Use of Brief Forms, Shortcuts, Special Forms: which, when, and where?

The point has been brought that no shortcuts should be learned until the standard brief forms have been studied, and the standard theory learned. I would like to read some opinions about this. That has been the standard recommendation when Gregg shorthand was taught in schools and was geared mostly to the business world. But has this situation changed now? Writers should take down easily and comfortably any kind of material, regardless of whether it is business-related or not. So this got me thinking: what is the potential danger of learning to write common words (not necessarily specialized words, or not those written as brief forms or special forms) as shortcuts from the get go vs the “standard way”. There are still a great number of high frequency words that can certainly be written in shortcuts. For example, why not learn to write “accumulate” as “a – k – disjoined u” vs the standard “a – k – e – u – m – disjoined u”? What are some advantages and disadvantages?

(by Carlos for everyone)


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  1. Wow.  Good question.  I often find myself wishing that some of the more useful shortcuts had been given early on.  I'm going through the Reporting Course and there's lots of things that I'm finding useful.   Lots of the shortcuts in the beginning of the Gregg Reporting Shortcuts are commonly used words.  And I'm finding that I'm having to relearn some words.  Since I had long periods of inactivity, it's almost easier.    I think the deciding factor is how much memory load can you handle.  I like the simpler forms of the reporting shortcuts.  And the "fact" phrases are very useful in all kinds of dictation.  I wonder if there's a diminishing return if you have to make too many briefs automatic.    I favor outlines of fewer strokes because, at bottom, if there are too many strokes or joinings in the outline, I start to get sloppy.  I'm such a shorthand geek that I really like finding a memorable brief that simplifies my writing.  When I began shorthand, I think I would have preferred to have it start out as I meant to go on.  That's what drew me to Anniversary from Series 90 — shorter outlines, more brief forms, more sophisticated phrasing.  Whatever briefs a writer loses because they aren't used, you still have the underlying theory to construct readable outlines.  I'm in the camp of lay it all out and let the chips fall where they may.     

  2. There's nothing wrong with making your own brief forms.  I've done that for jobs when I've taken minutes.  Just much, much easier in taking the minutes.   The only thing you have to remember is that you are going to have to be able to read your outlines either when you transcribe them or years later (such as in diary/journal form) when you reread your shorthand.  Plus if you want others to read it, then you would want a "key" with it.    You have to make sure that they are more easier to write and ready.  If you miss the disjoined "u" or think it's the "ing", you could transcribe it wrong or differently or not at all.  And you don't want to confuse it with another word.   Of course you could tell in context too what the outline would be, so that can be helpful with brief forms, etc.   So if you have some for your own personal use that you don't care about, then that's fine.

  3. I think there are significant benefits to be had from presenting shortcuts, brief forms, and some common and obvious abbreviations very early on. Brief forms have been introduced in the very first lesson in some Gregg books and this doesn’t seem confusing at all. For example, the letter R also represents ARE, M represents AM, S represents IS. No problem, makes total sense. Learners should become aware of how fast the system can be and they don't have to be told this, it's obvious with every shortened form. I think these time-saving forms, if you introduce some easier ones first, instill confidence in the system. In any case, shorter has a tendency to come across as easier, within reason.   I imagine the categories, the types of shortcuts, may best be picked up by most new learners with minimal explanation or even subconsciously. I know that when I saw the intersected forms A.M., P.M., and KT for “quantity,” I simply accepted them while absorbing that intersecting characters were a useful possibility. Shortcuts to me seemed to make the system easier: disjointed F stands for –ification. Nice! I thought. The abbreviation of long words should be introduced early too, without fanfare. Even the average high schooler is already quite familiar with the shortening concept in writing: constit, atmos, lang, govt, abbrev – not to mention the automatic "shorthand" training that comes from text messaging!   I don't see any disadvantages. You don't have to explain everything, just show it and the learner will accept it if its logical. By the way, you don’t know how sweet brief forms are until you see instead of UU for WORLD Greghand’s spelling scrawled across the page U-U-R-L-D. The reason for the existence of shorthand itself, it's justification, is to save time. Introducing a variety of time savers very early on, if they're fairly straight forward ones, only bolsters the value of Gregg and might just keep people studying.

  4. The thing about brief forms and shortcuts is that they have to be automatic.  What slows you down is the hesitation of trying to pull out the shortened form.  It's a good idea to have good word building skills.  It is sometimes confusing if you start writing out a word that you later make it to a shortcut for.  You cannot absorb too many arbitrary forms too quickly.  Memory load is something to consider.  It really is a good policy to adopt the shortcuts that are used for words that are frequent in your writing — the same shortcut can mean one thing in military terminology and another in banking.  You can be flexible in your use.  It's a good idea to learn to write words and adopt shorter forms for those that come up often in your vocabulary.  There may be a cool outline for a word that you find when it does come up in your writing for speed, you revert to writing it out.    The word beginnings and endings are great time savers.  Few of them survived through the various revisions of the system.  Even Series 90 had and Expert Speed Building volume that has many of the reporting shortcuts intact for the most part.  I have no idea what they published with the Cenntennial version.  By that time, McGraw-Hill was pretty much phoning it in.

  5. I have to agree with you.  The shortcuts introduced should definitely be introduced based on frequency in running vocabulary and there should be more of them.    In the 1902 Revised Edition, The Abbreviating Principle is introduced first thing in Lesson 9.  I wish I had been introduced to it sooner.  I didn't grasp the significance of what they were telling me for quite a while.  It makes great sense to learn it early — it's a great way to ease the writing and keep your mind flexible.  Write just enough of the word to suggest to you what the word is.  My experience with S90 really clouded my perception.  It takes me some examples of a principle to fix it.  I started reading through the dictionary and it started to gel for me.  I was good with writing through the accented vowel, or stopping at the i.  It was the other facets of abbreviating it took me a while to assimilate.   Intersection is a unique enough principle that it could be introduced early on.  It's an idea that mirrors what we do in longhand all the time.  And again, intersection is a great principle to devise easier outlines for words that you encounter in your writing all the time.  The intersection will naturally suggest itself.   More of the shorter forms should be introduced earlier.  The material in the Expert books are very useful in general vocabulary and as Chuck states is a good place to start.  The shortcuts listed in the 1959, Second Edition of the Gregg Reporting Shortcuts has a somewhat more robust list of individual shortcuts, useful phrases, and a greatly expanded collection of court testimony and jury charge phrases.  Some of the stuff (most of it probably) would be of no interest to the academic or general writer, but the shortcuts I think could be folded in with the presentation of the theory a bit more.   I agree whole heartedly that the abbreviating principle should be introduced much sooner than it is in the later editions.  It's an important principle to start working into a writer's style early on.  And there should be a better discussion of the underlying principles.  The 1902 manual gives a great explanation of the principle.  The examples it gives for using the same abbreviation for "enthusiasm" and "enthusiastic" help clarify that you don't have to necessarily have a different outline for forms of the word because the context will guide you.  Early and frequent application of the principle would make writing easier before you get caught in the orthodoxy of writing words out completely based on principle.  That was what held me back. 

  6. Those are all good points. Perhaps the best thing would be to come up with a base list of shortcuts, based on word frequency. The ones in the expert series of shorthand is a good start, but I sometimes wonder if there are others that have been missing. After the list is compiled, then classify them to see if they follow a specific principle. Then, write paragraphs that would use those words. This is what I call learning "in context."

    I also like the comment about learning common abbreviations for A.M., P.M., etc., early, because these are natural (in fact, these are the ones that you learn when you are first introduced to the abbreviation and intersection principles, which happens much later in the study of shorthand). That's one of the things about the manual that is really bothersome to me — you have to learn a gazillion rules before you are "allowed" to abbreviate words! It is no wonder that when the abbreviation principle is introduced (one of my favorite parts of Gregg shorthand), it becomes difficult to absorb because one has already learned a rule about how to write a particular word ending. I would teach first the abbreviated form of the word, in context, and then the rule for the other words that are not abbreviated.

  7. The orthodoxy of writing words out more or less fully based on principle in DJS did withhold important possibilities for me at first. Somehow I didn't immediately connect that shorthand words can (and should) be abbreviated just like longhand. I guess I was assuming "but shorthand itself IS the abbreviation." In the DJS 1971 manual, for example, there are the introductions of families of "abbreviations," e.g. R for URE ending or using TRIB for words containing "tribute", but no real inclusion of a broader abbreviating principle until chapter 41. And even then it's only lip service: "Abbreviated words–not in families. The end may be omitted from some long words even though they do not fall into a family." Then nine examples, such as anniv(ersary) and signif(icant/cance). Series 90 and Centennial manuals, which I've worked through too, are the same. I will credit the simplicity of the presentation with getting me up and writing anything I wanted very quickly without too many rules in my head, which was my initial goal anyway. I also understand that most of these manuals were aimed at high school students — mostly female and mostly with the ultimate ambition assumed to be secretarial work — from a bygone era (ha! all right, a few decades ago). But in retrospect I would have appreciated as a thinking adult to have presented very early on the abbreviation (abrev!) possibilities in Gregg that are everywhere else evident, in natural notetaking, newspaper headlines, words on signs (Admin, Int'l) or anywhere. I definitely do appreciate the focus on and systematization of this principle in Anniv. and Pre-Anniv.

  8. The extensive use of the abbreviating principles was dropped by the time Simplified came out.  Simplified was the first edition that was geared to the needs of the general office stenographer and not the verbatim reporter.  I was trapped in the "if there's no brief form you have to write it all the way out."  It retarded my understanding and application of the abbreviating principle.   The point about abbreviating that struck me like lightening was:  only write as much of the word as is necessary to suggest the word in transcribing.  That's when the lightbulb lit up over my head.  And again, it's a principle that you can apply more heavily to the vocabulary you use most frequently.   

  9. My fear with the "only enough to suggest" rule is so many words differ only in the last few sounds. They're even the same parts of speech. It's tempered a bit by the fact that I can only come up with technical examples. If you don't know the subject well enough to know there's a difference, you probably won't hear the difference during testimony, so even writing them out in full wouldn't help. As AnniversaryFan said, it's rule that works best with material you're familiar with.

  10. There's nothing saying that you can't drop the middle of the word and stick what's different at the end.  Though, I'm not all that sure this is as great a problem as has been suggested.    In the example used in the 1902 manual, Gregg suggests "enthus" for both "enthusiasm" as well as "enthusiastic" — the context will suggest the correct word.  "The chairman's speach was received with great enthusiasm."  "The chairman's speech received an enthusiastic reception."     The same outline is used for "significant" as "significance".  Outlines in dictation are not produced in a vacuuim.  There's usually stuff around the word to indicate what was said.  Not everyone will apply the abbreviating principle to the same degree.  When I was in school my teacher kept saying to us:  "when in doubt, write it out" and I'm not sure that that was the best advice to give.   It's for this reason that court reporters must have exposure to all facets of law, medicine, engineering, etc.  Many times the court reporter would grab the file and read through the pleadings to pick up the basic subject matter and take a gander at the vocabulary used.  Sometimes they would ask for a copy of each parties' list of witnesses in order to make sure they had the correct spelling, etc. 

  11. It is true that so many words differ only in the last few sounds, but that shouldn't be an impediment to the use of the abbreviating principle, because it is precisely when the ending is not necessary that the principle is applied. That is the whole point. Show me a word for which the abbreviating principle is applied which can cause problems in transcribing. If there is ambiguity, then the principle is not applied.

  12. I am in the camp that learning shorthand is like learning a language. In a language, the part that makes it easy is the lack of things you have to unlearn. That's why, for me, learning Spanish and Esperanto has been so easy, since each word and grammar structure _always_ means what it meant the first time I learned it. That feature makes language-learning tremendously easier to memorize.

    In shorthand, though, I think that getting in the habit of writing words long instead of a more facile abbreviation might make learning them later less desirable. If you learn from the start many of the briefs presented in the most advanced of reporting shortcut books, perhaps the student would excel in speed more quickly. Seriously, Gregg has very little to memorize in the first place (particularly in comparison with machine shorthand, which has thousands more brief forms required for respectable speed). The more forms a person has at instant disposal from the very beginning, the less he is likely to hesitate before writing each word. I find that "writing a word out" tends to take a while to do, whereas writing a memorized brief form takes very little time. Just gotta do the footwork beforehand to memorize it, and that itself is not that hard to do. Have dictated little short sentences that repeat the word several times until it is absolutely natural.

    I am no shorthand education specialist, and maybe my idea is too aggressive, but I think it is grounded in the notion that unlearning and learning is dangerous for learning any language, including shorthand. Any execution of it from the beginning is right now very difficult, since there is no text that administers briefs so vigorously. Dunno. Those are my thoughts. I am not an authority.

    —Andrew Owen

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