Chicken Scratch Writing (Ultimate Guide With Examples)

Chicken scratch writing is messy, hard-to-understand writing.

I should know: I never progressed past sloppy writing in grade school. Consider this your ultimate guide to everything about chicken scratch writing.

What Is Chicken Scratch Writing? (Definition)

Chicken scratch writing is illegible, untidy writing. It’s often used to describe the writing of elementary school students, as their handwriting tends to be more immature and unrefined. Chicken scratch writing looks like a jumble of poorly defined letters.

Chicken scratch writing can be identified by its messiness, illegibility, and overall unpolish.

It looks like a child’s attempt at writing.

When I write quickly, my letters blend together—especially in cursive.

I’ve always been embarrassed at my terrible handwriting. Sometimes a reader can only make out the first letter of my words.

The rest of the letters look like nonsensical marks on the page.

In so many cases, I’m the only person who can interpret what I meant to say.

Chicken Scratch Writing Origin

The term “chicken scratch writing” comes from farming terminology. Farmers noticed that chickens scratched the dirt with their feet.

The leftover “chicken scratch” looked like mindless marks.

According to Poetry Contingency, the first published use of the term is credited to Lewis F. Bostelmann, a playwright.

Bostelmann wrote the play, Roger of Rutland: A Drama in Four Acts, which dramatizes his theory about Shakespeare.

In the play, the character of William Shaxper says:

 Pray God in Heaven, help me out in this;

I cannot write much more than mine own name

And that resembles more a chicken’s scratch

That puts the art of writing to the shame.

Chicken Scratch Writing: Example Sentences

Here are a few example sentences using the phrase.

Example sentences:

  • I can’t believe I’m still using this pen. The ink is so light, it’s impossible to read my chicken scratch writing.
  • My chicken scratch writing is so bad, sometimes I can’t even figure out what I wrote.
  • It’s hard to focus on my chicken scratch writing when there’s a cat meowing in the background.
  • My chicken scratch writing is so bad, no one can understand it.
  • I need to practice my chicken scratch writing more.
  • I can’t believe I’m still doing chicken scratch writing in college.

Why Do People Use Chicken Scratch Writing?

People use chicken scratch writing because it’s the quickest and easiest way to write down a message. When you’re in a hurry, your handwriting tends to be more sloppy, and unrefined.

For example, when you need to write notes quickly in a college class or business meeting.

When I handwrite novels, sometimes I slip into a flow state.

In this state, I write very quickly without focusing on legibility. I’m simply getting the story on the page.

What Causes Chicken Scratch Writing?

Messy handwriting can be caused by a number of factors, including poor penmanship, lack of practice, or haste.

Erratic writing is also associated with mental and physical health problems—such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

It could also be related to a person’s profession. For example, doctors and surgeons.

Chicken Scratch Writing & Doctors

Doctors are known for terrible handwriting.

In fact, doctors write so horribly so often that patients can barely read it.

Many doctors will use a computer to record information instead of handwriting.

There are a few possible reasons why doctors have difficult-to-read handwriting:

  • They took notes so fast while in school that they developed sloppy handwriting out of habit and necessity.
  • Their handwriting deteriorates throughout their day as their hand muscles get tired from surgery.
  • Most women have better handwriting than most men. There is a clear pattern and history in the medical field of more male doctors.
  • Good penmanship is not prioritized for doctors. They focus on more important elements of their profession.
  • Doctors think quickly so they write quickly to keep up with their ideas.
  • Doctors use jargon and medical speak which lends itself to sloppy handwriting.
  • Some research has linked intelligence and creativity to bad handwriting.

With all of this said, some doctors have beautiful handwriting.

Chicken Scratch Writing Personality

The United States National Pen Company published a study that correlated handwriting to more than 5,000 personality traits.

In the study, they revealed clues about the “chicken scratch personality.”

Putting their research together, people with messy handwriting tend to write erratically, connecting letters (even non-cursive letters) and leaving no space between individual letters in words.

Therefore, someone with unreadable writing correlates with:

  • Higher level thinking
  • Impatience
  • Lateral thinking (out-of-the box creativity)
  • Logical
  • Systematic thinkers
  • Confidence/assertive
  • Private

There are also some variations with the messy handwriting personality.

For example, someone who slants their letters to the left is usually more of an introvert.

If your letters slant to the right, you are more social and take risks.

Small writing can indicate shyness or introversion. Larger letters typically mean extroversion or a bigger, bolder personality.

People with sloppy signatures tend to like their personal space and privacy.

For fun, you can get a free handwriting analysis at

The Benefits of Chicken Scratch Writing

You may have never thought about the benefits of bad handwriting.

However, there are some advantages.

The benefits of poor penmanship:

  • Write quicker
  • Your writing is kept private
  • People will associate you with doctors
  • You can connect unrelated ideas more easily
  • You’re considered more intelligent and creative

Chicken Scratch Writing Synonyms

There are many synonyms that mean the same thing as chicken scratch.

Here is a simple chart with synonyms:

RoughWrite badlyWrite poorly
Bad handwritingErraticDifficult to read
Synonyms for ill-defined writing

Is Chicken Scratch an Idiom?

Yes, chicken scratch is an idiom. An idiom is a phrase that has a meaning that’s different from the words that make it up.

For example, “Hitting the road,” or “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

Chicken scratch is an idiom because it is not referring directly to chickens. Instead, the descriptive phrase is talking about bad handwriting.

Here is a short 1-minute video that introduces the term as an idiom:

YouTube video by APPUSeries

Is Chicken Scratch a Style?

Yes, terrible handwriting is a style.

A style is a way of doing something that is unique to a person or group.

For example, there are many different styles of dance. Or, the way someone dresses can also be a style.

People who write with messy, looping letters and symbols write in an erratic handwriting style.

Is Chicken Scratch a Language?

The Leke script was first known as Karen Chicken Scratch Script.

It is a syllabic alphabet with three 3 tones, 25 consonants, and 17 vowels. The script is used to write the Sgaw and Pwo Karen languages.

Particularly in Thailand and Burma.

However, what most North Americans refer to as sloppy handwriting is not technically considered a language.

Chicken Scratch Writing Resource and Tools

Here are some tools and resources for writing and reading ill-defined handwriting.

In this section, you’ll find automatic generators, a messy handwriting font, and an interpreter.

Chicken Scratch Writing Generators

Check out these messy font generators:

  • Font Meme
  • FontM
  • Fontspace
  • Dafont

Chicken Scratch Writing Interpreters

There is no magical solution to reading and interpreting sloppy handwriting.

However, you can download an app on the Apple store called Handwriting to Text Recognizer.

This app converts handwriting into readable text.

You can also use the Google Handwriting tool. The handwriting tool allows you to write directly on your screen with your mouse.

The tool will recognize and attempt to interpret your writing.

On Microsoft, you can use OneNote to take a picture of any handwriting. OneNote can translate the handwriting to text.

How To Get Rid of Chicken Scratch Writing?

You can get rid of messy handwriting by slowing down and concentrating when you write, continual practice, learning calligraphy, or by using a computer or voice-to-text to type your documents.

I’m not going to say that it will be easy or fast.

Get a good pen for writing, space out your letters, and make sure the letters are consistent in shape, size, and slant.

Chicken Scratch Writing Meme

Here is a meme about terrible handwriting that I can relate to way too much:

Chicken Scratch Writing Meme
Image by the author via Canva

Final Thoughts

If you have cramped, illegible handwriting (like I do), don’t sweat it.

While I get snarky comments from time to time, my poor penmanship has never severely impacted me.

Related posts:


Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Poetry Contingency