Short cut to speedwriting | Sunday Observer

Short cut to speedwriting

5 February, 2023

Max Schling, New York florist, ran an advertisement in the prestigious New York Times entirely in shorthand. A lot of businessmen preserved it out of curiosity and asked their secretaries to translate it. The advertisement asked secretaries to think of Schling when the boss wanted flowers for his wife.

Shorthand and typing were very much in vogue in the 1950s. Those who were sitting the Senior School Certificate (SSC) examination attended private institutes and a big private school in Colombo which offered six-month courses in shorthand and typewriting.

However, times have changed over the years and today there is hardly any demand for shorthand. With the advent of computers and smart phones even the institutes that offered courses in shorthand and typewriting have vanished.

Even if you do not wish to become a secretary or a journalist, today, there is a growing need to write faster than we normally do. Those who follow degree courses at universities and similar institutes have to listen to their lecturers and take down notes. This is virtually a difficult task if you are going to take down notes meaningfully. On the other hand, anyone who can write needs to write faster, but most of us do not have the time or patience to learn conventional shorthand.

Short cut

In the absence of shorthand, is there a short cut to take down notes or write faster than we do? Quite unconsciously we have been using some kind of shorthand when we write ‘yrs’ for ‘years,’ ‘UK’ for ‘the United Kingdom,’ ‘US’ for ‘the United States, ‘co’ for ‘company,’ ‘Jan’ for ‘January,’ ‘n’ for ‘the North’ and ‘biz’ for ‘business.’

If you follow this method, you will learn how to code any word. For instance, you can write ‘ccs’ for ‘circumstances’ or ‘cln’ for ‘circulation.’ By doing so, you can treble your writing speed.

Alphabetical shorthand is not something new. It was introduced in England way back in 1590 as the Art of Brachygraphy. Samuel Pepys used a later version of it to write his famous diary.

The modern speedwriting was invented in the early 1920s by the late Emma Dearborn, an American shorthand teacher. Later, speedwriting spread in many other countries and it was taught in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Dutch and Arabic.

Unlike standard shorthand symbols, you can learn speedwriting fast and effectively in six weeks, according to experts. You can write 100 to 120 words a minute by using this method. The speed will enable you to do many secretarial jobs such as taking down dictation at 57 words a minute

It is amazing to note that 25 percent of everyday English is made up of only ten words: I, and, the, and, to, a, you, of, in, and we. Only 69 words comprise 50 percent of average everyday vocabulary. For a routine job in a bank or government department, you need to know at least 5,000 words. They include prefixes, suffixes and root words.

Phonetic rules

In speedwriting, we follow certain phonetic rules. For speedwriting, you can write ‘sdri,’ using for four letters for 12 letters. The last letter ‘i’ can be underlined to indicate that it ends in ‘ing.’ Similarly you can write ‘sa’ for ‘saying’ and ‘on’ for ‘owning.’

For many words beginning with ‘circ, circu, circum’, you can write capital ‘C.’For ‘la’, write only ‘l.’ For the endings such as ‘tion, sion, ssion, cion’ pronounced ‘shun,’ write ‘j’ because very few words end in ‘j.’

In speedwriting, you do not have to dot your ‘i’s and cross your‘t’s. You will have to develop your own abbreviations and stick to them. Avoid using unfamiliar symbols. Dr Alexander Sheff who revised speedwriting said, “You don’t have to think – in fact we’d rather you didn’t.” He introduced the ‘Mechanical hare’ of teaching speedwriting.

Speedwriting was introduced to Britain by George Markhan who taught it at Stock’s School of Commerce in Kensington. Later it was taught at L.C.C. Evening Institutes in Hammersmith, Kennigton and Paddington. Speedwriting was taught in two 40-minute periods of theory and three 40-minute periods of dictation daily. At the beginning, a student was expected to write 50 words per minute. He acquired the skills to write 120 words per minute at the end of the course.

Many students followed the Pitman shorthand course at commercial schools in the 1950s. Instead of the Pitman course, some institutes taught Greg Shorthand. Today, both these systems are not taught as shorthand is no longer fashionable. Therefore, an alphabetical speedwriting can be learned in less time even without an instructor. However, you will never achieve the top speed of shorthand through speedwriting.

Scotland Yard allowed special branch men to use speedwriting for taking down statements and some commercial establishments had it taught to their secretaries. Today, secretaries depend heavily on dictating machines and they no longer use shorthand.

However, speedwriting is useful for occasional dictation.

Despite numerous software packages and apps for note taking, many people still need a system to handwrite rapidly in meetings, on the telephone, to note down instructions or quick reminders. Often people have problems reading back notes because they have made up abbreviations in the moment and then cannot remember what they were later.

However, speedwriting has a structure. The basics can be learnt in just a few hours. Words are abbreviated by missing out vowels or double letters as in ‘no’ for ‘know,’ ‘scs’ for ‘success,’ ‘ltl’ for ‘little,’ ‘btr’ for ‘better,’ ‘vw’ for ‘interview,’ or ‘sp’ for ‘specialist.’


There are some guidelines for speedwriting. Always use small letters close together and do not press your pen or pencil hard and do not use capital letters.

Also do not write too close to the edges of the papers and use a sharp pencil or pen for clarity.

For speedwriting, invent your own abbreviations and symbols. Following are some of the abbreviations generally used by journalists: ‘Tdy’ for ‘today,’ ‘tmw’ for ‘tomorrow,’ ‘pm’ for ‘evening,’ ‘skuls’ for ‘schools,’ ‘xgr’ for ‘legislature,’ ‘pox’ for ‘police,’ ‘pols’ for ‘politicians,’ ‘sap’ for ‘soon as possible,’ ‘wds’ for ‘words,’ ‘sty’ for ‘story,’ ‘graf’ for ‘paragraph,’ ‘blk’ for ‘black,’ ‘ct’ for ‘court,’ ‘gg’ for ‘going,’ and ‘arv’ for ‘arrive.’

Depending on the type of work you do, you are free to write sentence fragments filled with abbreviations. Although the system of abbreviations used by journalists is relatively uniform, others can use their own inventions. You can make sensible substitutions by spelling words phonetically.

The world is changing rapidly and whoever thought that Pitman and Greg shorthand systems would be replaced by speedwriting during one’s lifetime?

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