The person who says it cannot be done should
not interrupt the person doing it – Chinese proverb
Proof you can
already write fast shorthand
Something for everything
You can't be a
beginner until you begin
Proof you can already write fast shorthand
Numerals are "shorthand" for number words. I am sure you can write
the numerals 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 without any thought, hesitation or
difficulty, and in any order. One numeral is about equivalent to 1½
words written in Pitman's Shorthand.
On a shorthand pad, write those ten numerals as many times as
possible (legibly) in one minute. Count how many you wrote, multiply
by 1½ and
that is very roughly your "shorthand" speed. It is a measure of your hand's ability and
flexibility at present, when unhindered by not knowing the
"outline". I think, and hope, you will be pleasantly surprised and
encouraged. (You might also have a go at the Try Your Speed PDF on
the Why Learn page.)
Given sufficient practice and better quality writing materials, your
hand's speed can be improved and the shorthand outlines will in time
become as well-known as the numerals.
Most instruction books begin
with the straight strokes and the first few lessons feel more like
deciphering sticks and dots than writing. When you get on to the
curved strokes, the outlines begin to flow more easily. Eventually
leaving out most of the vowel signs is the point at which your
shorthand takes wings and speed is achievable.
numerals or 15 words (in 7 shorthand outlines) on 8 lines in one minute = 120 wpm
"Dear Sirs Thank you for your
recent letter which we have received today. Yours sincerely"
Something for everything
Because Pitman's Shorthand is based on rules, rather than
memorising arbitrary combinations of shapes, there does come a point when you can write shorthand
outlines that you have not previously seen or learned, in the same
way that you can write a nonsense word in longhand, using your
familiarity with the words you already know. Pitman's Shorthand's
speed comes from the many ways of abbreviating the basic strokes.
These abbreviating devices are not "add-ons", they are an integral
part of the system, and they actually improve reliability and
legibility because they mostly reflect where the vowels occur and
where the syllables break. They give you additional information
without writing anything extra, in fact writing less, and this is
what enables the vowel signs (dots and dashes placed beside the
strokes) to be omitted for most words. You can write in the vowel
signs any time you feel it necessary, so you are never deprived of
them. As you become more proficient, the outlines end up looking
like groups of familiar syllables, rather than strings of consonants
with unwelcome gaps.
can record a word in a long, incorrect and doubtful outline, using the basic strokes,
and still transcribe it correctly. Circle such words in red pencil, resolve them later with the dictionary and
practise them until they are familiar.
Writing something for everything is essential in real dictations,
but is made easier when you know you have
the right habits in place to clear up the difficulties afterwards. A
bad outline is better than no outline, but it must not be allowed to
remain. The easiest thing to do is to break the word up and write
all the bits or syllables separately.
Come down on errors and hindrances
like the proverbial ton of bricks. They are stealing your shorthand
Shorthand writing at speed requires above all concentration on the
task in hand. Cultivate cast-iron concentration and learn to switch
it on for the duration of the dictation, and of course during the
lessons as well. This is a useful skill for any learning situation.
Meerkats – alert,
attentive and ready for instant action
Learn not to be distracted, either by outside events or intruding
thoughts. What sort of concentration would you have if you were
listening to a faint voice on the telephone giving you information
to save your life, health or family/a cartload of free shorthand
books/a pot of gold? Cast-iron of course!
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Hopeful Maidstone pigeons
Stray thoughts during dictation: firmly evict them
and provide no crumbs to encourage their return
Shorthand speed examinations tend to make one think in terms of
percentage of errors allowed. When you are finally using shorthand
in employment, the percentage of errors tolerated will be zero. You
will help yourself immensely if you adopt the "zero" attitude now!
Half-learned shorthand is useless. If you are not fully committed,
you will probably be wasting your time undertaking to learn it.
Sloppy shorthand – going in circles – the illusion of
Keep to the principles of the system and resist the temptation to make up your own
outlines or write your own version of the shorthand. Such casualness
and lack of application does not serve you well – do not give this
attitude any houseroom whatever. Instead trust the experience of
countless high-speed shorthand writers and teachers who have
contributed their expertise over the years, in the form of your
course books and college teachers, towards providing a system that is
reliable at all speeds and logical in construction. Outlines can
deteriorate at speed and it is built into the system to avoid
outlines that rely on slow writing to remain clear. Theirs was the hard part, yours and mine
is the easy part. It is possible that someone else may need to read
your shorthand one day, and that "someone else" may be you, having
long forgotten your hastily-concocted creations.
Petts Wood railway
Travelling hopefully AND arriving
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I would encourage you to keep a resource file or notebook, so that no useful outline
or item of information is lost. I kept one book as a dictionary of
unusual words, and another for reminders of theory that I needed to
work on, lists short forms and special outlines to practise. A
miniature notebook in your pocket or bag can accompany you
everywhere – fill it with bits and pieces to learn – read it on the
bus or in a queue. I keep several A5 binders full of items for the
websites, with blank pages under each subject tab ready to write in
the outlines and ideas as they occur. See
Own Shorthand Notepad PDF on the
Downloads page for A5 ring binder
pages and tabs.
on the straight road gets you arriving as quickly as possible. Save
the winding lane and personalised shortcuts for later (much later).
Sit on your armless chair with both feet uncrossed on the floor, at
a firm table surface of sufficient height not to have to stoop over
Sit with your weight going down the spine,
and not leaning on either arm. The non-writing hand should be ready
to turn the page over, getting hold of the bottom corner in
readiness. This hand is not there to hold your head up! Avoid floppy sleeves, dangling jewellery, oversize
rings, over-long fingernails or a huge heavy watch.
The pad should be at right
angles to your forearm, not the edge of the table or your body.
If you draw a vertical line on the pad, you will find that having
the pad at that angle produces the most accurate and comfortable
line. Use a fountain pen for this so that there is only one
direction that the nib is happiest with, and this will make it
easier to find the correct angle. The top of the pad will probably
be facing 10 or 11 o' clock for right handers. The side of your hand
or part of the little finger may touch the pad very lightly, if at
all. The reason for this is that the arm should be positioning the
hand along the line, leaving the hand at a constant angle and with
only the work of forming the actual outlines. Your hand should not
be sweeping left and right to travel along the line, like someone
watching a game of tennis. The wrist can take the weight of the arm
in lulls, but not when writing (sorry, no lulls in practising and
exams, only in office work!).
If you Google or
Youtube for "computer posture" you will get lots of advice to choose
Well-known supermarket truck
Did they mean Try Something New Era Today,
I wonder? The flowing style of longhand increases speed of writing,
and shorthand is the same.
Make up your own drill books and keep them in readiness for
practice. Write the beautiful shorthand on the top line and leave
the rest blank. Fill these in during spare moments. The idea is to
practise without having to create the outlines from your memory.
Instead you are consolidating their place in your memory.
When you have filled in a page, you can reuse it by writing over the
top of ink outlines very lightly in pencil, leaving almost no mark. Keep writing over the outlines until
paper falls apart. Say the words out loud, or a least mumble, while
writing, in order to associate the sound with the outline.
Never go back and correct an outline – it is completely pointless, a
waste of time and you end up with an inky ambiguous scribble. Just circle the
outline and write it again.
Note the difficult outlines and drill those ruthlessly. Do not be
tempted to do only easy outlines, but planting a difficult or new
outline amongst some easy known ones in a sentence is a good way of
keeping the shorthand flowing during the drill.
Dig For Victory Garden, Stockwood Park, Luton
Pounce on the difficulties like a
chicken on a bug
Theory needs to be understood, but not memorised, like grammar in a foreign
language. Just keep
writing as many examples as possible, over and over gain. It's like
walking to lose weight – something simple, but done consistently and
persistently. While you are learning one lesson, the items of the
previous lesson are settling in comfortably. Once you know the
outlines for a batch of similar sounds, new similar words will be
easily learned or created, because you already know the general shape they take.
Being acquainted with the theory allows you to see the sense in
groups of similar outlines and makes it easier to learn them.
It is not helpful to be distracted by the desire to be able to write any word you
come across, or keep a shorthand daily diary, in the very early stages of
learning the system. The frustration is counter-productive and I
believe time is better spent consolidating what is presented in the
cannot really take proper dictation from television or radio before
finishing the course, although it is beneficial to make an effort to
produce outlines for some of the common words. However, the
telephone message pad is a painless place to start using your new
skill. Every minute spent getting through the course book, and in
practice and fluency drills, will bring you closer to the day when
you have the whole system at your command.
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Take a new unused shorthand pad of good smooth quality that you have
already tried, tested and trusted. Go through and check all the
pages are separated, undamaged and do not contain any marks or
spots. Rule all the margins.
Have main and spare pens, cleaned and filled with ink. You do not
want to run out of ink during a longhand transcription, therefore
take some biros as well.
Immediately upon finishing the dictation, read through the entire
piece and rewrite troublesome outlines in the margin, while they are
still fresh in your mind – do not alter your actual notes in any
Pub sign in Swanley
reminder to check, check and check again.
Never leave the exam room before the
end of the time. Use every second to read, check, reread and
recheck. Even if you believe you have correctly transcribed every
word of your shorthand, spend the remaining time ensuring that your
longhand handwriting contains nothing ambiguous – if the examiner
misreads, or cannot read, your longhand, you will still lose a mark.
Consider the other students, who will get distracted seeing you
leave the room (if it is allowed). They may become discouraged even
if you just put your pen down, yawn and cross your arms.
I believe it is better not to consume food or drink laden with sugars or preservatives,
before or on the exam day. You want to be alert, and not a ghastly
combination of sugar-sedated and preservative-edgy-jumpy.
If you stress your hands/arms on the day of the exam, e.g. carrying
heavy items, bike riding or winding in the anchor, the hands can remain
shaky until the muscles have recovered and it will take some time
for them to regain precision of control.
Do not attempt to cram or learn anything on the exam day. Restrict
yourself to hand-relaxing fluency drills. In my exams we had warm-up
passages at a slightly higher speed, mainly to allow the students to
get used to the reader's voice. Warm-ups are a great help in getting
your mind in gear, but you should check up on the arrangements for
You should ask your teacher whether your actual shorthand will be
marked. For the lower speeds it probably will.
In cold weather, do everything possible to keep your hands warm –
hot water bottle, disc-activated gel hand warmer*, or holding in warm
water in the washbasins. Cold hands are unlikely to produce fast
so allow extra time to do this.
clothing shops often sell these.
Supposing your flustered shorthand classmate has forgotten their pad
– an unbearable thought. Be kind and take a spare one!
Arrive early and be a model of calm, collected confidence, someone
to whom shorthand is as natural as breathing.
Fatigue and tension from long periods of study is
no encouragement to carry on with studies. Purposely avoiding it
will speed up progress. Learn one short item of
shorthand theory at a time, practise well and then leave it for
something else. When you come back to it after your break, the "new"
item will look like an old friend.
discovered this principle by accident when learning to touch type at home,
and narrowed it down to 20 minutes on and 10 minutes off. When I
came back to the typewriter keyboard, my fingers instantly flew to
the correct keys, because they had had a rest. I did not know how it
worked (I think it is called "muscle memory"), but I certainly made
full use of it from then on and found it can be applied to mental
processes as well. The main point is not the number of minutes, but
to stop well before the point of fatigue and change the type of
Time off is allowed
and you can't do without it, but . . . exercise and fresh air are
better than half-hourly visits to the fridge!
Even the shadows on the parasol will look like outlines
of the fridge ...
My own battle with fatigue was solved
by improving diet. Unhealthy eating
habits cloud the mind and prevent weight loss. I heartily
recommend home-made fruit smoothies as a contributor to
improved health and a clear mind. If you include milk (cow's, rice,
oat, soya etc) and some banana, it is a complete meal in itself.
On the day of the shorthand exam, you need an instantly-digested
meal that will leave you awake and alert, not sluggish and falling asleep while
heavy foods are being digested. In fact, why wait until an exam day?
Long Live Mango & Banana Smoothies!
you are drinking your smoothie at work/college, the answer to enquiries is "I
am getting in shape for my shorthand exam." "Oh really? They're
looking for someone with shorthand over at xxx office, earning xxx,
wish I could apply for that job!"
You can't be a beginner
until you begin
On these pages you can take a
peek at the system, play with it and hopefully make an informed
decision to study something a little different, to stretch your mind
and add to your qualifications. Professional instruction is
the ideal, however, to present the material in easy chunks, in the
correct order and with graded exercises and live dictation. Just as
importantly, your teacher will see where you are going wrong and
step in to correct it. Seeing the whole system at once, in minute
detail as described
here, may be off-putting for the beginner, so concentration on the
book with its gradual presentation is what is needed at first. You can learn and use
shorthand proficiently your entire life without knowing the minutiae
of shorthand theory. These pages are best used for revision, or for
clearing up any query when there is no tutor to ask.
I hope your shorthand colleagues are as
friendly as mine were, sharing each other's speed triumphs and
competing only with the "dictator" and not each other.
One last thing to remember –
not one of the high speed 200-300 wpm writers was born knowing a single
stroke or dot of shorthand, their first efforts were exactly the
same as yours or mine.
Snowy orchard at
Hewitts Farm, Kent – Bramley apple blossom – Royal Gala apples
Stage 1: Beginning
shorthand/Do these trees have what it takes to produce? Is it
Stage 2: Getting near the end of the theory/Looking
good, feeling great, things speeding up.
Stage 3: Achieving the speed
aimed for/Juicy fruits, increasing in quantity and quality every
How a beginner might feel after their first shorthand lesson. This
is short-lived and not worth giving any of your precious time and
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