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Shorthand Speed


Preface – Arthur Sugarman


Get a thorough mastery of the principles – Nathan Behrin


Getting up speed - Frederick Rose


What causes hesitation – Paul Vosburg


Overcoming weaknesses – Walter Lee


The stenographic expert – Willard Bottome and William Smart


The shorthand writer should make careful and accurate outlines – William Whitford


Excelsior the motto for shorthand writers – Charles Larkin


Repetition – Henry Candlin


Repetition versus new matter – Charles Phillips


Do not become discouraged – Selby Moran, Item 19


Word and phrase signs – Selby Moran, Item 39


Phrasing – Selby Moran, Item 42


Keep cool – Selby Moran, Item 51


Picturing outlines – Selby Moran, Item 53


The article excerpts are from the following books, available online at Internet Archive www.archive.org


Despite the Victorian-style language of the articles, the advice is still relevant for today's shorthand students, more so as nowadays we do less handwriting than in the past and we need to reclaim those skills. The three dots ... show where text has been shortened. American spellings retained.

  • "Pitman Speed Practice" (1915) by Alfred Sugarman. It contains 11 articles from various authors discussing shorthand speed and learning techniques, and 112 other passages on a wide variety of subjects current at the time, and now of more historical interest. The articles are counted in tens for use as dictations and are ideal for extending vocabulary.

  • “100 Valuable Suggestions to Shorthand Students” (1890) by Selby A Moran, University of Michigan, Principal of the Stenographic Institute, Ann Arbor.

  • There is no shorthand in these books, only letterpress text, and they are therefore useful to writers of other shorthand systems.

  • The text of these books may not be used commercially, please see the Archive terms of use, generally personal study purposes only.

Preface - Arthur M Sugarman BA, Chairman, Department of Stenography and Typewriting, Bay Ridge High School, New York



Preface by Arthur Sugarman. The essentials for the attainment of high speed in shorthand writing may be summed up briefly under the following heads. First: A thorough mastery of whatever system of shorthand is learned. Second: An unhesitating use of all the word signs* and contractional devices employed in that system. Third: A wide and ever-increasing vocabulary. Fourth: A familiarity with the best modes and styles of expression current in our literature. Fifth: The ability to assimilate the thought as the sounds are being recorded. Sixth: Plenty of practice in recording utterances, varied in subject matter and speech. And, lastly, the element that makes for success in all fields of endeavor, perseverance. (112 words)


* Word signs = short forms


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Get a thorough mastery of the principles – Nathan Behrin, Supreme Court, New York, Champion shorthand writer of the world (350 wpm)


Get a thorough mastery of the principles by Nathan Behrin. The seeker after high speed should devote himself to obtaining a thorough mastery of the principles of his system of shorthand. Not until the ability to write shorthand without mental hesitation has been acquired, should speed practice begin. A student observing the note-taking of an experienced stenographer will be struck with admiration at the smoothness of the writing and the perfect regularity of the outlines. An excellent method of practice for the like facility is in the copying of a selection sentence by sentence until the whole is memorized, and then writing it over and over again*.


* Omission phrase "over (and) over again" The second "over" is reversed to make a good join at both ends



All notes taken at any speed should strictly be compared with the printed matter. It will then be found that many words are taken for others because of the forms they assume when written under pressure. Most of these can be avoided by careful* attention to the writing. Experience alone will authorize any deviation from the textbook* forms. Phrasing should be indulged in sparingly on unfamiliar matter. But on familiar matter the student should always be alert for opportunities of saving both time and effort by employing the principles of intersection, elimination of consonants, and the joining of words of frequent occurrence. Nothing less* than absolute accuracy should satisfy the student.


* "careful" Optional contraction


* "textbook" Omits the lightly sounded T


* "nothing less" Insert the vowel, so it does not read as "else". For "nothing else" it is better to write as a phrase, using downward L. Similarly "anything less" vs "anything else"



Conflicting outlines should be carefully* distinguished. Where words may be distinguished either by the insertion of vowels or the changing of one of the outlines, the latter should always be the method employed; vowels should freely be inserted whenever possible. The sense of the matter should be carefully preserved by the punctuation of the notes, indicating the full stop and leaving spaces in the notes between phrases. The best matter for the student beginning practice for speed is to be found in the dictation books compiled by the publishers of the system. At first*, the dictation should be slow to permit* the making of careful outlines. Gradually the speed should be increased until the student is obliged to exert himself to keep pace with the reader; and occasionally* short bursts of speed should be attempted as tests of the writer's progress.


* "carefully" Optional contraction


* Omission phrase "at (fir)st"


* "permit" Insert the I vowel, and in "promote" insert one or both vowels, in order to distinguish, as the meanings of these two are fairly close


* "occasionally" Insert the final vowel, as "occasional" would also make sense



The student ambitious to succeed will endeavor to familiarize himself with all matters pertaining to stenography. By reading the shorthand magazines, he will keep himself in touch with the latest developments in the art. Facility in reading shorthand will also be acquired by reading the shorthand plates in these magazines. For comparison and suggestion, he will study the facsimile notes of practical stenographers. He will neglect no opportunity to improve himself in the use of his art. And, finally, he will join a shorthand society*, where he will come in contact with other stenographers who are striving toward the same goal as himself. (462 words)

* "society" Keep the T proper length, as it could possibly look like "association" if written carelessly


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Getting up speed - Frederick J Rose, Law Court Reporter, Chicago, Illinois



Getting up speed by Frederick Rose. How does a child learn to read? Isn't it by first laboriously learning the ABC? ... Don't overlook that word "laboriously." No learning can be acquired by grafting on processes; it all comes by labor. Shorthand is no exception. One of the mysteries of acquiring speed in shorthand writing* is that speed comes in just about exact ratio to the labor put upon the study of the ABC of whatever system of shorthand writing is learned. That is the experience which twenty-five years of shorthand writing for daily bread has taught. ... It is in the first few months ... that the pupil lays the foundation, surely and irrevocably, for later high speed in execution and speed in mental processes. Therefore, paradoxical as it may appear, the sagest advice, and the most practical to be given to the shorthand student, is to TAKE TIME to lay the foundation well and truly, and speed, up to a given degree, will be added naturally, without further effort, as a consequence of it.

* Omission phrase "short(hand) writing" 



Don't for one moment let there be any excuse that speed practice requires a specially* set stage, a specially engaged reader, special paper, pens, ink, and all the paraphernalia of artificial stimulus. They are all very well* in their way. But accustom the mind to meet the inconveniences of practical work, for there will be no favors granted in practical work. … Read over what you have been able to get, if possible*; if not able to read all of it, still keep trying. Speed in shorthand writing is the prize for courage. Training for high speed begins with Lesson One, when the pupil is geared in low speed. It is just as disastrous to start in "high" in shorthand writing* as it is in driving an automobile. It begins in low speed, and you get into the high speed because you started in low speed. (318 words)



* Omission phrases "very (w)ell"  "if poss(ible)"   "short(hand) writing"


* "specially" This word needs clarifying here, so abandon the short form and use a full outline with final dot vowel, so it does not read as "special" which also makes sense


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What causes hesitation – Paul S Vosburg, Official Stenographer, Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



What causes hesitation by Paul Vosburg. To hesitate, in shorthand writing*, is to be lost, that is, to hesitate to any great extent. … What causes hesitation? First, inability to accurately hear the words uttered; second, lack of familiarity with the words spoken; third, not knowing the outlines for the words or not being able to quickly form them in the mind; fourth, lack of manual skill; and fifth, unsuitable* materials. To avoid the first cause of hesitation, one must have* a good ear, and see that the conditions are favorable for distinct hearing. To eliminate the second cause, one must be* a constant student of words the meanings as well as the sounds. He will be continually on the alert to enlarge his vocabulary by general reading and conversation. … Third: Not only will he study words and their meanings, but will get thoroughly in mind the best outlines for the words, and he should continually form outlines for new words, first before consulting a shorthand dictionary, in order to* cultivate a good judgment in selection.


* Omission phrases "short(hand) writing"  "one mus(t) have"  "one mus(t) be"  "in ord(er) to"


* "unsuitable" Insert the diphthong to distinguish it from “unstable”



Fourth: Manual skill. There is only one way to gain this by writing the outlines over and over again*, until the hand is accustomed to form them instantly. This is especially true of the forms that are peculiarly difficult for the individual. Certain consonants or combinations give one writer trouble, while to another they are easy. The student should pick out his weak points. … Fifth: The materials. The instrument the pen or pencil should be adapted* to the individual. Whether a pen or pencil is better for the individual must be learned by experience. … There is only one way to reach the desired end: by constant practice. … In general, the best results are obtained from short daily practice, rather than a number of hours one day and skipping a day or more. … Everything written should be read, and the weak points noted and special attention given to them. (323 words)



* Omission phrase "over (and) over again"


* "adapted" and "adopted" Always insert the second vowel


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Overcoming weaknesses - Walter H Lee, Principal, The Milton School, Washington DC



Overcoming weaknesses by Walter Lee. Merely taking dictation does not necessarily mean a gain either in speed or accuracy; practice should be carried on* according to a well arranged plan in which home work plays just as important a part as class work. The following method will bring good results if rigidly adhered to during the entire period of speed practice. The student should use two note books, one for taking dictation in class, the other for home work. In the latter he should write every outline discussed by the teacher, as well as principles explained and other things new to the student.


* "carried on" N Hook to represent "on" in common phrases



In addition to this and it may mean the difference between success and failure he should write every outline which, during the reading back in class, he finds has been improperly or poorly written. He should be a merciless taskmaster over himself, putting down every word about which he is doubtful, even common word signs such as "it" or "was" if they have been poorly executed. … Shorthand is worthless unless it is readable; it is better to read correctly and quickly what has been written than to make poor outlines and be uncertain about the whole of the matter which has been dictated. (206 words)


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The stenographic expert - Willard B Bottome and William F Smart, Joint Authors of “The Stenographic Expert”*


This book can also be read at www.archive.org  Although the Pitman's Shorthand within is pre-New Era, the general advice on shorthand still holds true.



The stenographic expert by Willard Bottome and William Smart. Limitations of space require terseness in this article, and call for brief* facts rather than details. Many years' experience proves that the quickest way to achieve shorthand power and ability is to adhere strictly to the following points: First: Thoroughly understand the system. Second: Copy the exercises in the textbooks and the shorthand magazines until print can be transcribed into shorthand perfectly at a fair rate of speed. Third: Practice writing the majority of the words in the English language until they can be written with ease. Fourth: Systematic speed practice. Fifth: The acquisition of an extensive general knowledge. When a speed of fifty or sixty words a minute* is achieved by copying in shorthand from such matter as newspaper articles, commence dictation practice.


* "brief" Insert the vowel, to distinguish it from "number of"


* Omission phrase "words (a) minute"



Pick out slow orators, and practice on their speeches, or sermons, thus becoming acquainted with the practical part of shorthand, early in your career. ... Always read over your notes. Take regular dictation practice at a school or from a friend or a phonograph. Try repetition practice if your shorthand powers seem to have arrived at a stand-still; that is, write one passage over again, slightly increasing the speed because you have to acquire a quickly moving brain, and a "responsive hand.” All this time, read plenty of printed shorthand, especially straight matter, because the vocabulary is somewhat limited in court work. Carry a memorandum book, in which to jot down words that conflict, good phrases, and, later on, short cuts.




Get the best textbooks* in the system, and endeavor to carry out the advice not of theorists, but of those who have proved themselves to be high speed writers, as well as practical shorthand reporters. Besides acquiring a thorough knowledge of the system and the ability to write it, you have to gear up your brains to clearly grasp, and instantly, the speaker's thoughts, and to transmit them intelligently to paper by a thoroughly trained hand, and fingers. Without these essentials, high speed is impossible. Whilst an effort should be made to write every word as rapidly as it is uttered, the brain should be educated so in the memory. This will* enable the shorthand writer* to catch up, at pauses. Avoid everything that clouds the mind or disturbs the hand. At first* do not adopt a cramped style of writing. Always write to read. If in doubt about writing a half length* character, it is better to write the double* character.


* "textbooks" Omits the lightly sounded T


* "this will" Downward L to make a good join in this phrase


* Omission phrases "short(hand) writer"  "at (fir)st"


* "adopt" and "adapt" Always insert the second vowel in these


* "half-length" It is quicker to write this phrase, despite using full outline for "much"


* "double character." This refers to writing both strokes in full when in doubt about halving, and does not refer to doubling of strokes.



Give more attention to grammalogs and words in position than to lengthy outlines. It is advisable to get too much* ink on the paper than too little, in the early stages. Become absorbed in the speaker's ideas, cultivate imagination in reading shorthand, and transcription will be easy. Study the best American and English writers, and utilize their works for your dictation practice. This will enable you to acquire a good vocabulary, as well as a fair literary style, thus enabling you, when necessary, to make good speeches for poor speakers*. Avoid ingenious phrases and short cuts, until you have developed the manual dexterity to write close to one hundred and sixty words a minute* on straight matter. Then increase your speed by learning the best short cuts, suitable for the particular work in which you are engaged.


* "too much" It is quicker to write this phrase, despite using full outline for "much"


* "make good speeches for poor speakers" Reporters may do this, but the shorthand learner should always aim for verbatim




Endeavor to write independently* of the context and to make yourself an intellectual machine, not a mere phonographic automaton, recording words of which you fail to grasp meaning. Endeavor also to write figures rapidly in the ordinary Arabic numerals. … Develop concentration and initiative, and grasp every situation you are reporting, because every public shorthand assignment is different from all others. Expert shorthand writing* is the result of gradual growth. Do not be deceived by alluring statements about short cuts outside the textbooks*, which are not based on the principles of the system. They are useless until you have a well laid foundation, and have acquired a good speed on solid matter. The beginner has a long road to travel.


* All contractions can take an extra L stroke for "-ly" if necessary, which is the case here, where either could make sense


* Omission phrase "short(hand) writing"


* "textbooks" Omits the lightly sounded T



The acquisition of the theory, and much reading practice in shorthand can be done at odd moments, even in the street, and in traveling back and forth to the office. The interest on a wise expenditure of time and money will be enormous. A knowledge of shorthand is one of the most* valuable assets of today in the administration of the world's affairs. Steady persistency, and application will place in your hands a never failing* money-making capability, which will always be in demand; and success in the art will result at first* in a fascinating and useful hobby, then in a steady salary, and, lastly, with the exercise of constant perseverance and application, in independence and a lucrative income*. (791 words)


* Omission phrases "one (of the) most"  "at (fir)st"


* "a never failing" and "an ever failing" – almost identical when said quickly, with the meaning only clear through the context


* "income" is above the line, as it uses the short form "in"


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The shorthand writer should make careful and accurate outlines - William Whitford, Medical Reporter, Chicago, Illinois



The shorthand writer should make careful and accurate outlines by William Whitford. Constant practice, practice, practice, is absolutely essential to the development of great manual dexterity. In shorthand, haste makes waste; it is the persistent plodder who achieves success. Furthermore, to acquire as large a command of the language as possible, the aspirant for speed should select a variety of matter on which to practice, such as extracts from political speeches, biographies, lectures* on miscellaneous and scientific subjects, proceedings of conventions, histories, sermons, addresses, essays, editorials, legislative proceedings, arguments of counsel, charges to juries, etc. In developing speed, the shorthand writer should refrain from using too many short cuts indiscriminately. These should only be used for frequently recurring words or expressions, and then not necessarily standardized. I am and always have been opposed to short cuts that violate the fundamental principles of our Pitmanic* systems, on the ground that they seriously interfere with legibility, are deterrents to the achievement of manual deftness, are veritable pitfalls, and calculated to create endless troubles for the young reporter. (175 words)


* "lectures" The singular form has the diphthong written through the end of the T stroke


* "Pitmanic" There were several variations in the USA at that time and this word refers to those not endorsed by Isaac Pitman


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Excelsior, the motto for shorthand writers - Charles F Larkin, Official Stenographer, Superior Court, Montreal, Canada



Excelsior the motto for shorthand writers by Charles Larkin. The surest and quickest way to become a one hundred per cent* stenographer is to be accurate and painstaking from the start. Remember that illegible writing, whether shorthand or longhand, is of little use to anyone. Thoroughness in the individual engenders enthusiasm and a relish for his work, while in the aggregate it is one of the essentials of a great nation. The ideal school room is a beehive where everyone is busy, happy, and full of enthusiasm. … Exercise often in the open air so as to have strong steady nerves, good digestion, and a clear alert brain. From the start, use the best fountain pen or pencil you can obtain, and, preferably, flat-lying notebooks, clearly ruled and free from spots. Sit as comfortably and unconstrainedly* as possible so as to write with a light flowing motion of the arm. Even after a situation has been secured review occasionally and keep abreast of the improvements* in the system. Be courteous, keep your nerves and temper always under control and you should succeed. (181 words)


* "per cent" Full outline, only use the P stroke after Arabic numerals


* "unconstrainedly" The "-ned-" is a separate syllable, so the outline has full stroke and does not use halving, as it does in "constrained"


* "Improvements" to the USA versions were ongoing at that time, both by Pitman and by those who altered his shorthand under their own name


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Repetition - Henry Candlin, Court Reporter, Greeley, Colorado



Repetition by Henry Candlin. Practising the same outlines many times without a knowledge of the principles under which they are written is working in the dark, it may be conducive to speed on those particular words, but will not tend to the ability to write other words of the same class. After the brain has comprehended the principles, repetition is necessary to enable the hand to move with ease and facility. We would advise students to read all the printed shorthand they can get; memorize and practise the grammalogues, contractions and phrases so that no conscious effort is required to bring them to the mind and record them on paper; practise writing on many different subjects; read back everything you write; write strictly in accordance with the rules; repeat the same matter until it is as easy as ABC and shorthand will be a delight. (145 words)


Repetition versus new matter - Charles W Phillips, Court Reporter, Chicago, Illinois



Repetition versus new matter by Charles Phillips. The use of repetition, or practising the same education matter over and over again*, and the taking of dictation on new matter are not antagonistic methods, but are complementary. Repetition, the writing, perhaps thousands of times, of the same matter under proper conditions is the greatest factor in producing digital skill, smoothness of hand movement, etc. In other words* it is all important in the development of the technic* of shorthand speed. On the other hand, constant practice on new matter, well selected and diversified matter, produces the mental coordination, the instant connection of the thing heard with its shorthand equivalent without which even moderate speed is impossible. …  Both methods should be vigorously pursued. (121 words)


* Omission phrases "over (and) over again"  "in other wo(r)ds"


* technic = archaic spelling for technique


Do not become discouraged – Selby A Moran, Item 19



Do not become discouraged. There is no study that does not have its difficult parts, and the one who succeeds in these is the one who will not allow every little thing to give him the " blues," while his equally* talented brother falls behind and is lost sight of, simply because he would not do what he might. A steady* application of will is a very important factor in considering one's chances of success in the line of shorthand work. (81 words)


* "equally" Insert vowel, as "equal" would also make sense


* "steady" Insert vowels, as "study" and "staid" would also make some sense here


Keep a List of Word and Phrase Signs in Your Pocket - Selby A Moran, Item 35


Keep a list of word and phrase signs in your pocket to study at leisure moments. At least
* one-third of the work of learning Shorthand consists in thoroughly mastering the word and phrase signs. By always having a list of these signs at hand and making it a point to improve now and then* your leisure moments which would otherwise be wasted, much of the mechanical part of the work may be accomplished. The author of this little volume was at first* discouraged by what seemed an endless* task, but by adopting* this method the whole was accomplished with apparently no effort whatever. In connection with this, it would be well for the student to have about him some exercise, written several days previous*, to translate as occasion offers. This will prove to be a very great help in enabling the student to read readily matter not fresh in mind. (150 words)


* "At least" / "at last" and "adopting" / "adapting" Always insert the second vowel, in order to distinguish


* Omission phrase "now (and) then"  "at (fir)st"


* "endless" Compare distinguishing outline for "needless" which uses full N and D strokes


* "previous" Nowadays we are more likely to say "previously"


* "this will" Downwards L in order to join this phrase

Word and phrase signs – Selby A Moran Item 39



Word and phrase signs*. Although there are but a few hundred of these contractions, yet it is almost impossible to write a sentence of a half-dozen words without using one or more for which there is a sign. This being the case, it becomes very important that you have these signs "upon your fingers' ends." You need not expect to gain any considerable degree of speed without knowing them as well as you know your ABC’s. Not only be able to write them correctly at slow dictation, but also know them so well that the sound of the word will cause a picture of the outline to be instantly formed in the mind. (113 words)


* Word signs = short forms. A phrase sign is a short form signifying two words e.g. "as is"  "is as" (and variants)  "to be"


Phrasing  – Selby A Moran, Item 42



Phrasing. Do not phrase over any pause or break of any kind in a sentence. Shorthand notes, when properly phrased, are, as a rule*, more legible than though* each word were written separately. In speaking, words are naturally combined into phrases, clauses, or brief* sentences, and, in reading, one is enabled* to grasp the meaning much more* readily, if it is possible* to have these combinations of words, which are related to each other either grammatically or rhetorically, set off in some way from what precedes and from what follows. … Phrasing, however, cannot be made use of, if the words composing the parts which would naturally be united do not form good angles in joining. (115 words)


* Omission phrases "as (a) rule"  "much m(ore)"  "if it is poss(ible)"


* "Than though" Nowadays we would say "than if"


* "brief" Insert the vowel, to distinguish it from "number of"


* "enabled" Insert the first vowel, to distinguish it from "unable to"



Keep cool – Selby A Moran, Item 51



Keep Cool. If there is* one thing* that needs emphasizing more than another of a reporter's qualifications, it is to keep cool. Shorthand needs too much* attention to be written properly unless one is perfectly calm. … There is no better way to enable the reporter to be deliberate, under all circumstances, than a thorough preparation for the work, such a preparation as will inspire a confidence that you are equal to the task before you. … Always bear in mind that a slow writer with a cool head will accomplish far more than a much more* rapid reporter who cannot control himself, but gets nervous at every little thing that occurs out of the regular course of events. (117 words)


* "if there is" Doubling to represent "there"


* Omission phrase "wu(n) thing"


* "too much" It is quicker to phrase this, despite writing "much" in full


Picturing outlines - Selby A Moran, Item 53



Picturing outlines. Form the habit of picturing in your mind the outlines of words you hear in conversation or see in reading. Most students will find this an easy and, at the same time, a very profitable habit to acquire. Many students experience considerable trouble in training the mind to act rapidly in recalling the proper* outlines for words. They know the outline well enough and can execute it rapidly when once they are able to recall it, but too often they have to stop and think what it is. The only way to attain ability to do this readily is by practice. … The fingers must also be trained to move rapidly, and in harmony with the power of recalling the characters. Hence, that kind of drill which will bring both into action at once*, and train them to act harmoniously should not be neglected. (145 words)


* "proper" and "appropriate" should have their vowels inserted, in order to distinguish, as the meanings are close


* Omission phrase "at (wu)ns"



Pens pencils pads
Fill 'em up: pens with ink, pencils with leads, notepads with practice. I
saac Pitman summarised it perfectly in his Manual of Phonography in just four words:




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"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

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