In the second of three articles, Doreen Walker, training consultant to the Derby Evening Telegraph, offers some valuable advice to shorthand writers whatever their experience.

Part II, Speed Development

Having embarked upon a course of study it is imperative that you attempt writing in shorthand, and at varying speeds from day one.

At the end of each unit of theory are "related sentences" - these you should drill and then prepare to take them down in shorthand.

If you are attending a formal course, your tutor will read these out to you, if however, you are undertaking a course of self-study, ask a friend to read them (slowly) and then repeat each sentence getting faster each time.

Think of learning shorthand as being similar to learning to drive a car - you would not study the mechanics of driving without actually practising each aspect.

Likewise with shorthand! Speed development and accuracy is cumulative - consolidate each unit by practising the dictation passages relating to it.

When you have reached the stage of completing all the shorthand theory you should then set targets for "unknown" dictation. In other words, passages which you have not previously drilled.

Initially, aim to accurately transcribe a 1-min passage dictated at 60 wpm, then build upon this until you can achieve three minutes read at 60 wpm while simultaneously being able to transcribe a one-minute passage read at 80wpm.

When you can take 2-3 mins at 80 wpm you should also be capable of one minute at 100 wpm. In other words you are constantly stretching yourself.

The aim is to be capable of taking down and transcribing accurately two minutes at 110 wpm and ½ min at 160 wpm - this means that you can enter an examination for 100 wpm confidently.

All examination papers contain several sentences which seem as though they are being read faster than the rest - this is not the case, it is simply that the words may be longer and so it appear that the reader is speeding up.

For example:

I am not in the habit of going to work on the bus, I prefer to ride my bike.
(19 words)

Compared with -

International conglomerate organisations frequently confront investigations undertaken by government departments to ensure that production and manufacture are ethically conducted.
(19 words)

This is why it is important to practice speed bursts - if you can write shorthand for ¼ or ½ min at 160 wpm you can cope more easily with the more difficult parts of a passage.

* Memory retention - remember you will always be behind the reader and at some points you may be anything up to 10/12 words behind. You can practice memory retention in several ways - listen to the news on TV or radio (preferably taping it) but don't take any notes! Pause for a few seconds then write down what you can recall - checking it against the tape.

* Another trick to help speed development is to "live and breathe" shorthand - everywhere you go, mentally transcribe notices, bus destinations, public announcements, and pieces of conversation where unusual words are used. Even though this is just undertaken in your mind, it means that those words will not throw you if they crop up in an examination.

* Regular use of shorthand is very important - if you are not using it daily in your working environment, then acquire tapes and practice for at least half an hour a day. This is much more effective than going several days without doing any shorthand then spending 3 hours in one session.

* Regardless of what system of shorthand used, having acquired a sound knowledge of basic theory, it is recommended that you now look at "special outlines", "word groupings", "shortforms", "reduced outlines" etc. There are many additional textbooks for each system which are extremely useful and by practising applying this more "advanced" technique, your speed will increase rapidly.

* Get into the habit of changing your pen/pencil regularly during dictation. This is why you should always have two - if the pen suddenly runs out, or the pencil point breaks, less time is lost if you can quickly put one pen down and grasp another. Also, if you have practised this regularly, it will not cause a feeling of panic if it happens to you for the first time during an examination.

So, you reach the point where you can transcribe accurately 2 mins at 60 wpm, how do you promote speed? One of the best methods is to revise thoroughly a particular unit and then transcribe a difficult passage based on that unit and finally attempt to take in down in shorthand.

For example, if the following passage was on your revision tapes, revise the unit fully then transcribe the passage into shorthand, drilling any words you know will cause you to hesitate, and prepare to take dictation. The passage will be preceded by a short speed burst (read at 160 wpm for ½ min - don't worry if you find you cannot get it all down) then the passage will be read initially at 80 wpm and repeated at 100 wpm.

Please bear in mind that this passage is not a typical examination piece.

Revise relevant unit(s) - Teeline : CN Blends/Pitman 2000 : words beginning "con"

Then transcribe the following passage into shorthand - drilling any words, or word groups, ready for dictation.

"The condition of the patient was worrying as he had been unconscious for 2 hours.

The medical staff were not convinced that, upon regaining consciousness, he had, in fact, been able to relate to the police exactly what had happened without appearing confused.

To their concern, his injuries were not consistent with his garbled conversation when first questioned. In such as case however, it was police practice to leave a constable by the patient's bedside throughout treatment and not any comments made. The Senior Consultant was also worried about the risk of contamination to the patient's burns by the number of people congregating in the side ward and connecting corridors.

He was further incensed by the police insisting on confining to the day room of the ward, all medical staff who had been involved with the patient's initial treatment on arrival at the hospital.

The police, for their part, and based purely on conjecture, felt that the patient could have been involved in the start of the conflagration at the hotel, rather than just a victim."