Shorthand is a system of taking down words exactly as they are spoken. Gregg and Pitman are two of the more popular shorthand systems. With the increased use of voice recorders and voice-recognition software, shorthand is fast becoming a dying art, but the ability to capture speech verbatim using only a pen and paper will always be valuable to journalists, administrative assistants, court reporters and anyone else who deals with words for a living.
Memorize the symbols, or forms. Many manuals containing shorthand forms are available, and you can also find forms for the more popular shorthand systems. Put the symbols on flashcards and memorize them, then write them again and again until they become second nature. Shorthand symbols are designed to flow smoothly and fluidly from your pen. Practice writing them, connecting one symbol to another to create words. Learn and become comfortable with special forms representing common words.
Train your ear. Most shorthand systems are phonetic, that is, they are based on the sound of the words, not the letters it contains. Therefore, the same symbol is used to represent the “sh” sound in the words “should,” “Chicago” and “ocean.” While you are in your learning phase, make it a point to listen to people as they speak and imagine which symbols you would use to represent the words they speak.
Take dictation from sound files or have someone dictate to you. Write the conversation of people sitting next to you in a restaurant or the audio of your favorite TV show. If you find a symbol that works better for you than a recommended form, use it. The goal is for you to render an accurate transcript, for either your own or someone else’s use, so whatever approach works for you is the best one.
Build your shorthand speed. According to linguist Mark Liberman the average rate of speech in a courtroom is 164 words per minute. If you’re planning on using shorthand in an office environment, you might expect the speaker to speak more slowly, perhaps around 120 words per minute. But if you’re hoping to transcribe actual speech in a meeting or interview, you’ll need to accommodate bursts of fast speech that can exceed 200 words per minute.
Type or write up what you have taken down. When you’re first learning, it’s helpful to do this as soon as possible after you’ve taken the dictation so your memory of what was said can aid you in the transcription and also reinforce the forms. After you become more comfortable with transcription and more familiar with reading your own shorthand, you’ll be able to transcribe your notes at your convenience.
Often you won't know how long your dictation session will be. If possible, find a comfortable chair that supports your back and allows you to sit for long periods.