How to Learn Shorthand Writing Symbols

by Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild Google
Before dictaphones and digital transcription, shorthand was a desirable office skill.

Before dictaphones and digital transcription, shorthand was a desirable office skill.

In our modern era of digital recording devices, shorthand is not often taught in schools anymore. It can, however, be useful. Shorthand, as the name implies, is a faster way of writing words and phrases using minimum motions of your pen or pencil. It is a good way to take notes in venues where recording devices or electronics are not allowed. Its most common applications have been for secretaries to take notes for dictation or for news reporters to record information.

Purchase a beginning instruction book, a shorthand pad and a good ball point pen. There are several types of shorthand. The traditional type--learned by many high school students in the late 1960s--was Gregg shorthand, which used a portion of the stroke ordinarily used for a letter to designate it. It used single strokes to represent diphthongs and blends and also used symbols, called "brief forms," that stood for whole words. During the 1990s, a system called "Speedscript" was introduced, boasting as its advantage a system of abbreviations rather than symbols. It was touted as being easier to learn. A modern version, called contemporary shorthand, seems to combine the principles of both systems. The advertising for the system says that "you will write shorthand in a few hours." For the sake of simplicity, this article will focus on Gregg shorthand.

Dedicate at least 30 minutes daily to shorthand practice. The Gregg shorthand manuals are laid out in lessons, each building upon the previous. Part of the process of learning shorthand is training your hand to move smoothly over the page without thought and learning to read it after you have written it. If you cannot find or afford a shorthand manual, Andrew Owen has posted the traditional Gregg system online. A paper book, however, allows you to take notes as you learn the system.

Practice taking dictation. Purchase a book of dictations and the accompanying sound files or visit Stenospeed and use the sound files there to work on your speed and accuracy. The sound files can also be used for transcription or court reporting practice.

Continue practicing and gaining fluency. A skilled shorthand stenographer should be able to take dictation at a rate of at least 120 words per minute. Even if you do not reach that level of competency, shorthand helps when taking notes in class, jotting down telephone messages or even in keeping journals. Practice reading and transcribing shorthand as well as writing it. It can be pretty embarrassing not to be able to read your own notes!

Things You Will Need

  • Shorthand instruction book
  • Top-bound spiral notebook, lined for shorthand
  • Ball-point or fountain pen
  • Recorded timed dictation

About the Author

Daisy Peasblossom Fernchild has been writing for over 50 years. Her first online publication was a poem entitled "Safe," published in 2008. Her articles specialize in animals, handcrafts and sustainable living. Fernchild has a Bachelor of Science in education and a Master of Arts in library science.

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