In everyday writing, you can be quite lazy with your handwriting because it’s usually clear from the context which letter or number you meant, even if it looks like another symbol. This is not the case in mathematics, where letters and numbers are mixed together, and interpreting a symbol incorrectly will lead to errors. You may need to practice writing some symbols more clearly.

The Greek alphabet is also used in mathematics, but I won’t use any Greek letters in this chapter, so you can wait until you start geometry to learn it (see Section 10.1: The Greek Alphabet).

Below is my handwriting of the Roman alphabet, and the ten digits.

Lowercase:

$a$ | $b$ | $c$ | $d$ | $e$ | $f$ | $g$ | $h$ | $i$ | $j$ | $k$ | $l$ | $m$ |

$n$ | $o$ | $p$ | $q$ | $r$ | $s$ | $t$ | $u$ | $v$ | $w$ | $x$ | $y$ | $z$ |

Uppercase:

$A$ | $B$ | $C$ | $D$ | $E$ | $F$ | $G$ | $H$ | $I$ | $J$ | $K$ | $L$ | $M$ |

$N$ | $O$ | $P$ | $Q$ | $R$ | $S$ | $T$ | $U$ | $V$ | $W$ | $X$ | $Y$ | $Z$ |

Digits:

$0$ | $1$ | $2$ | $3$ | $4$ | $5$ | $6$ | $7$ | $8$ | $9$ |

Note especially:

The letter $x$ can’t be written like the multiplication symbol $\times$, so you’ll need to write it in script form, like a backwards $c$ then a forwards $c$, just touching. We use $x$ a lot in mathematics, so this is the most important one to practise.

Times symbol: Letter $x$: Greek letter chi, $\chi$: Some people write the letter $x$ like this: , but I wouldn’t recommend it because it looks like the Greek letter chi, which is sometimes used in mathematics.

Make sure you don’t write the letter $b$ the same way as the number $6$. It should have a straight back, then your pen moves up and over to make the round part, whereas the number $6$ is one smooth curve.

Letter $b$: Number $6$: The number $9$ needs to have a straight tail so that it doesn’t look like the letter $g$, and the letter $q$ needs to have an uptick on the end of its tail.

Number $9$: Letter $g$: Letter $q$: Many people write the number $5$ the same way as a letter $S$, which would cause problems in algebra; make sure your $5$ has corners, and your $S$ is a smooth curve.

Number $5$: Uppercase $S$: Lowercase $s$: It helps if you make the top stroke of the $5$ in a separate penstroke from the rest, running from left to right.

Some people write the number $1$ in a complicated way to distinguish it from lowercase $l$ and uppercase $I$, but in mathematics we write the number $1$ so many times that we want to just draw it as a simple vertical line. Uppercase $I$ should be written with horizontal lines on the top and bottom. Lowercase $l$ should be written in loopy form.

Number $1$: Uppercase $I$: Lowercase $l$: Some people write the number $7$ with a bar through it, others don’t. It doesn’t matter as long as your number $1$ is a simple vertical line.

The letter $z$, both in uppercase and lowercase form, should be written with a bar so that it doesn’t look like the number $2$.

Number $2$: Uppercase $Z$: Lowercase $z$: The letter $d$ must be written with a straight back so it doesn’t look like the partial derivative symbol, or the Greek letter delta.

Letter $d$: Greek letter delta, $\delta$: Partial derivative symbol, $\partial$: Some people write the number $0$ with a line through it to distinguish it from the letter $o$, but we don’t do that in mathematics because it would take longer (and we write zero a lot), but also because a circle with a line through it is the symbol for the empty set, $\emptyset$ (see Chapter 8: Sets and Functions) or the Greek letter phi, $\phi$. We simply don’t use the letter $o$ as a variable except in rare cases (O notation in calculus for example).

Be careful when using both uppercase and lowercase versions of $c$, $p$, $s$, $u$, $v$, $w$, and $z$. Your uppercase version must be noticeably bigger than the lowercase one, because you may need to use both versions for different variables in the same problem.

Remember:

You may need to practise writing the letters $b$, $l$, $q$, $x$, and $z$, and the numbers $5$ and $9$ in a different way than you’re used to.