Methods of Attacking the shorthand speed barrier

    Does anyone ever feel like they are fighting the wrong front in the attainment of shorthand speed. As those who’ve been around for a while know, I’ve been fighting this 120wpm mark for many months. After finishing the manual, my practice has boiled down to dictation. I sometimes make relatively weak efforts to do penmanship or phrase drills, but have always found these drills boring with little guidance to keep your attention up and therefore my weak effort. After finishing the manual, self-guided speed building requires some creative effort to keep your motivation up.

I have started focussing on reading once again, hoping that more progress will be acheived on this front. More specifically, reading my own writing because reading from the texts, is like reading text, where the letters are meant to be perfect and exactly the same. Your own notes have their own quirks and tendencies.

I would like to get people’s experiences on learning shorthand in different ways especially once your study of the manual has finished. Can you recommend any methods to motivate yourself to read more, to do penmanship drills, and to ultimately speed up.

BTW, this post signifies that I’ve sorta kinda accepted our new home. It is not perfect but like MSN it might grow on us, and who knows, the administrators of multiply might one day even fix up our niggling issues.


(by Michael
for everyone)


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  1. Michael,

    The 120 speed rut is wide and deep but CAN be overcome. Getting your brain to supply outlines to your hand faster takes a while, unfortunately. You're fighting the "law of diminishing returns," meaning that the closer you get to really high speeds, the more difficult it is to gain even five words per minute. You just have to keep in mind that it CAN be done!

    If I'm not mistaken, the 120 rut is called the vocabulary rut. You need to expand your shorthand vocabulary to dig out of this one. It means going beyond the common words to the ones which don't come along as regularly. (I'll admit that I have encountered words and managed to write something, look them up in the dictionary, drill them, not hear them for a few weeks, encounter them again, flub them, and look them up yet again. . . and again. . . and again.)

    A good theory review always helps! I also took the same piece and tried to push the speed up beyond my comfort zone, aiming for 10-20 words per minute faster with decent–not perfect–notes. I can honestly say, I've had to repeat the same take 50 or more times. You'd think that familiarity with the vocabulary and phrasing wouldn't require such intensive repetition–sometimes over the course of several days!–but it may.

    If you can zero in on your problem–writing numbers, writing cities and states, etc.–a selective review will help. If you can't point to some specifics, it's probably shorthand vocabulary. Your word-building principles aren't fixed enough in your mind. So we're back to theory review.

    Hope this helps!


  2. The suggestions are all excellent.

    Another technique is to take a piece, not more than a couple minutes and repeat the piece, increasing the speed by 10 wpm on each repetition. Try to write 10 words a minute faster than your target. You'll have taken the piece quite a bit so it's entirely likely that you will get it and it will be written well. If you hit the target and you think it was fairly easy, keep going.

    If you write through the manual again, writing each outline a couple of times, and spend some time reading the brief form charts to keep the brief forms fresh, I suspect that you will make excellent strides once you break the rut.

    They aren't kidding, either, when the texts suggest reading as much well-written shorthand as possible. Repetitive reading of materials is going to automate the forms. Tinker with phrasing, too. Anniversary has great phrasing principles and review of that will help. A good phrase will give you those three more words in a few strokes. Expansion of your writing vocabulary by increasing the syllable intensity of your dictation materials is somewhat like practicing with a weighted bat. Recently a subscription dictation service I subscribed to sends me 2-voice Q&A and Literary/Jury Charge. After a while, one of the literary files was a collection of general business letters. At 110 it was a walk in the park.

    You're really doing very well. It's very good to see.

  3. Well from my latest dictation, I have noticed somethings by slowing the video frame rate down. I have blocks of fast writing with large air gaps in the middle, space enough for probably one word each time. It is like, my mind takes in a few shorthand outlines and spits them out. Then off I go twirling my pen in the air for what seems an eternity (in relative slow-motion mode), before lunging off the next few outlines.

    An extra word in these gaps would automatically raise my speed, eg from 6 words every 3 seconds, to 7 words in those 3 seconds. I have to find a way to bypass this mental gap. If I could find a way, I'd post a slowed down version on youtube, so you might see these gaps.

    Phrasing, anniversary fan, is obviously a good thing to focus on. When I manage to find the book I've much heard about but still don't have "Gregg Reporting Shortcuts" in the Anni version, I might do a thorough re study of phrasing and other shortcuts presented in it. I've been meaning to open up the Pre-Anni manual and take up some of the shortcuts as well.

    All in all, there are still areas for improvement, which means that there is still plenty of speed if I am willing to work for it. Thanks for the suggestions and keep em coming.

  4. If you are pausing, that's hesitation. Some of the words are coming to you right away and others are taking more time to construct. This means that you need to reinforce your theory. At this point, you don't need any additional short cuts. What you need to do now is be able to construct words on the fly and automate the most common words. Read repeatedly everything you can get your hands on. If I get a minute, I'll try to send you the suggestion for practice for fluency. Basically, you take a piece (they suggest the Gettysburg Address, but that's just a suggestion). Practice it over and over again, until most of it is memorized. Then write it. Since you don't have to think about the words, what you should try for is writing evenly from one outline to the next with the same smooth gait and with a rhythm that seems good to you. It should be smooth and you should move from one outline to the next without jerks and stops. They suggest you use this piece as a warm-up piece everytime you pick up the pen to write.

  5. Michael, have you read the erstwhile tome "Factors of Shorthand Speed"? It was in the Documents section of the old website, but seems to have disappeared into the ether during the transition to Multiply.

    Boiled down, the tome suggests writing until your fingers falls off, with no break whatever, for 30 minutes, then 1hour, then 1 1/2 hour daily. This teaches the muscles to write with the least possible effort; an increase of 20-30 wpm is purportedly effected after only three weeks practice. It's a grueling task, but worthwhile if you're made of the stuff it takes to complete the endeavor.

    One correspondent on this website used this method to type at 100+ wpm; I myself noticed a palpable speed in writing longhand, when shadowing an author for prose-improvement purposes.

    If you want to hear more details, please ask.

  6. Yes, I have often used that suggestion, and do notice an increase in speed when I have several days to write heaps and heaps. I don't think I'm too disciplined about not taking breaks, and purposefully fatiguing myself, so it is definitely something to try.

    My main method lately though, has been writing out this book that I can never finish reading. Its called "The theory of almost everything" and is a non-fiction book that talks about all the phenomena of relativism, quantum, and field theories (BUT NOT gravity, therefore, theory of almost everything) and is really interesting.

    I write out a few pages (at my own pace), and then read them back. Write out some more etc. For me, this has been the most reading of my own shorthand that I have ever done. I've already written out 55 pages, and have around 280 to go. It is not always perfect shorthand (mainly penmanship or lack of phrasing errors), but who knows, maybe I'll make it available one day. It doesn't help that the fountain pen ink that I used is "washable". This basically means, as soon as a drop of water touches the paper; you're writing has completely vanished replaced by a light blue puddle.

    On the other hand, I have found the cartridge fountain pen (that I've used in my last dictation video) lasts way longer than any pen that I could've bought, so even though I paid AUD55 for my pen, it might even pay off in the end.

  7. Lisitsa, I believe you are following "Factors…" advice already, albeit in embryonic form. And evidently, it is reaping rewards.

    I have been following your progress over the past few months. It seems that it was not too long ago that you were writing at 60-80 wpm, and now you're writing at 130wpm after only a year of study. Lisitsa, that is not an accomplishment to be sneezed at; the old adage used to read "80% of shorthand students write at 80wpm."

    With these accomplishments in mind, I think you've got plenty of discipline!

  8. I can offer my belated two cents 🙂 I got my Gregg up to 140 a while ago but stopped to focus on my machine shorthand, which I've been working on for about a year and a half. I had two main speed ruts: 140 and 180. I'm currently working on 225 for the upcoming RPR certification test in May, so these ruts can be overcome.
    What I found helpful changed for each rut. For the first one, which had me at 140 for six months, I found that changing my practice routine did the trick for me. I had been just going to school for five hours a day in the same 140-160 classes as everyone else. I think a problem with going to a court reporting school is the schedule can leave you stuck at a speed. So I started sitting in different speed classes to mix things up. If I didn't have a test, I'd go sit with the 100-120 students or the 180-200. Within a month of doing that, I passed my 140s and my 160s, though I then got stuck in the 180 speed rut for another four months.
    This one was a lot more difficult, but I think three things chiefly helped me. One, I started actually learning briefs and phrases and how to shorten my writing instead of writing everything out. Two, I noted the things that made me hesitate during dictations and practiced the heck out of them. If I slopped a stroke, I looked at the steno around it to see if something before or after caused me to hesitate, or if the stroke itself needed drilling. And third, the biggest help I think, I focused on VARIETY over repetition. I put that in caps because I think it's the crux of me moving up. So many students write a single take or even a subject matter over and over, maybe at different speeds, and all that does is teach you to write that one take or subject. Students moan about medical or technical testimony and never write it because it's a challenge, so they get thrown by slightly uncommon words and fail tests because of it. I've found that a blend of congressional record, expert testimony, medical literature, and anything that gets my brain and fingers moving produces much better results than writing boilerplate jury charge or run-of-the-mill car accident testimony.
    Other students I know shake their heads like I'm insane when I say I practice 200-220 literary, 220-240 jury charge, and 240-260 Q&A. I think the only way to get faster and more accurate on your current speed is to always strive upwards, even if it feels impossible at first.
    So I guess that's the point of this whole spiel 🙂 Try to go faster than you think you can, hanging on for as long as you can before dropping, and sometimes write intensely difficult and dense material to challenge yourself, and you'll be out of those ruts sooner than most.

  9. Somewhere in the back of my mind (was it in the first Speedbuilding book for colleges?) there's advice about repetition practice being most beneficial at speeds below 150. At 150 and up, as I recall it, things should be written once. That advice applied to five-minute takes. But, of course, drilling problem areas never hurts.

  10. I agree with that mostly, Marc. I only repeat takes if they were challenging, and only once again at the same speed after noting trouble spots and working on them. When I went to court reporting school (dropped out at 180 to speedbuild on my own), some readers would use one five-minute dictation for the entire hour-long period 😐
    After about 140, I didn't find repetition of takes at different speeds to be very helpful. There are so many skills that go into being able to write above about 160 that are best practiced by writing new material: writing unfamiliar words, starting to drop behind the speaker but not panicking and catching up, trailing different distances behind the speaker, writing unfamiliar sequences of strokes, punctuating intelligently (especially unexpected shifts or interruptions), etc.
    I think repeating takes is only good for working on problem areas and cementing new briefs or phrases, not for building speed.

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