PAGE DATE 17 March 2012
Sounds/syllables/words omitted from a phrase are underlined
The advantage of phrasing
A phrase in speech or longhand means a group of
words that belong together, acting as one unit. I have referred to
these throughout as "word groupings" for clarity. Phrasing
is often referred to "phraseography" which simply means "writing
phrases" and the shorthand outline for the phrase is called a
A phrase in shorthand is the joining of two or more outlines
into one outline. The purpose of shorthand phrasing is to:
Gain speed. A
pen lift is equivalent to writing a stroke – the pen has to
travel between the end of one outline and the beginning of the
next outline, and there is inevitably a slight slowing as one
repositions the nib to start the next outline. It is the same as
the difference between writing longhand in separate "printed" letters and
writing in joined-up/cursive letters. Further speed is
gained when obvious words are omitted or when some outlines can
be written in an even briefer form.
as common word groupings are kept together, and they can be
recognised as a whole. The most useful shorthand phrases are
those which reflect the natural groupings of words.
A few phrases are
written with strokes in proximity, or intersected and these save
time by their greater abbreviating potential, rather than
avoiding a pen lift.
A phrase is
continuous outline, occasionally it may be two parts written in proximity or two
it would be, in the
beginning, at your convenience
The joining of outlines
in a phrase follows the same rules as the formation of normal
outlines – the joins must form legible angles. Some outlines may
change their form for greater brevity, to prevent straggling or make
a join possible:
it appears that, it would appear, it would, they would
All instruction books
introduce simple phrasing as each part of the theory is presented.
In a very short time the phrases are instantly recognisable and it would seem strange and unreasonable to write the
outlines separately. They are easy to read because they
are mostly groups of short forms and so do not get confused with normal
single-word outlines and, because they are the most common words, they become familiar very
quickly with constant use.
It would be helpful to reread your
instruction book with the specific purpose of searching out all the
phrases they offer (both in the theory explanations and the reading
passages), which may have become somewhat neglected in the haste to
get to the end of the theory. Having gained full familiarity with
shorthand theory, you will find it much easier to revise the
phrasing and use it more in your shorthand writing. This will also
give you a good foundation for your own phrasing and help you avoid
the learner's pitfall of creating overlong or
Phrasing was not used in the
very early days
of shorthand, but once its possibilities were discovered, it quickly
became the norm and hundreds of high-speed writers over the years
have tried, tested and contributed to the stock of phrases available
today in the various shorthand books.
Phrasing is an
opportunity rather than a rule, and the writer is free to choose
which to use and when. The examples illustrate the general principles
which, once studied and understood, can be applied to produce many
more combinations. Good phrasing is a big contributor to
gaining speed, as well as improving legibility – try copying the following
sentences, written with and without phrasing, to instantly experience
the difference good phrasing can make to the flow and speed of
pleased that you will be able to send us the report and accounts
You might try timing a whole page of each of the
above sentences, to see the difference phrasing makes to speed.
There are many
thousands of good basic phrasing opportunities to help you on the
way to high speed, without resorting to overlong or unnatural ones.
Total familiarity with phrases consisting of short forms and simple parts of speech will
bring the hoped-for improvement in speed, and there are enough of
them to keep the learner constantly occupied, well into the
mid-hundreds in speed.
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Four rules of good phrasing:
1. Words must belong
together. Even if certain outlines would seem to join well, don't
phrase them if they
don't belong together, or if there is a slight pause anywhere.
2. Outlines must join
well. If no good join can be made, don't phrase.
3. The phrase must be
easy to read back. If it is ambiguous or looks too much like another
outline, then it should not be used. Sometimes inserting a vowel
will overcome this.
4. Phrases should not
be overlong. Two or three joined outlines is a good average to work
with, with four or five as a general maximum, although the words
represented by the phrase may amount to more if there are omissions.
The longest phrases would have to be made up of very common short words, if the phrase is to remain legible:
In an overlong
phrase, there is a greater
danger of missing any variations that the speaker might make.
The longer the phrase, the less likely it is that you will come
across it exactly as you have practised it. You cannot afford to
wait until a long group of words has been spoken before you
A very long phrase
lacks legibility. A really long group of words that you are
dealing with regularly and that never varies is a good
opportunity for more extreme abbreviation, but such compressed
phrases should not
be used by the learner or in exams – outside of a particular
field of work or interest, the frequency would be very low, and
hesitating over a
half-remembered phrase loses more time than it was supposed to
Your hand may need
to move along the paper before the phrase is completed
– the wrist or little finger that is resting on the paper is best moved
along between outlines and you cannot do this if you are
attempting an overlong phrase. Although you write long
"outlines" in longhand, these are not being done at speed.
Normal handwriting often introduces breaks within a word, for the same reason,
reposition the hand.
The ideal is: lots of
short phrases in succession for the most common word groupings. This
will keep the shorthand flowing, legible and not straggling to the lines
above or below.
There are many
variations on common word groupings, and a textbook phrase that
you have learned may
differ from what was actually said. Once you are familiar with a
particular phrase, you tend to hear (and write) that phrase to the
exclusion of slight variations on it. Such an error will be
undetectable and only come to light when it causes a problem,
embarrassment or a lost exam mark. Alertness is the only safeguard
For this reason,
phrases should be practised in as many different combinations as
possible. This will reduce hesitations and leave you free to pay
closer attention to the exact words being used. It also provides excellent
intensive practice on short forms, which are the main source of
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Which phrases to
Every type of phrasing
opportunity has been described in this section. It is up to you to
choose those that are going to help you. Best results will be
achieved by concentrating your efforts
on simple phrases using the commonest words, not specific to any subject. Opportunities to use them will occur in every dictation you
take. Your time savings are therefore greatly multiplied and you are
able to increase your speed, neatness and accuracy.
The most useful and
frequently occurring phrasing opportunities are the simple ones,
joined end-to-end without any change in the outlines. In these
sections, the other types of phrases have more numerous examples,
simply because they need to be described and illustrated, not
because they are more frequent.
Beginners should resist
the urge to adopt every example indiscriminately,
in the hopes of instant speed improvement. If you are struggling
to recall an advanced or obscure
phrase, this can lose you more time than you hoped to save, possibly resulting the loss of the next few
words as well. The time to consider adopting those is when you are fluent in
the simpler phrases and also in lines of work/interest where they are
occurring regularly. If you pick out your favourites and compile a "to learn" list in
your shorthand resource file, you can review, revise and build upon them
in a controlled manner.
Extreme abbreviation in
phrasing should never be
resorted to through failure to learn the main outlines thoroughly.
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Lagging behind the
Some writers advocate
staying behind the speaker in order to take advantage of phrasing. Learners already have the struggle of keeping up,
without deliberately putting themselves further behind the speaker. The speaker could suddenly speed up or, just as alarming, come
out with a string of "impossible" technical words. You
would then get even further behind, with little chance of catching up.
How far you are behind the speaker will settle itself naturally
with your level of skill compared with the speed of delivery and the
difficulty or otherwise of the subject-matter. As a phrase would
seldom be more than five words, that would seem to be the most that
would be necessary to take advantage of all phrasing opportunities.
However, you don't have to hear the whole phrase before you start
If you can make or find
dictations that are
comfortably slow for you, then as you write with an even and steady
flow, you will be sometimes with the speaker and sometimes slightly
behind. This is the best position to be in, as your shorthand will
be neat and legible, your writing experience pleasant and free from
anxiety, and you will be relaxed enough to deal within any sudden
increase in the speed, or challenging outlines. Such slow exercises are a good way to practise
this even writing rhythm, and are just as helpful as the
speed-pushing dictations. They are a good corrective against the
erratic "stop-start" writing that can sometimes beset the learner,
especially in the early stages, and give a taste of the
ideal writing experience that will
be achieved in due
It also helps your
posture, as relaxed writing does not need you to hunch yourself
desperately over the notepad to capture those elusive outlines.
Going from one flustered writing experience to the
next without respite is no way to maintain enthusiasm. Recording passages from your instruction book is the easiest
way to produce such practice material, as the correct shorthand is
already there for you to consult beforehand. If you leave them untimed, you
won't get caught up in the "numbers game" whilst you are
doing them. When they feel intolerably slow, you will know it is
time to produce faster ones.
A speaker may say half of what is "obviously"
the start of a phrase, then pause. In such a case you should write
what has been said so far, and forgo that particular phrasing
opportunity. If you don't write down the words dictated before the
pause, you may find that, even within a few seconds, you have forgotten exactly what they were,
when the speaker decides to continue. Any situation where you are
"hoping" for a favourite phrase to be completed is one that reduces
your concentration on the exact words being spoken.
Sometimes when the
speaker resumes after the pause, he/she may finish the phrase, but by
then you will have already written part of it in normal separate
outlines. It is a waste of time, effort and ink to cross these out and replace with the
textbook phrase, when you could be writing the next few outlines. Accuracy is the aim, not
Red Paint Pot
When you have a pot of
red paint, bright and shiny, you may be tempted to go round looking for
things to paint red and only stop when the pot is empty or
everything in sight is red. Don't do this with phrasing. Phrasing is
a pot of grease – spread it around to get things moving faster, but too
much in the wrong places will cause slip-ups and regrets!
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