New blog post: Think before you write!

We have just published a new blog post about the importance of avoiding mechanical reviewing. When you use Skritter, the point is to learn and remember vocabulary, it’s not just to go through the motions. By stopping for a few seconds and visualising the character you’re about to write before you write it, you increase efficiency and avoid cheating yourself.

Read the blog post here: Think before you write!


I think it’d be really interesting to know what kind of writing mistakes native Chinese/Japanese people make, how they differ compared to the types of mistakes us learners would typically make. Maybe they wouldn’t be so different, but it’d be interesting to know nonetheless.

I find myself only trying to visualize the characters if it’s a particularly obscure character/word. I’m not sure whether it would be the same for natives, but if my ‘flow’ gets broken while I’m in the middle of writing a character it’s much more difficult to pick up where I left off than it is to just start over, almost like there is a kind of momentum required to get the character out. If it’s a simple word then I often just draw the first few strokes and tap to go to the next character, something not possible without Skritter! I also forgot there was something other than raw squigs! I’m not sure why someone would prefer the automated character drawing. It’s much more appealing to see/draw your own I feel.

There are some other little things I notice about my Skritter usage, sometimes I find myself writing the character that is after the current one because I’m trying to be fast and thinking too far ahead. This’ll sometimes confuse me and think I’m getting it wrong but I usually just mark these as correct when it happens because I do know what I meant to write. Then at other times I’ll know the word contains a difficult character for me and focus on that, be happy I got it right, then totally forget one that I was expecting to be easy. I dunno why this in particular happens so much!

Maybe this isn’t the place to mention this, but on new words that I want to send just 5 days ahead instead of 4 weeks, does marking it so-so count as a fail? I ask because when it comes up again after 5 days the % success is 0. A lot of times I know the word but just want to add it and not have it disappear into the future after writing it a few times so I’ll only mark it as so-so just to make sure I see it a little more often. Doing this a lot when adding new words seems to drag my retention stats down quite a bit though.


Talking to my Chinese tutor last week, she was telling me how essays she’d hand in at school with a single character written incorrectly would result in the whole essay being torn up and her having to write it again. So, at least for Taiwanese native writers, the standards are much harder.

I posted this question on the actual blog post but I might ask it here: is there any argument that non-raw-squig writing is better for learning, or worse? Does Skritter default to this aided method simply because it’s easier on new learners, or is there a scientific argument for it?

I agree with you about flow. For me it’s all becomes muscle memory, and if I get stuck half way (such as if I get a stroke out of order) then I have to think really actively about what comes next. It’s a bit like typing a commonly used password. You can type it easily, but if you were to (foolishly) try to write it down, it’s much more difficult.

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I actually stopped using Skritter to write stuff. I only use it as some kind of flashcard but I think before I click that show me button. :stuck_out_tongue:

This has several reasons:

  • writing takes too much time
  • I am too lazy to plug my mouse in (and writing on my laptop’s trackpad can be a pain in the … )
  • I have gotten to a point (about 1500 known characters) where 99% of the new added characters contain of already known character components. I recently added 拍 pāi and I don’t remember the exact strokes, so I just visualize the hand radical on the left side and bai on the right.

The downside is that sometimes I forget how a character component is being written (mostly I remember it basically but forget a single stroke or put it on the right instead of the left side or such).

I think if I would take the time to write each character out it would take about 2-3 times each day without an significant increase of my writing effectiveness.

But I agree that it would be a bad idea to start learning to write characters the way I do now. I had to get used to the smaller radicals and character components before using Skritter the way I do.

I also considered moving all my studies to Anki, because it is free and I wouldn’t need the writing stuff anymore, but what keeps me at Skritter are the excellent other functions like breaking characters down to their components, addings similar words and have several example sentences.

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I haven’t done any research into this, but I have read several books written for native speakers about “common mistakes” when writing Chinese. I would say the typical problems are quite different for native speakers and foreigners. The main problem is that they learn to speak first, so they have the problem "which character is used to write something I can say without any problems), whereas foreigners typically don’t speak well before they learn to write. I think we’re much more likely to be put off by unusual stroke combinations or the sheer number of strokes in some characters (at least for beginners, I actually think more strokes make it easier, I have most trouble with some simplified characters that for me look too similar). Just my thoughts.

Regarding the raw quigs as default, it depends on what your goals are for learning. I personally always write with raw quigs on, but I can see several reasons why some people don’t want that. For instance, beginners get direct and automatic feedback, telling them how each stroke ought to have been written. Also, you might want to write to learn how to recognise characters (rather than to be able to write them on paper), in which case raw squigs lose part of their edge. Finally, many learners just don’t like raw squigs. I do, but I think it works well as an option you can turn on if you want to raise the bar.