What Does Scratch Paper Mean?

Scratch Paper Meaning

Definition: Previously used paper that a person can use to make notes on.

An alternative expression is scrap paper. Many people use the terms interchangeably. However, some people believe scrap paper refers to any paper that someone has already used, and scratch paper refers to any paper used to handwrite notes on.

Origin of Scratch Paper

Both forms of this expression have existed since the 1800s. Scratch is another way to describe handwriting. Scrap is another word to describe something discarded.

Examples of Scratch Paper

what is scratch paperIn the example below, one sibling is talking to another about the new Wi-Fi password.

Jordan: Hey, James, I’m about to leave to go to my soccer game, but I wanted to let you know that the new Internet company installed the new router today. We have a new password.

James: Tell me what it is before you go.

Jordan: Dad made it, so it is just a long series of random characters.

James: Can you write it down for me? I’ll bring you a clean sheet of paper from the printer.

Jordan: That’s okay; I’ll just use this scratch paper. After you enter the password on your computer, it will automatically be saved, so you can get rid of the paper after that.

James: Okay, thanks.

scratch paper or scrap paper In the second dialogue, two coworkers are discussing a game to play at the work party.

Job: We should try to do something fun at the work party.

Melissa: Yeah. These work parties are always so boring. A game might liven it up. I know a really fun game that doesn’t need any special materials. It just needs a few things we already have around the office.

Job: That sounds good. What materials do we need?

Melissa: We just need a bowl, or a bag, or any container really, as well as a few pencils and some scratch paper.

Job: How much paper do you need? Does it have to be clean paper?

Melissa: Just like ten sheets, and no, it can have other stuff on the back, we just need room to write one word on each piece.

More Examples

This excerpt is about a little boy who designed a card game after his parents told him to stop playing on the computer.

  • Instead of abandoning Magicka, Ethan hunkered down and on pieces of scratch paper, designed a card game to recreate the experience of playing on the computer. –OC Register

The second example is about a prisoner who took notes on his harsh treatment.

  • During more than 100 hours shackled to various accused and convicted prisoners – from people suspected of welfare fraud to alimony absconders to child molesters to drug users – Hastings jotted notes on scratch paper stuffed between the pages of a smuggled Bible. His scribbles read like a Steinbeck novel – blood, defecation, speeds of 95 miles per hour, massive weight loss, freezing temperatures, fights, a malfunctioning heart. And then there was the time the van skidded off an icy road in Minnesota and the prisoners inside thought they were about to tumble into a lake. –OC Register


The phrase scratch paper describes paper that someone is using to take personal notes on. Usually these notes are informal and unorganized, and the writer often discards it after a short time.

In many cases, scratch paper is paper that someone already partially used.