmer Method has been mostly replaced by other writing systems, many advocates champion its beneficiary status for those with disabilities. Since the method relies primarily on arm and shoulder muscles, it may prove helpful to individuals with fine motor coordination deficiencies. As such, individuals who cannot use their fingers to perform specific movements may find that writing skills improve if the Palmer Method is adopted.

In many respects, the Palmer Method was a product of its time. The latter parts of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were a period of rapid change with industrialization on the rise. As a result, life and overall culture became faster-paced and more mechanical. Even psychologists began to view the human mind and body as machines that were primarily focused on providing efficient output. Creating a handwriting form that stripped away the ornamental penmanship of earlier styles and instead shifted focus to speed, efficiency, and practical business applications seemed fitting for this transitional era.

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