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Theory
 
Intro
 1   Strokes
 2   Vowels
 3   Forming Outlines
 4   Circles
 5   Loops
 6   Hooks Intro
 7   Hooks R L
 8   Hooks N F V
 9   Shun Hook
10  Halving
11  Doubling
12  Hay Aspirate
13  W Forms
14  L Forms
15  R Forms
16  Imp/Imb
17  Ish
18  Prefixes
19  Suffixes General
20  Suffixes Contracted

Short Forms
Intro
SF List 1
SF List 2
SF List 3
SF List 4

Contractions
Contractions Intro
Contractions Main

Contractions Optional

Phrasing

1 Intro & Contents list
2 Theory
3 Theory
4 Omission
Part words
5 Omission
Whole words
6 Miscellaneous
7 Miscellaneous
8 Intersections

Distinguishing Outlines
DO Intro
DO List 1 A-C
DO List 2 D-H
DO List 3 I-P
DO List 4 Q-Y

Vocabulary
Intro
Numbers
Punctuation
Shorthand Dictionaries

Word Lists
Text Lists from PDFs

Yellow Teddy's page

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On this page:

Pen
Holding the pen
Maintain a light touch
The ink flow test
Pencil
Mechanical Pencils

Waste Not Want Not
Paper
Page turning

Pen

See also my review of the Noodler's Flex Pens on the Reviews page.

The ideal is a lightweight fountain pen, filled from an ink bottle rather than sealed cartridges, so that it can be kept full at all times. Some pens have a refillable cartridge which would seem to serve the purpose – the idea being to start your day with a full supply of ink. A transparent ink chamber or a window showing the ink level of the cartridge is highly recommended, otherwise you do not know that the ink is about to run out. You cannot change cartridges in mid-dictation, so keep a second pen handy to enable you to "change horses" at a moment's notice. In an exam this is not really an option, except as an emergency backup against pen failure before the exam actually starts.

The nib should be reasonably fine and flexible. A very fine nib may catch the paper until you become accustomed to writing more delicately with it, and a thick a nib will not make clear outlines. The nib needs to be flexible to produce the thick and thin strokes of Pitman's Shorthand.

I used beautiful black ink until I read up about the care of fountain pens and learned that black ink has a lot more pigment in it which can clog the pen more quickly. I changed a 35-year habit in an instant and started to use only Royal blue ink. When I came across the Noodler's flex pens that can be taken apart for cleaning, I was once again able to use black ink without any worries about pen clogging, and can also enjoy a variety of ink colours. Black ink is normally more permanent and may be required in your particular employment, if the verbatim notes have to be kept as part of the records. The benefit of blue ink is that it is easier to clean off hands. The thick cleansing gels used by car mechanics are useful for dealing with ink on hands.

Keeping the cap on the pen is an unnecessary burden unless you are taking dictation on the rolling deck of a ship! The cap acts as counterweight to the nib, working like a stabiliser against the fine movements you are doing your best to make, and its length gives it added leverage. These things matter in the speed stakes. Anything that slows you down will increase the errors as you struggle to keep up, and so accuracy is also compromised. During real employment dictation, I found it useful to keep the cap tucked between myself and the pad, and slip the pen into it during a lull, so that the nib ink does not dry out; you can do this discreetly without it looking as if you are packing up for the day. Of course, your first and best option is to spend those moments going back over your take and making notes in the margins.

Some writers use ballpoints or gel pens, and as you gain experience reading your own shorthand, you may find these adequate, but I believe the fountain pen writes the best Pitman's Shorthand. Apart from the shorthand it produces, it is like wearing your best clothes – it makes you behave more professionally, knowing everything about you is at its best. So get the highest quality writing instrument that you can, look after it and treasure it. It is helpful to have two or more pens, as a day's writing can easily empty one of them and inky hands belong only in primary school.

Refilling ink cartridge  Ink syringe with long needle
Tried refilling a cartridge using an inkjet printer syringe – the air escaping from the cartridge brought the ink back out with it. So this is where the Ancient Britons got their idea of woad from! A syringe with a long needle is what is needed, available from pen/ink sellers.

YouTube demonstration of using pen syringes by Goulet Pens/Ink Nouveau:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwibQJUHbhw

Rotring Artpen fountain pen adaptor  Rotring Artpen fountain pen adaptor package
This Rotring adaptor, originally bought for an Artpen, fitted a Sheaffer* pen perfectly
*Non-shorthand

The solution – converter for cartridge pens, so they can be bottle filled which means you can start the day with a full ink supply, as well as having endless choice of ink colour at a moment's notice. It is essentially a cartridge with a twist plunger mechanism to suck the ink in. The plunger also enables you to force water through for cleaning, or force ink through to a dry nib if necessary, much better than shaking the pen and possibly hitting the nib against something and/or spraying ink about when it does come through. (Dipping the nib in water can often bring the ink through again.) You can fill a converter on its own before fitting it to the pen. You need to get the correct converter for your particular pen.

Never, never, never use drawing ink in your fountain pen, it is not designed to wash out when dried!

The Rotring Artpen is designed for sketching, with a long tapered barrel to enable the artist to hold it nearer the top end, light weight and a choice of Bold, Fine and Extra Fine nibs. The steel nib is too hard for Pitman's Shorthand, but is as good as any other fountain pen for writing. Available from art shops and see also Links page.

I remember taking notes of a meeting from dictation at a large table surrounded by all the heads of department. After a whole day of talking, silence now reigned. Apart from the chairman's mouth, my nib was the only moving object in the room and all eyes were resting upon its progress down each page, because there was really nothing else to look at. Gritted teeth, clean hands and a professional pen did wonders against stage fright. I was relieved that I was not called upon to read back to them, and escaped to the comfort of my trusty typewriter and the thunderous noise of the typing pool.

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Senator Professional shorthand pen  Senator pen transparent ink chamber
Senator Professional shorthand pen from 1974 working well, but cap is showing its age. Transparent ink chamber is a must-have. Some modern pens have a window to view the cartridge ink level.

In about 1974 I bought a Senator Professional shorthand pen with flexible gold nib, iridium tipped, and a transparent ink chamber. I think I responded to an advert in the Pitman Memo magazine. It is filled by a twist piston, operated at the top end, so there is no rubber ink sac to deteriorate. The price was almost a week's wages, and, because they were so good, I eventually obtained a few more. They are still working well after 35 years, but sadly no longer available, to my knowledge. From a recent search, I believe they may have been made by German manufacturer Merz & Krell.

They are still occasionally available on Ebay and a good clean pen is well worth the money you pay; but do look minutely at any close-ups of the nib, to ensure the two halves of the tip are straight and true. (Do not be misled by the modern "Senator Pen" offers, which seem to be cheaper promotional pens/biros and nothing to do with the above shorthand pen.)

At the same time I also bought a steel-nibbed Geha sold for shorthand but the nib had insufficient flexibility – obviously designed for shorthand other than Pitman's. Nevertheless they are extremely well made and long lasting – German made again, always a good sign. Geha got its name from Gebrόder Hartmann (Hartmann Brothers) who founded the company in 1918, which is now part of Pelikan (see Links page).

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Senator and Geha nibs
Gold Senator (1970's), gold Geha (1960's) and steel Geha (1970's) nibs. The narrowness of the Senator tip area increases the flexibility.  The tip area is wider in the Gehas – the gold one does very fine shorthand but is nowhere near as flexible as the Senator, but nevertheless it is a dream to write with; the steel one is only suitable for longhand.

One does not want to buy a raft of expensive pens, whether new or vintage, in the hope that one of them is the perfect shorthand pen. A pen sold for shorthand may be designed for another system that does not require a flexible nib, so caution is needed. Gold will be flexible; a gold plated or steel nib may not suit Pitman's Shorthand unless specifically designed to be flexible.* The salesperson may be convinced it is a suitable nib – but it's their (probably limited) knowledge of what the shorthand writer needs versus your hard-earned cash. Recommendation from an existing user seems to be the best route, provided their requirements and preferences are similar to yours.

*See my review of the Noodler's Flex Pens, inexpensive, and with a nib that can be adjusted for flexibility and ink flow.

The present trend for biros, gel and other hard-tipped pens, including cheap steel fountain pens, can encourage high pressure writing, so be kind to your new pen until you reaccustom your writing habits. The exertion of pressure will slow down your writing. If the ink does not flow readily, change to a smoother paper rather than press on the nib.

It is possible to obtain thick and thin lines with an ordinary biro, provided it is of reasonable quality and is not producing blobs. The technique is to use the ordinary line for the thicks, and a very lightly stroked line for the thins. If you find yourself pressing hard for the thicks, then that would be a disadvantage, as a heavy-handed approach is not conducive to speed, and the dents in the paper will make the reverse of each page unusable. You need to see when the ink is running out so a transparent barrel would help.

Using a broad nib to obtain wide and narrow lines should be reserved for calligraphy/artwork and has no place in the shorthand writer's kit. Such a pen is entirely unsuitable. The same applies to calligraphy nibs, mapping pens and dip pens, which can produce the fine outlines found in the older text books. I briefly considered using a flexible dip pen nib for clarity when producing the JPGs for the theory pages, but decided that a real shorthand pen would provide examples that were attainable by anyone in real-life writing situations. In its beginning years (mid 1800s) Pitman's Shorthand was encouraged for daily personal use, not just for speed writing by reporters and office workers. Many people would have been using dip pens, hence the delicate and very small outlines in the shorthand manuals of that century, easy to emulate using the fine nibs when writing diaries and personal letters at normal handwriting speed.

Holding the pen

Pen grip - fingers extended  Pen grip - fingers retracted
Hold the pen:

  • Near the nib for maximum flexibility and control in making the small distinctions of the outlines. This is the opposite of what you might do for an artistic drawing. Unlike handwriting, shorthand outlines cannot be distorted very far into a personal writing style.

  • Between the thumb and index finger, level with each other, and the underside of the barrel resting on the middle finger. This allows maximum range of movement by the fingers. Movements made with the fingers are more accurate and efficient than using your wrist or arm. Wrist movement provides extra scope beyond what the fingers can do, but is a poor replacement for finger control. Horizontal movement along the line is achieved by the arm, as the whole hand is moved from left to right.

  • Only the tip of the little finger or the outside base of the hand should rest on the paper, lightly so that it can glide easily down the page.

  • The non-writing hand is ready to grip the bottom corner and flip it over quickly and firmly, so that the paper goes right over and does not fall back onto the pen.

  • Write a line towards your own writing hand, drawing the fingers inwards (not using the arm), parallel with the nib and barrel, i.e. not dragging the nib sideways at all. Then adjust the angle of the pad so that the line you have just drawn is vertical on the paper. This produces the ideal central comfortable position from which other shorthand lines will go to the left and right, maximising the smooth exit of the ink and avoiding the shorthand gaining any unwanted slant.

  • Never change the angle of the hand to form the curves or produce thicks, this may be a temptation during the first attempts at shorthand but such a habit will produce drawing rather than writing, which is not the road to shorthand speed.

Many other finger combinations result in a tight locked-in grip, with the arm having to make all the movements. The arm and the hand as a whole cannot perform the fine control needed to write lightly, neatly and rapidly, whether longhand or shorthand. A tight grip produces fatigue more quickly.

The thicker the pen barrel, the less room for movement there is for the fingers, and additional movement has to be gained from wrist or arm, not so efficient or accurate. Try holding 1 pencil in writing position, then 2 pencils together, then 3 and 4, and see how the facility for fine movements diminishes.

Maintain a light touch

This brief Youtube shows Japanese writing with a very light touch, only possible with a good ink flow. The writer is barely gripping the pen, and is using only wrist/arm movements, but for shorthand a slightly firmer grip with the thumb, and lower down, would be necessary, due to the speed being attempted and for greater accuracy in forming the shapes. But the lightness is worthy of emulation:

Whether pen or pencil, digging into the paper is a hindrance. I am sure most teachers have a version of what my shorthand teacher told us, "We are not gardeners, don't dig!" It ruins the nib and slows you down. How alarming to suddenly find your shorthand is suddenly embellished by a few hairy strands of the paper stuck in the nib, or the pencil lead snaps and flies off into space. If the pencil is not forming the thicks easily, the lead is too hard. Worse, bending the nib – a nightmare, and one that can happen gradually, as the nib gives way under excess pressure.

A tight grip reduces finger movement and hastens fatigue. It can be caused as much by mental tension as anything else, and needs to be dealt with firmly whenever it is noticed. I like what high-speed writer Emily D Smith said in one of her books, that some pupils hold their pens tightly as if in fear of the imminent approach of the pen-snatcher. However, if you have an expensive pen, you will surely want to keep it in a safe place.

A non-shorthand writer is likely to treat a pen like a steel girder and paper like sailcloth, digging in with gusto and underlining their signature with a forceful executive flourish. If they need to borrow, let them have your biro or gel pen. Reserve the privilege of trying out your treasured pen for your closest and most trusted shorthand buddies. "Yes, of course you may try out my £xxx/$xxx pen!"

Calligraphy dip pen nib with upturned tip
This calligraphy dip-pen nib is meant to be like this, but not your shorthand pen

The Ink Flow Test – proof you do not need to dig the paper

Ink flow test - resting the pen between the fingers and drawing a line
Try this test: rest the pen between the thumb and forefinger, without actually gripping the pen. Drag the nib over the paper. The pen should write under its own weight. If it does not, improve the ink flow by cleaning the pen, using a paler ink that has less pigment solids, and using smoother paper – or maybe not leaving the pen baking on a sunny corner of your desk! If your pen passes this test, it becomes clear that the only pressure you need to exert on the nib is the slight one to achieve the thick strokes. Any more than that is wasted effort, shortening the life of the nib, cramping your writing style and slowing your speed.

Pens can be cleaned by filling with water and leaving overnight to soften any dried ink within. I leave mine also standing upright in enough water to cover the nib, then next day a good flushing until the pen expels only clear water – best done over a container, rather than over the gaping pen-sized holes in the bathroom sink! If a pen runs out of ink during the day and you cannot refill, then fill with water to prevent drying out. Filling the pen with a small amount of water will give you some extra writing time, by diluting the residue of ink in the pen, meaning that you can carry on writing a bit longer without recourse to a messy ink bottle whilst at work. Even dipping the pen in water will gain you a few extra lines of pale writing if you are in a meeting and cannot refill. But I do hope that you will have some backup pencils handy for such times, rather than giving up your drinking water!

It is not a good idea to combine inks of different colours or makes, as their constituents may form a hardened sludge or precipitate which will clog the pen. If you wish to make your own colours, you should buy Mix-Free sets of fountain pen inks, which are designed with this in mind.

Never use drawing ink of any colour, it will dry permanently hard inside the pen and ruin it.

Some inks described as permanent only become permanent when the ink combines with the cellulose in the paper (or your clothing!), hence the claims that they are both washable and permanent, and therefore safe to use in a fountain pen. Reading up on the behaviour of modern inks is advisable, to protect your precious fountain pen(s) from an avoidable disaster. If in doubt, test with a cheapie pen or allow some ink to dry on various surfaces, to see what it does. See Links page for some useful ink info sites.

Very old ink in the bottle may have become thick, so a fresh supply can make an indifferent pen something that is a pleasure to write with. The best use for an ancient questionable bottle of ink is to play with dip-pens, or for artwork, getting different shades by combining with water (bearing in mind that the ink colours may fade over time). Doodles, drawings and paintings done solely to use up old ink bring freedom from the pressure to always produce finished artwork with expensive artist's materials.

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Pencil

Not everyone likes writing with ink and pencils can write perfectly good shorthand. The pencil should be just soft enough to form the thicks and thins, but not so soft it wears down very quickly. The principal attributes are:

  • Lead that does not break easily
  • Degree of hard/softness of the lead
  • Smooth lead with no gritty bits
  • Circular body better than hexagonal if writing for long periods

The H (Hard) range goes up to 9H, the hardest. The B (Black) range are soft with 9B the softest. The extremes of the range are intended for artwork and technical drawing. There is F for Fine in the centre of the range. I believe HB is the ideal if using a traditional wooden pencil, anything softer will blunt too soon. "Shorthand pencils" had leads that were less likely to break, but if you choose your lead hardness to suit your writing style, that will achieve the same end and you need not search for the special pencil.

An art shop will always have the full range of traditional pencil types and hardnesses, and in better quality than the average stationery shop. You may get through a lot of pencils, but do not hobble your future success with cheap pencils that cause grief in sharpening and have leads that are already broken. Even your carefully-chosen good quality pencils will harbour broken leads if they get dropped, and you do not want to find the tip of your pencil lead wobbling like a loose tooth or dropping out altogether in the midst of your shorthand writing.

A very hard pencil is ideal for going over your facility drills – use it lightly and virtually no mark will be made. You can keep going over the same outlines until the paper falls apart or curls into a ball. This is an ideal activity when you are time-filling in public places, where you do not want to be flinging ink around. You also save on paper usage and therefore have absolutely no excuse whatsoever for not doing the drills!

If you choose to use traditional pencils for all your shorthand, keep a good supply so that you can swap over instantly
. Sharpen the whole batch when you get home – another pocket-money opportunity for entrepreneurial children. You may find it beneficial to sharpen both ends, and if you are pencil chewer, this will stop you. Discard the pencil for shorthand purposes when it gets short.

Never use a rubber. Circle and rewrite the outline, and move on. Correct and practise the tricky outline later.

Hole in car park asphalt Car park asphalt
Left unchecked, this hole would get worse. Someone has circled it and will deal with the fault later, so that it does not happen again. Ditto any badly written shorthand outline.

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Mechanical Pencils

I started with the humble wooden pencil, constantly in need of sharpening. I moved on to a clutch pencil with a thick lead, which still needed sharpening, and I used it for the whole of my shorthand course year, including the exams. The lead was very thick so it lasted through the longer dictations, it produced grey shiny notes and lacked clarity, but at the time I knew no better. There was the occasional hard scratchy bit within the lead.

Clutch pencil with 1.8 mm lead
Above is the dear old Ofrex clutch pencil with 1.8 mm leads that saw me through my shorthand learning and exams in 1973-4. Between the lead and the smooth sleeve can be seen the jaws of the clutch, in the same 3-part configuration as a wood-working hand-drill, veritable monster teeth. This is different from mechanical pencils in that pressing the top (against a very strong spring) opens the jaws, allowing the lead to fall out under gravity, to the length required. Holding it upside-down lets the lead fall back inside and the jaws retract back into the sleeve. It does hold the lead right down to the last bit.

The thickness of the lead means that it needs advancing less frequently than the modern thin ones, and it never breaks. The lead blunts quite quickly (a source of great frustration) and the removable top end incorporates a lead sharpener - a hollow tube with an angled metal ridge inside that can grind down the lead to produce a point. I eventually realised that it was better to keep 2 or 3 shorter lengths of lead inside and then drop out the blunt one, to save having to sharpen during a lesson. It was a gift from a well-wisher and I was delighted with it (although I was rather sorry to say goodbye to the pretty candy striped pencils). A few years later, its delights were totally overshadowed by my first shorthand fountain pen and it found a new job as a drawing pencil. I tried it again for shorthand before taking the picture and I found the thick grey greasy lead very unpleasant after so many years of using ink.

I have found that HB leads in mechanical pencils produce the thicks and thins perfectly well, rather better than traditional HB pencils do, because the writing force is going into a very small tip and therefore more graphite gets deposited.

I like the fact that mechanical pencils can write very small outlines, which favours speed, and switching to this type of pencil for a while may counteract the sprawl that can develop when pushing your speed. Practising tiny outlines might get you back on track for faster smaller shorthand in ink, although I consider pen and ink to be far superior in all respects. Pencil is also preferable when taking intermittent notes, such as during a telephone conversation, or composing or editing pages of notes, when there are long time-gaps between outlines, resulting in a drying nib. However, I would certainly not want to use a mechanical pencil in an exam or for writing a lot of fast shorthand, because at those times you do not have the slightest opportunity to advance the lead and fond thoughts of having a spare half a second to do so are more wishful thinking than a real possibility.

One other advantage of pencil is that you can practise unobtrusively – you can write extremely small with a fine lead, the pale grey cannot be seen by a bystander and you will be left to continue in peace.

If you have to bend towards the pad to see the grey shorthand when typing up, then that will cause you posture and eye-strain. If you are using a wide screen, you could scan your notes and then have them on screen for typing from, more time-consuming but may be worthwhile if back/neck/eye strain is an issue.

YouTube demonstrations on posture at the computer abound, and are much easier to follow than any written description. Brief notes on pad angle/posture are on the Notes for Beginners page.

Let exams try you, not your pen

You do not want to go into a shorthand exam with a writing implement that has not had a long and trustworthy trial in your own fair hands. If your pen or pencil with a memorable price-tag is not producing good shorthand, use it for longhand or give it to someone who may find they actually get on better with it. Start with full ink or full new lead. You might consider having a spare pen or pencil lying on the desk ready to be grabbed, more for peace of mind than anything else, as there is unlikely to be any time to change pens in mid-flow, unless you are sitting an exam a lot slower than your best practise speed.

Bendy pencil  Brain and fingers need to remain flexible
Pen/pencil problems are not minor side issues, they are serious hindrances to progress, speed, accuracy, reliability and confidence. They must not be allowed to niggle or hold you back.

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Waste not want not

Can't bear to throw out the pencil stubs, the blobby biros, the leaking gel pens or the cheap fountain pen with the scratchy nib? As long as they are not your only source of writing marks, I am going to encourage you to draw up as much as possible of that new-found determination, resolve, tenacity, authority, perseverance, willpower, drive, discipline, self-control, doggedness and grit that you now have at your disposal since you started learning shorthand. Get a bin, tip them in – recycle if poss, otherwise toss!

Get out your best pen and your smoothest pad, and write some beautiful shorthand, to remind yourself of what you are not going to allow to be stolen from you by junk. Using inferior materials by choice is a reflection of how you value yourself, your time and your efforts, and that is a waste far greater than bits of wood, graphite and plastic.

Pencil extender holders are sold for art students and their expensive pencils and chalks, enabling them to get maximum use of the stubs. If you buy one of these, test it for durability before trusting any shorthand to it. Contemplating how to squeeze the last bit of graphite from pencil stubs for your shorthand is probably not the best use of your time and energies, unless pencils are hard to come by where you are, and using an extender on the stubs may help you feel better about demoting them to other uses. See my Faber-Castell Perfect Pencil review that includes a simple extender.

Once-favoured pens and pencils can put on a sad face when rejected for high-flying jobs, so the kindest thing to do is to retire them to gentler duties, such as telephone table, kitchen shopping list or plant-pot dibbers – the best resting place for pencils that are sentimental gifts, pretties, novelties, souvenirs, have a cherished history or feel like part of the furniture through long service. They will soon get used to the quiet life and will cheer you on from the sidelines.

Pitman's NE: Well begun is half done!  Well begun is half done!
Anything can write shorthand of some sort

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Paper

Use a shorthand pad that is spiral bound at the top. The paper should be good smooth quality, so that the pen nib glides along on the ink trail. Rough absorbent hairy paper is of no use, it will suck in and spread the ink, and shed fibres. Check your chosen pad with the ink/pen you intend using, to ensure ink does not bleed dots onto the reverse. Coloured paper will give you rectangles before the eyes when you look up from the pad. Do not use an extra thick variety, e.g. 300 pages, as the height of the pad above the table means the writing hand is teetering on the edge all the time, unless you open out the pad into halves on the desk. Save yourself the trouble of wrestling with a brick-sized pad full of the last 600 dictations.

When you find a good pad, keep a goodly supply, so you are always prepared. You will need separate pads for dictation and for fluency drills. You will be making up your own fluency drill books, to be used at any spare moment for practice. Your dictation book must be blank, to prevent nasty surprises when you turn the page.

Draw all the margins on your supply of pads, at least 2 cm wide. You will use the margin for marking doubtful or corrected outlines, and making extra notes to yourself, enabling you to go instantly to a particular section. The margin is your essential key to hassle-free transcription and ongoing improvement of your shorthand, and is not a luxury or a waste of paper. If you have to use an unprepared pad, then quickly dash down a margin as each page comes into use, as it is better to have a wavy wild margin than none at all.

While doing the margins, look for blemishes on the paper and remove those sheets – a mark can look like a shorthand dot or dash. If during dictation you notice a blemish or greasy spot, avoid that line by dropping down past it. If you have time, just circle it to draw attention to it. If it keeps happening, change your make of pad and use up the faulty ones on facility drills. If the expense of good paper is putting you off doing lots facility drills, then use cheap ones for that – no excuses allowed. However, low quality paper may get you into the unhelpful habit of pressing hard to get it to take your marks.

Quickest way to rule notepad margins
Quickest and easiest way: do both sheets as you go through, and use a set square or a similar shaped piece of thick card the same length as the page – it is less hassle than a long ruler and easier to grip and position than even a short ruler. Holding the pencil at a very shallow angle ensures the line is done rapidly, without indentation. For kids – ideal pocket-money earning opportunity.

I do not recommend the method of dividing the page with a vertical line, in order to shorten the writing line – this deprives you of the essential margin, doubles the number of interruptions to the smooth flow of outlines and hinders phrasing opportunities. However, this could be of use if you were taking down from two speakers, so you can alternate between the sides – keep your margin and then divide the remainder in two. If you are forced to use a lined A4 pad, then dividing the page into halves (both with margins) makes sense.

If you are not drawing margins, e.g. if they are already printed on, always turn all the sheets. You could just fan the pad on all 3 sides but my experience is that the sticking occurs where the top row of holes is punched – you turn the sheet and it springs back, or takes the sheet underneath with it. Ascertain what your make of pad needs by way of preparation.

Two sheets of shorthand pad stuck together
Whoops-a-daisy! Two sheets stuck together. An easy way to miss out a big chunk of the dictation as the pages spring back and flap around, depriving you of your shorthand exam pass.

Work through the pad using one side of the sheets, then turn over and work back through the pad. it is not a good idea to start a dictation on last page or two, because you will not have time to turn the book round; use them for fluency drills.

Put the date at the beginning of each piece, plus speed (for learners) or dictator (at work). Draw a diagonal line through matter transcribed.

Keep a rubber band round the used pages, so that you always open the book at the next fresh page. If you are likely to need to turn the book over, then the band should be removed beforehand.

Do not tuck pages under as you go, but leave them lying where you turned them.

In employment, treat your dictation pad as a confidential item, as it will contain correspondence and reports that would normally be locked in a filing cabinet. Put your name on your pads and use a separate pad for more casual items.

Print Your Own Shorthand Notepad 30-page PDF for low-cost practising, on Downloads page.

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Page turning

In normal life this is of little importance but in shorthand you need to perfect the action to minimise the interruption to your writing. A bungled page turn can cause the loss of the next chunk of dictation, and lose you an exam pass.

The ideal page turning scenario is this: as soon as you start a page, the non-writing hand should get hold of the bottom corner of the page, and gradually move the fingers up to the top of the page, moving the paper upwards slightly. By the time you have filled the page, your page-turning fingers will be under a loop of paper at the top of the page, ready to flick it over quickly. I tend to keep hold of the bottom corner and slide the paper up at suitable intervals, thus keeping hold of the bottom corner all the time and flicking it over at the last moment. This works for workplace dictation, with its intermittent stops and hesitations.

The above is too fiddly for an exam. Here the best way is to get hold of the bottom corner as soon as possible, and hold it in readiness for the quick final flick at the last moment.

The following is the page-turning method of past high speed writer Nathan Behrin (350 wpm in a timed test in 1922):

Syllabus (2nd Year) Isaac Pitman Shorthand (Roche/Riordon) p25
www.archive.org/details/syllabussecondye00rochiala

Students should be taught how to shove up the page of a note-book skillfully while taking notes. Mr. Nathan Behrin, an Isaac Pitman writer, holder of the world's speed and accuracy records, and official court reporter in the New York Supreme Court, under date of December 3, 1921, very kindly sent the head of department the following description of his method of shoving up the page:

"In my daily court work I use Pitman's No. 5 note-book, which is end opening. Before using a new book, I rustle the leaves and bend the book backward and forward so as to loosen the leaves and make sure that they will not stick. Opening the cover, I commence writing on the top line of the first page. The left hand lies palm downward at the top of the page, the thumb resting against the left hand edge of the book, the other fingers extended across the page. After I have written on six or seven lines, with the under side of my left thumb I begin to raise the left edge of the page until I can take hold with my forefinger and thumb. I now start the page on its upward slide. The thumb straightens and lies flat on the left margin of the page, and the forefinger resumes its former straight position, but now rests lightly against the fold created by the upward movement of the page. Keeping pace with the writing, the thumb feeds the page upward to the forefinger, which holds and steadies the fold of the page and aids in the work of feeding the page to the other fingers. As the writing reaches the last line, the bottom of the first page is even with about the sixth or seventh line of the second page. A quick shove of the first page sends it over, and my right hand is writing on the top of the second page. The book lies flat all the time. The right elbow remains in practically the same position on the table. The writing hand travels from left to right on a fixed plane. The page moves to accommodate the writing hand. The transition from page to page is unnoticeable, as we have practically a continuous page. When writing on the knee, the left thumb and forefinger turn the pages in the same manner as when writing upon the table, but the remaining fingers are under the book, palm facing up, firmly holding the book from slipping."

(Note the shorthand examples within the above book are pre-New Era)

Exams do not take up a huge number of pad sheets, so it is worth your while to slightly curl up or disturb the corners of enough pages, so that it is easy to get hold of each one without fumbling.

Dry fingers cannot get a grip on paper, so your non-writing finger-tips may benefit from a dab of hand-cream just before the exam starts. Experiment beforehand.

Readers will always pause slightly at the end of a sentence. You can use this to your advantage if it occurs while you are on the 2nd or 3rd to last line, using that opportunity to turn over.  This increases the amount of page-turning slightly but that may be better than turning at the moment you have to, rather than when you choose to.

If the pages stick together, turn over what you can and just carry on regardless, and remove the blank ones later. You don't stop to tie shoelaces in a race, but you do make sure it does not happen again.

Effective page-turning skills need deliberate effort to form, because it is tempting when practising to stop at the end of the page for a rest or to check up on words, before continuing on with the next page. The correct page-turning habit once formed needs no further thought, in fact it becomes difficult to sit in front of any shorthand pad without gripping the bottom corner in readiness for whatever may happen next.

Old pencils  Rainbow pencils
Good materials help, but you could write 100+ wpm with either of the above if necessary. Your brow may be frazzled like the dented pencils, but inside you will feel like the rainbow pencils!


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