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Example:

Scott scribbled a few words.

Scott scribbled down a few words.

What's the difference? I checked on Google Books and it seems like "scribbled a few words" is often immediately followed by something:

"Sometimes he scribbled a few words on a note pad." [link]

While "scribbled down a few words" isn't:

"After wiping his forehead he scribbled down a few words." [link]

Is that the main distinction? Are there others?

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    It's the same as the difference between to write and to write down. The down evokes something being written on. That may be assumed anyway, but this choice of words brings the object into the mind's eye. – Robusto Jul 26 '15 at 12:30
  • Also, there's "He scribbled." No implication of WHAT he scribbled (maybe words, but more likely not) or what he scribbled ON (a wall, a whiteboard, somebody's cast on their ankle?) – Brian Hitchcock Jul 26 '15 at 12:49
  • If it's just "scribbled", with no additional description, then it implies writing in a nearly illegible form (or perhaps just random marks as a small child would make). "Scribbled down", on the other hand, implies hurriedly but not illegibly. – Hot Licks Jul 26 '15 at 13:14
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The difference is one of intention.

To scribble is to write quickly, often not very neatly.

To scribble down is to write quickly, often not very neatly, with the intention of being able to refer to the information later.

He scribbled on an envelope while on hold with customer service.

He scribbled down the flight number and gate.

The same difference occurs with "write" and "write down":

She wrote the teen idol's name on the inside cover of her algebra textbook.

He wrote down her phone number.

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This is interesting... (purely based on personal experience) When you scribble something, your brain does not need to be engaged on a conscious level - you may be checking to see if the pen works, or signing your name on 'autopilot'.

"Scribble down" means, (IMO) the words that you are scribbling were "up" somewhere - maybe in your mind's eye, or, in the air between you and the person who just uttered them.

The image I get is that you are using your pen to suck in the words and spit them out onto the paper before they dissipate into the ether (or the fog in your brain).

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