An Experimental Study of Two Shorthand Systems

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This 1937 thesis describes an experiment in which Gregg shorthand learners and Pitman shorthand students were carefully tested to compare how quickly the two systems can be learned. Many of the Gregg students achieved proficiency and were offered jobs before the experiment concluded. The Pitman students did not do so well, and that’s putting it mildly.

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  1. Very interesting. I can't say I'm surprised at the results of the tests.

    I have a copy of the "New Course in Pitman's Shorthand – New Era Edition", also from 1937; the preface includes comments which read to me as a defence against Gregg Shorthand, for example, the writer says, that shading is preferable to making use of shorter/longer strokes to indicate similarly sounded consonants, because it "saves time and labour for the shorthand writer and shading itself involves no extra penmanship."

    In another section of the preface, the writer promotes the use of the system's position writing (which was a feature originally rejected by Pitman himself), stating "the insertion of vowel signs is a needless waste of the writer's labour."

    There are several other examples where Pitman is defended against other, unnamed shorthand systems.

    It seems to me that the Pitman publishers felt that their system was under threat, particularly from Gregg Shorthand, and the evidence in the thesis proves they had cause for concern.

    Still, to be fair, we shouldn't ignore the fact that Pitman remains the shorthand system of choice for a great many people.

  2. In the 1880s, during the shorthand craze when new systems were being published every week, there was a magazine called "Shorthand: a Scientific and Literary Magazine." It's very interesting to leaf through this old journal and read people wondering in print how Pitman got such a strangle-hold on England and how they could possibly liberate their beloved island nation. It was an exasperating mystery to them.

  3. I'd really like to see the thesis. Is it on line?

    As all good psychology students can tell you, how the "experiment" was set up can have profound effects on the results.

    I have know teachers who said that Pitman writers may take longer to master their theory, but once they do, they leave Gregg writers in the dust when it comes to speed. . . .

    Just sayin'.

  4. I finally got the chance to read the entire study and could rip it shreds for a whole bunch of reasons but won't. I'll only say the results could easily be challenged. Not that I don't like his conclusions, mind you!

    1. I have heard it said that Pitman takes longer to master but rewards you with better speeds at the end. A time-constrained study such as his couldn't say anything about that statement.

      It did seem rather biassed towards Gregg.

    2. At the time the study was published, the statistical theory of experimental design was still in its infancy, so I would give the author a lot of leeway in that regard.

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