101 Question on Dictation

I’m unclear on a very basic point. I’m confused about the best approach to handling words encountered in dictation for which the correct outline isn’t known or recalled.

Should I attempt to write an outline on the fly anyway, and just “put a ring around it”? (Up to now I’ve been making quick longhand notations and looking up the outlines later.)

I know Dr. Gregg said that the correct outline is the one you can read, but Mr. Leslie  also emphasized the importance of seeing/writing outlines correctly from the start.

Curiously, this question seems to have been overlooked in the various textbooks. Of course I might have missed it, but it appears that this was a point almost taken for granted—perhaps on the assumption that it would be addressed in the classroom anyway?

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  1. Well, now that I'm looking further, I have found one reference. The preface to Dictation for Beginners says "Dictation of unpracticed material puts the student in the position of forcing himself to construct the outlines for new words."

    I definitely made a mistake in postponing this phase of practice. Four times through the manual before seriously commencing dictation practice is waiting too long.

  2. 52 years ago in first semester of a Gregg class in which we used the Simplified Functional Manual, I don't believe our teacher ever dictated "new material", always using current or previous assignments. In second semester I believe up until the final few weeks she always used graded dictation based upon words and phrases we already had used … then all dictation given normally in the second year (3rd and 4th semester) was always preceded by "preview" outlines of words and outlines we might not have previously encountered. She patiently prepared us for the final weeks which did contain "new" matter. But by that time we could confidently take and transcribe such material.

    Of course in those days shorthand was taught in public school classes which is (was) the best way to learn to use Gregg.

    My advice to anyone wanting to learn Gregg today is to use the Functional Manual for whichever version chosen and not to attempt to write anything before completing the initial reading sections and be sure he can readily read the shorthand plates with no hesitation. I believe the Functional approach is best because as is pointed out by Leslie in his handbooks the "rules" are mentally absorbed without having to memorize them.

  3. Swem recommends, in his Systematic Speed Course for Advanced Writers, that you get something down and keep going – do not stop – then do what it takes to learn the correct outline, and take the passage again.

    That's a challenge for me. My instinct is to stop and fix the outline, leaving me hopelessly behind. Everything I've read says that's even worse than a bad outline.

    I find that circling problems as I do them is a form of stopping. During practice, it's not necessary. I see them when checking my work. Yes, not being able to do the outline properly during dictation, especially in the first text, is a sign of poor preparation. Sometimes it's because I didn't drill enough; sometimes it's because it's been too long since I last saw the word; sometimes it's because my mind is elsewhere or my fingers are too used to the keyboard. Regardless of the reason, it happens. I try to concentrate on the rest of the dictation, then learn the outline properly, and take the passage again.

    It will also happen in the real world. There will always be something I don't hear or need to clarify. I like those areas to stand out so I can ask about them before the meeting ends. Circling these makes sense. There will also be outlines I thought I got good enough but realize, too late, that I didn't, so it's good to err on the side of marking too many.

    So, while I finish the dictation and then review the problem outlines, I'm undecided about circling. I think I'll keep the habit, but work on making it fast. "Problem, circle, move on," rather than "Problem, hesitate, circle, move on."

  4. In real world dictation, you would take down whatever and make a note of it. However, when you're learning, you should not attempt to write words you don't know how to write, or are hesitant or unsure about, or do not have the theory down well to do it. That's one of the reasons for the speed building and dictation books: expose the student to additional words and applications of the word building principles so that when they see a new word, they can write it without thinking.

  5. But what if we draw a blank? I've sometimes gone back several pages, to a passage I'd brought up to 60wpm, and struggled over words. When it happens, I drill the problem outlines and bring the passage up to 60wpm again, but the question is about "in the moment". When you realize that, despite knowing the outline last month you no longer know it.

  6. That's right. It's panic. So I either give up on the take and go down a speed, or consider it practice for encountering an unfamiliar word and continue with the current take, then either drill the few problem words or go down a speed — an immediate retake at the speed with problems usually does nothing more than prove those words are a problem.

    On this push, I'm finding taking the time to copy from plate and build up gets me to target speed (60) in less time than reading the plate than right to dictation at 40, fixing problem areas, and building. Skipping the copy stage does not save time in the long run.

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