When you have finished the theory part of your
shorthand learning, you might assume that you can write every word you come
across, but frustratingly this is often not the case. To do that you would need
to know all the main rules, subsidiary rules and exceptions, and apply them all
perfectly in a split second during dictation!
Reason for low speed
Good writing equipment, good posture and
good attitude are all very necessary but the main reason for low speed in
shorthand writing is – not knowing the outlines well enough for instant
recall. Familiarity with an ever-increasing stock of outlines is the answer.
Hesitation can become paralysing within a fraction of a second. If you already
know a similar word's outline, this allows you to "borrow" a bit of it to
attempt to write the unfamiliar word. The larger your shorthand vocabulary, the
easier this will be.
Falling behind in a real shorthand situation is highly
stressful and steals your composure, efficiency, enjoyment and possibly your
exam pass certificate. Confidence comes with being able to write any word and
transcribe it, even if it is not the perfect outline. You will not hesitate when
writing a straggly, incorrect, fractured outline because you know that you are
going to deal with it later.
Revision and improvement
Vocabulary (i.e. the outlines
that you know) should be increased
in an orderly manner. A haphazard approach to vocabulary improvement
will have haphazard results. The two areas that are most useful to start
with are the commonest words and those words specific to your intended
use of shorthand. Acquiring new outlines is essential, but constant
revising of the basics will strengthen your foundation and is never a
waste of time. The course book should be revisited regularly. Regular
review of the short forms and contractions will put time "in your
pocket" so that struggles with them cease and you can give your
attention to the unfamiliar words.
It is very helpful to build up a file of
as much shorthand material as you can, so you always have it to re-read and
revise. Your shorthand resource files may grow fat but your brain will never run
out of space to store the information.
The following book is a solid resource
for vocabulary expansion:
"Pitman's Shorthand Writing
Exercises and Examination Tests - a series of graduated exercises on
every rule in the system." The Key is a separate book.
Illustrated on Shorthand Books page.
A facility drill is writing the same
outline, phrase or sentence over and again, to increase familiarity with the outlines (both
mentally and training the muscles of your hand) and to practise a smooth
light-handed flow of writing. The drill is prepared by writing the item
carefully and accurately on one line, and
leaving a number of blank lines underneath. The drill is done by copying the practice material onto the
The easiest way to learn new outlines is to include them in
short one-line sentences, using words whose outlines you already know well.
Sandwiching a new outline between familiar easy ones will soften its impact, and allows the
sense, the writing and phrases to flow comfortably and quickly. It is easier
to remember a sentence as you write it down the page, and avoids the
slipping of concentration and the stop-start movements that come from repeating a
single outline over and again.
Writing isolated words is only useful when the outline is first met or
is causing trouble or hesitation. This should be done just slowly enough to get
a neat accurate outline, with the intention of
getting on to faster full sentences as soon as possible.
It is helpful to write the sample line
in a different colour e.g. red ink, as once you begin writing, the top line
merges into the others and it is difficult to locate it visually when you need
to glance back to it.
Once sentence per pad page is more
economical with your time and effort in creating the sample lines, as you can
drill a few lines at a time, during separate study periods, without having to
recreate your drill pages every time. The sample lines do not even have to be on
your pad page, they could be kept on a separate page and copied from as
required, thus obviating the need to prepare drill books in advance. A supply of
such master pages of drill sentences can be built up and dipped into for endless
revision with no extra effort, although it is useful to have a prepared drill
pad or booklet handy if you want to practise in spare minutes during the day,
when you are away from your study materials.
It is essential to say the words to
yourself (in your head, mumbled or out loud) as you write them, in order
to associate the spoken word with the outline at all times.
You can test your hand's best speed by
writing the same line all the way down the pad, either for exactly one minute,
or completing the page and noting the time taken. The words in the sentence
times the lines completed give the total number of words written. Make the
counting easier by having 10 words per line (this may well be fewer than 10
outlines, with judicious phrasing). Your speed at this will be a lot faster than
taking unseen dictation, but it is a good self-encourager as it proves what your
hand is capable of, given favourable circumstances. Page 17 of the The
Print Your Own Shorthand Notepad PDF (Downloads
page) is a pad page with counted lines for just this purpose.
You will not get far without a shorthand dictionary,
preferably a large one and used regularly. Dictionary delving is very
time-consuming and produces endless frustration in the early stages of
learning, eating into your practising time. It is an inefficient way to
improve overall vocabulary, but in the absence of other shorthand
material, it may be the only way to acquire new outlines. If I could only
buy one book, the dictionary would be top of the list without question.
Having looked up your words, unless you learn them
thoroughly, you will be looking them up again and again, an avoidable waste of
time and effort. Keep a separate notebook for the new words, practise the newest
pages and revise the older pages from time to time. Alternatively, write in the
new words all down the pad margin, leaving the lines clear for later practising.
Whenever you consult the dictionary,
take the time to also learn the derivatives. This will save you a huge
percentage of your overall dictionary-hunting time, and also has the advantage
that you will not trip up over derivatives that are sometimes written differently from the root word. This is a worthwhile investment of your time,
and is in the same vein as the old house-keeping/time-management adage "Never
leave a room empty-handed" i.e. don't make two trips when one will do.
I never hesitate to add my
own notes onto the pristine pages of my dictionaries – it improves the books' usefulness.
I also make a note of the page numbers on the blank pages at the end of the book so that I can get back to my notes quickly for review or
Memorising – forget it!
Memorising is like carrying heavy bags,
there is a limit to holding capacity, it blocks your mind for more useful
things, and it can all slip through your fingers at a moment's notice.
It is short term, inefficient and unreliable. I do not believe trying to
memorise endless theory improves shorthand greatly, but expanding your
outline vocabulary is of immediate benefit. Theory in the instruction book should be read and understood, so
that you know why the new outlines are formed the way they are, and this
knowledge helps the initial learning of the outlines. Real skill and instant
recall are learned by practising the examples, which takes little mental energy and only
the effort of picking up the pen or turning the page to the reading matter. The
gradually increasing stock of outlines that you know carry within them all the
theory, so it is all there and handy, in the form of useful examples rather than
If you write the outlines often enough,
you will know and be able to recall them, without "trying" or memorising. It
will happen all on its own, just like all the other memories
gained throughout life. What you judge important or what you do repeatedly
gets remembered, and what you don't, fades away.
You may have suffered those annoying
instances of songs or jingles that you do not like but which keep coming back
unbidden to your mind. They gained their unwelcome entrance by being constantly
repeated in your hearing. You never memorised a single one of them. Big money is
spent on this type of invasive advertising because it works so well. Turn this
technique around to your benefit by doing the same with the shorthand outlines.
Advertising jingles, slogans, signs, shop and road names that you see every day, can all be pressed into service as free
"dictation", if you write them in shorthand so that when they come up, the
outlines spring to mind instantly. Advantage to you, and pressure of advertising
thwarted, as you are now thinking of your future shorthand certificate and not
Before you go out converting road signs
etc into shorthand, please take a moment to view this 32-second video
the dangers of texting (and in our case shorthand translating) whilst walking or
Make sure memorising
works for you before dedicating yourself to it!
Definition of insanity –
continuing to do the same things and expecting different results