Note taking tips: Using shorthand

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We’re seeing more and more people trying to move over to digital and use their phones and ipads to take notes, but whilst there is a strong desire to go paperless, most of us struggle when it comes to taking notes on devices.

Maybe it’s because we type much slower than we can scribble notes, or maybe it’s because we don’t trust the technology completely yet, or because we worry that the device may run out of battery, or we might lose it. Maybe recordings aren’t possible due to background noise, what then?

In times like these, good old stenography or brachygraphy (that’s shorthand to most of us) comes to the rescue.

Long before recorders and computers were around to help us keep track, stenography was commonly used for people to take note of their innermost thoughts. Charles Darwin used it. Charles Dickens used it. There were even magazines published in shorthand.

With the invention of the typewriter, shorthand became less popular for authors, scientists and doctors to note their thoughts and musings, but as women started to enter the workforce, stenography was again popular for note taking. Soon, shorthand was associated almost exclusively with secretaries and business.

Shorthand is not hard to learn and can be adopted in just a few easy steps. However, the key is not just writing shorthand down but being able to read stenography from yourself or others.

There are two main types of stenography. The first and easiest to learn is an alphabetic system, in which the symbols are based on the alphabet, which is easy to learn and intuitive. However, the top speed for this kind of shorthand is around 120 words a minute. Examples of this are Speedwriting, Alphahand, and Keyscript.

If you really want to take notes fast, then you will have to learn a more symbolic codified system such as Gregg or Pitman. Some of the variants of this top off at over 200 words a minute. However, the work involved in learning these is far more involved.

There is some middle ground in both the Gregg and Pitman styles however, for around 160 and up to 200 words. Just remember, the faster want to be able to write, the more you will have to learn.

Here are our four steps to learning shorthand:

1) Choose your system. There are several different variations, and learning one doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to understand the others. Pick the right one for your needs.

2) Gather your resources. Assemble reference materials. Bookmark good sites. A lot of resources are out of print, so using the library and downloading e-books is a good option.

3) Practice. Remember, it is not just writing a note down that is important. Being able to read the notes back again the next day is crucial. So practice both reading and writing.

4) Make sure you keep it up. Stenography is learnable, but it is also something that is easy to forget. Luckily, practicing a little will keep things fresh without having to re-learn everything again when you need it.

Happy note taking!