An Introduction to Shorthand
The average business speaker or school lecturer might speak at 120 to 160
words per minute; the average person writes, longhand, at 25 to 30 words
per minute. The disparity is the basis for the development and use of
There are three kinds of written shorthand: symbol, alphabetic, and hybrid
shorthands. Symbol shorthands are just what they sound like, completely new
written representations for English. Hybrid shorthands are a combination of
symbols and alphabetic characters. In the mid-1950s one completely alphabetic
shorthand, called Briefhand was introduced by Allied Publishers, in
When Allied Publishers went out of business, the rights to Briefhand
were acquired by one of its authors, Dr. C. Theo Yerian (formerly Head of
the Department of Business Education and Secretarial Studies at Oregon State
University for 30 years). Briefhand was renamed and republished by
National Book Company, also of Portland.
Since then, Personal Shorthand (PS) has been the only
completely alphabetic shorthand system.
Historically, the best-known shorthand system in the United States was
probably Gregg shorthand. In the British Commonwealth, Pitman
was the dominant shorthand. Both of these are symbolic shorthand systems.
In the U.S. and Canada there are a dozen or more hybrid shorthands, such as
Forkner, Stenoscript, Stenospeed, and Speedwriting, which use
both symbols and letters of the alphabet to one degree or another.
Most people think of shorthand as a skill only for secretaries, and, for
many decades, it was. However, as new technologies began to enter the
workplace: first, recording devices practical for the business
office, then memory typewriters, followed by specialized computers for word
processing, and, finally, general purpose computers which could perform many
office tasks. Those technologies were once bulky and heavy, but can now be
accessed remotely from the other side of the world or carried in a pocket or
briefcase. The need for formal shorthand has declined dramatically.
On the other hand, for many years shorthand (Pitman, of course) was
required for students studying for a journalism degree in England, to ensure
their ability to take accurate notes. In fact, there have always been those
who found alternate settings in which shorthand could be useful, and there
are many fields where the ability to take notes quickly could be important.
is a niche that technology can't easily fill, where people need to review
notes quickly, before recordings could possibly be transcribed. There are
times students can't be clacking away on their laptops yet still need to
make notes. Journalists can use technology to record every word of an
interview, but they still need to make notes of follow-up questions to ask
and know exactly what was said 20 minutes ago in case it bears on some other
issue. Neither audio nor video technology can meet every need.
Journalists, authors, police, copywriters, administrators, law students,
medical students -- any students . . . or anyone who deals
with large volumes of communication and can't use or can't always be near
their technology of choice, could benefit from even a basic shorthand skill.
While a good symbol shorthand like Gregg could sometimes be written
at speeds exceeding 200 words per minute, most Gregg writers never even
reached 100 words per minute, for the simple reason that learning a whole
new way to write English was complex and difficult. It took students
years to acquire a skill over 100 wpm. It was common to take six
months to a year simply to acquire a basic symbol or hybrid shorthand skill.
But one can acquire a basic PS (Personal Shorthand) skill
in a single school term.
Through numerous different editions over the past half-century and more,
symbol shorthands have required 50, 60, 80, or even a hundred theory lessons.
In a school year of approximately 180 days you can see that even the least
of these would require half a year just to introduce the complete
shorthand theory, and much more to acquire even a modest skill. For any
shorthand system, the greatest portion of the time to develop a useful
skill is the time necessary to practice enough that writing the shorthand
PS, however, has just 10 theory lessons, which could be
completed in just two or three weeks, so students can begin their practice
much sooner than with other systems. The average person writes longhand
at 25 to 30 words per minute. We have found that most PS students
can approximately double their longhand writing speed in one 9 to 12 week