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Factors of Shorthand Speed

There is much that can be learned from the old Gregg manuals by machine stenographers of today. Students of shorthand, you’ve hit a speed plateau, come have a read!

…..Excerpted from The Factors of Shorthand Speed


[Special Notice for Secretaries]


The Office Stenographer’s Peril
Some writers expert an increase of speed because they are daily using short-hand in taking office dictation. Experience shows that such practice offers but little improvement, and often, where the conditions of office dictation are easy and unexact- ing, the writer almost unconsciously becomes, as time goes by, less and less speedy, and less and less fitted for anything except his daily routine. In the first place, the office stenographer writes too little shorthand. All told, he has perhaps an hour or an hour and a half of daily practice—too little for rapid improvement—too little to satisfy any ambitious writer. Besides, the dictation is in many cases so slow as to induce loss of speed, instead of gain. And the dictation, whatever its rate, does not grow more rapid from week to week and from month to month, as genuine “speed practice” may and must..
[At this juncture, a suggestion by this excerpter is in order. One must make sure his shorthand system is capable of the desired speed. For Gregg writers, anything post-Simplified was not intended for court reporting, only for amanuensis—hence, will not be able to reach much more than 140 wpm. For Pitman writers, the same caveat applies—Pitman 2000 or Pitman Shorterhand simply won’t do; Pitman New Era or earlier is essential.]


Fatigue as a Schoolmaster
There seems to be particular benefit to the young stenographer from writing up to and past the point of muscular fatigue. Shorthand writing long continued at a single sitting with no let-up when the writer has become thoroughly weary, appears to limber the writing machinery as nothing else will. There are reasons why this should be so. Whatever people undertake to do involving muscular exertion—walking, swimming, bicycle riding, etc.—is at first performed with an excess of effort. In this excess of effort, there is needless expenditure of mind and muscle. The surplus beyond what the act requires is wasted. Where rapidity is an object, this waste of effort and strength holds us back.

Almost every shorthand writer in his early practice throws into his work too much muscular effort—much more than the act of writing requires. He works under intense mental strain, with an eager determination to keep up if he can, and this mental strain engenders by sympathy a muscular strain. This can be seen in the set expression of the face, and the tightness with which pen or pencil is grasped. From this overstraining, this surplus of effort, there comes generally such a stiffening of the muscles as forbids the best work. For surplus of effort, the writer needs to substitute economy of effort, and for muscular tension, muscular relaxation.


Fatigue is a grand school to teach a person to do anything in the easiest way. Mind or body, when required to continue effort past the fatigue point, works along the lines of least resistance. The easy, swinging gait with which the veteran soldier accomplishes long marches at the cost of little weariness, contrasts with the stiff, self- conscious movement of the holiday soldier, who has not learned in the school of fatigue to economize muscular effort. The young stenographer must learn from tire-some practice to get the maximum of result from the minimum of effort. This idea has been compressed by M. Ireland into a single sentence: “Write from dictation until your arms are ready to fall off—until your friends (whom you have conscripted as your readers) fly at the sight of you.” I think it will be found a rule without exception that extreme speed has never been attained by anyone until he has passed through spells of note-taking continuing hour after hour and day after day—continuing when exces- sive weariness would have made him delighted to stop. The writer who is thus com- pelled to “keep his nose” to the reporting “grindstone,” the grindstone turning vigorous- ly all the time, is the writer who learns to write easily, who gains enviable speed, and who finally almost defies fatigue.


If a young writer has really reached a point (which so many falsely imagine themselves to have reached) where “all he needs is speed practice”, then, if he wishes to see his “speed practice” bear fruit promptly and profusely, let him, every day for a single week, write from dictation for one hour, absolutely without a moment’s pause or let up, the reader holding him constantly at the top of his speed. During the next week, let him continue the same discipline for an hour and a half daily. The following week let each day’s dictation last for two hours. During each day’s period of discipline, let there be absolutely no pause, no “breathing spell” of any kind. Though the writer may feel at times, in the language of M. Irland, as if his arm were ready to drop off, let him keep right on. If, because of extreme weariness, he stops to rest before his task is done, he loses the crowning benefit of this highly invigorating discipline. If he has the resolution to submit to this severe regimen, he will, at the end of the third week, (possibly much earlier) feel a gratifying consciousness of increased speed and will write with far greater ease than ever before.

The stooping posture which caused his back to ache so much, the vise-like grip of pen or pencil which so severely wearied the muscles of hand and arm—these and other bad habits which helped to fatigue him, while at the same time hindering him from keeping up, will have been partially or wholly abandoned. The whole writing machinery, mental and physical, will have been limbered and relaxed, and thereby fitted to move smoothly and rapidly.

The shorthand student, if qualified by sound stenographic training to enter upon such practice, may reasonably expect in even so short a time as three weeks, a gain of
twenty to thirty words per minute. No more helpful injunction can be given to the young stenographer than this: If time allows, keep up each spell of dictation practice till you are thoroughly weary. The longer you practice at one time, and the wearier you are when you stop, the sooner and more surely will you become a rapid writer. The stenographer who never writes from dictation for more than ten or fifteen minutes at a stretch deludes himself if he fancies that such easy-going discipline is really worthy of the name of “speed practice”.

A veteran reporter once told me that he never knew a stenographer to amount to anything till he had passed through a “demnition grind.” The persistent practice of shorthand under dictation pressure, up to and past the point of fatigue, is the “demn- tion grind” which more than any other one thing constitutes, in my judgment, the solution to the “speed” problem. If any young stenographer who flatters himself that he is “ambitious to become a reporter,” regards such severe discipline as involving “too much hard work” then he must content himself without the high speed which nothing but hard work can give him…

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