Tools of the trade?

Just wondering what everyone uses when writing shorthand–pen or pencil. I’ve read that using a pencil will slow you down and to always use a pen, then I’ve read other places about people using a pencil, so I thought I’d see what everyone here thinks about the subject. I’m using a cheapo Bic ballpoint right now, and it seems fine, but I thought I’d ask about everyone’s preferences here just for fun.

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  1. I know there is a whole thread on this topic but I can't find it.

    Personally, I use medium Bic Sticks and LOVE them for shorthand. I've tried gel pens and they're not as smooth for me. I used to use a pencil but the point gets dull and notes get larger and larger. I've tried a mechanical pencil but either break the lead or need to keep clicking to push more of it out.

    1. I forgot to mention that I also used fountain pens because that's why the Anniversary books said to. They're OK and the dots show up nicely but I found they scraped a bit until broken in.

      Just be warned that if you press too hard on a fountain pen (which I've done), you "spring" it; namely, separating the nibs from the barrel and it's expensive to fix.

      I've used cheap pens and expensive pens and seem to prefer the cheap ones.

  2. I've used good and bad pens in the low price range, and the same for pencils.

    Some are better for practice than for actual use. My 0.3mm pencil leads (found in an ancient drawer) break if I push on them too hard. Very good training, but not suitable for everyday use. Some pens that let the ink flow freely leave splotches if your pen rests. Again, good for training but not for notes.

    My goto pen these days is Staples (local big stationary store) or Bic medium ball pen. Cheap, reliable. I suspect they come from the same factory.

    Another factor is how you hold your pen. Bic Crystal were incredibly common when I was a kid, and I hated them. I held them on too much of an angle and they scratched.

    Brand of pencil makes a big difference, too. Some with the same hardness code have very different properties. Some break more easily, others smudge, one even had tiny hard bits.

  3. Any old Bic fine-point pen will do the trick for me. Dirt cheap and a good ink flow. But I only use shorthand for journaling, quick notes, and shopping lists, not sustained dictation!

  4. Paper Mate had a really nice pen called the Silhouette, which was discontinued several years ago. A nice "balanced" feel that no other pen could equal. I was lucky to find some bulk quantities online on clearance.

    Now even that option is closed, since there's a new pen out with the same name–but it's not the same pen! So trying to find any more of the old ones is well nigh impossible. Every search just brings up this new, useless model. 🙁

    1. Check Ebay. There are several there. I saw them a couple of days ago, and aren't all that expensive. I have some of them myself and love them. Those new ones are for the birds, to put it mildly.

    1. I use a Namiki (Pilot) "Vanishing Point" retractable fountain pen with an extra fine nib. It's nice to get the variations in stroke widths like you see in the textbooks (although my penmanship isn't as good, obviously) and it's pretty smooth.

    2. I've been wanting to try an actual fountain pen but they are quite expensive. I would hate to pay a lot of money and find out I don't like the way it writes. Also, when you look real closely at the nibs they look like they'd feel/be real "scratchy" on paper.

      And I'm sure fountain pens fall under that category of "You Get What You Pay For".

    3. A couple of years ago I went on a quest to find the "perfect pen", with Gregg requirements in mind. About $300 later and something like 30 pens later, I settled on my current tools.

      I use an Online Campus pen. Cost $17 (fine nib was an extra $8). I flat out love it.

      There's a great little stationer near where I live that carries these pens, but they're hard to find online.

      I also have a Lamy Safari, which was $40 and while it's a nice pen, and I could probably get by with it, it's always being upstaged by the Online Campus.

    4. Marc: re scratchiness

      Nib choice is key. I had to have a fine nib, but the fine from Online feels much smoother than the fine from Lamy. Obviously if you're happy with a ballpoint pen, then more power to you, but if you were considering a cartridge or fountain pen, then the best choice is to try a bunch out on the type of paper you usually use (that last one got me!)

  5. Since I switched to using the Functional Method I haven't picked up a pen since (since it's all reading at the moment). However when I first initially started writing some shorthand I find that I still tend to write very big and I tend to write with a lot of pressure which I'm sure will haunt me when the time comes I need to start writing it. I bought a few Papermate 1.4mm pens that write very nice and feel comfortable in your hand. They write very smooth, too.

    @Cricket: I have a few of those Staple pens, I believe they're called Sonix or something like that and they write very nice, too.

    1. Every few words, try tapping your index finger. Also, try a larger barreled pen. Avoid squishy pens. They encourage you to squeeze to control the pen. Also, some barrels get smaller towards the tip, so the pen keeps slipping.

    2. With respect to bluebonnet's original question about pen vs. pencil, I would say that the only "correct" answer really comes down to personal preference, much as one's choice of what series of Gregg to use and the like. (Notwithstanding the ribbing I gave one of our colleagues recently.) 😉

      However, if someone were to ask my opinion as to which were best I would just note that, among the greatest authorities of shorthand over the past century, the view has been almost universal in favor of the pen. And that was certainly Dr. Gregg's position.

      An excellent book for the serious shorthand student is "The Factors of Shorthand Speed" by 40-year congressional reporter David Wolfe Brown, first published in 1897. You can download the Gregg edition here: (I've read this book three times already; it's really good!)

      Mr. Browne's chapter on "Pen or Pencil" begins on page 123 and presents 12 reasons why the pen is preferred–and this at a time when pen technology wasn't nearly what it is today. (I should add that Mr. Browne was a Pitman writer, which makes the pencil a more hazardous choice given all that line thickening/shading, but his arguments still carry over well.)

      So read what he has to say, keeping in mind the opinions of the leading authorities on the subject, and then if the pencil still works better for you just disregard all the above and use what you're most comfortable with.

    3. has quite a few available–I strongly suggest obtaining the Gregg edition, which includes some footnotes clarifying points of difference with the Pitman system, etc. (Dr. Gregg purchased the rights to the book after Mr. Brown passed away, and kept it in print for a number of years.)

      Sometimes the price can be a little steep, but at least there's the copy in the meantime. 🙂

  6. I was using ballpoint pens, and the G2 pilot until very recently, when I discovered that I like using very soft lead pencils e.g. 6B or softer. I almost cannot feel the tip touch the paper, and I always get thick lines with little effort. The curves are also nice; it winds up looking life brush work. I also like using softer paper than the typical Staples pads have, like that in TOPS's pads.

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