I learned to read/write hangul from printed text. I was very surprised that the hangul written by my Korean friends looks completely different! There seem to be many shortcuts, lines missing or combined, different parts joined together, etc. Is there a proper or standard way to handwrite hangul?
There is a standard way of handwriting hangul. All stroke orders follow this guideline:
- top -> bottom
- left -> right
Although, in terms of writing a "cursive" hangul, everyone kind of does their own thing. For example, ㄹ might be written in one stroke (squiggly) instead of five segments, something like this. ㅁ and ㅇ sometimes get written confusingly because Koreans may write ㅁ in one stroke instead of four, like this. Feel free to adopt these styles as you see comfortable, but keep in mind that these aren't the "standard" and such adoption of styles aren't unique to Korean.
When hangul is handwritten rather flowery it is referred to as 흘림체 or "cursive". Here is an example of a mild 흘림체 vs its typewritten counterpart:
In paraphrase of this article note the following when it comes to handwritten hangul.
Strokes are more important than shape
To read handwritten Korean, one must see the pen/brush strokes, not the final shape. There are always stray markings when handwriting, but they are artifacts of following a very consistent, intentional pattern of writing the shapes.
In the end, rather than focusing on perfect circles or straight lines ...right angles...look only for how the [pen, pencil, or] brush traveled across the page
You can easily master the order to each symbol as writing always starts in an upper corner and progresses to lower, opposite corner (when working with brush and ink, one would not want their hand/arm in the ink, so the direction is logical).
Violating the order of strokes makes writing illegible.
Here is a diagram showing the stroke order. Use it to try to decode some handwritten Korean.
For more stroke guidance, try this site which will demonstrate each character's order of strokes.
To answer your question, using this proper, standard way to hand write characters is paramount.