Thoughts about switching versions…. “downgrading”

Hi gang,

Sorry if this is a bit long. If you don’t want to read the background about my Gregg journey and why Simplified gives me burnout, skip down to the “***” marker.

As some of you may recall, I started my studies last year with Notehand and soon switched to Simplified. I felt if I was going to invest the effort, I may as well go for the gold… or at least the silver, as many of you probably feel Anni (or earlier) is the “gold” model of Gregg. 🙂

So I worked with a Simplified manual from the library, until I got the Simplified FM which I used as my main book. I also appreciated having a Simplified dictionary, and knowing there would be ample reading material available. I got a copy of Dictation Simplified for future use; and of course Carlos kindly posts new content here every month.

Unfortunately, what started as an enjoyable task became drudgery by lesson 37 (where types of comma usage are introduced). I really disliked the outdated business letters — those seemingly never-ending attempts to sell goods or get overdue payments. So I stopped for a while. I continued to read this blog, and write a little bit for personal use, but it was minimal.

I recently decided to pick up the studies again. I went back to an early lesson, where I felt would be a good point of review, and resumed working the Simplified FM. I felt like I was speeding along in terms of my reading comprehension, which felt good. I’m up to lesson 26 for writing (gent/dif blends) and 29 with reading.

And… the material is reminding me of why I stopped before. I still find these letters a struggle. I don’t care about a lot of the brief forms and business phrases (as in assignment 28) that I’d rarely use, which seems like useless memory load. Perhaps my role in modern corporate life also makes it harder for me to read advice to a 1950s secretary-in-training. In any case… tedious for me!


Not so coincidentally, I’ve been considering a downgrade back to Notehand, taking what I know from Simplified with me. I looked in my Notehand book, and I know there are many small differences in brief forms that would require a mental adjustment. Yet the Notehand in some sense looks/feels better to me. I’m reminded of someone here who once said that DJS looked to them like how Gregg should be written. I feel that way sometimes when I look at Notehand. (I suspect the writing of o and oo without sideways hooks is part of that!)

I read the Notehand teachers manual that Teri recently posted, and something in there struck me. It pointed out that Notehand doesn’t have to be written mathematically correct, and stressed the difference of non-vocational shorthand training. That’s when it hit me: Shorthand was meant to be a means to an end for me, not an end in itself. I’m not going to do court reporting or verbatim meeting minutes.

So what are my goals, and what will meet them? I want to take notes in meetings or work-related lectures, and be able to reference them later. I’m interested in having the material for reference and review; not verbatim transcripts.

I’d like to write lists, journal entries, even some prose. I’ll never write any shorthand as fast as I type (I’ve been on a computer every day for years) but something faster than longhand would be nice when I want to be away from a computer.

If I switch to Notehand at this point, am I giving up too much? Is the loss of reading material going to hurt me overall?

Is there the equivalent of a runner’s wall that I should try to break through with Simplified? Have others hit a point where they felt stuck and then suddenly got past it — in other words, is this a common learning plateau in shorthand?

I welcome your thoughts, opinions and related experiences.

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17 comments Add yours
  1. You're halfway your Simplified theory so if you give up now studying it, you will lose 50% of the principles, which is a lot! Moreover, you haven't finished learning the Gregg alphabet yet, as the ten and tem blends have not been introduced.

    Another thing you need to consider is the length of your study. The Gregg Simplified theory is presented in the first 54 assignments of the book, and the last 16 assignments are a review. Technically though, since each 6 assignment is a recall, new theory is presented in 45 lessons out of those 54. For Notehand, you need to go through all the 70 lessons of the book to complete the theory. So I don't think you will be going any faster.

    The issue of the boring business letters is a good one you bring about. However, there are some canned phrases and expressions that everyone uses that will be shown through those boring letters. So there is some value in practicing that kind of material. (Blame it on Louis Leslie for using these boring topics!)

    Gregg Shorthand does not need to be written mathematically correct either as you pointed out it is the case for Notehand. Dr. Gregg said that when one uses shorthand, as long as you can transcribe the words, there is no right or wrong — the dictionary outlines are suggestions based on experience and convenience. However, in the learning phase, one should stick to the principles as presented because you are learning. This is similar to learning a foreign language. Do you learn slang when you first learn Spanish?

    Learning plateaus usually do not come in the introduction of the theory. They usually comes later in dictation, when one tries to go faster in writing and hits a speed wall. However, what you describe is not a learning plateau per se, but finding motivation to continue. That is normal when you don't have a coach and are trying to learn something on your own. One starts to look for faults to justify quitting — this is normal behavior if your motivation is not high. A good way to keep yourself motivated is to post your shorthand progress here in the blog, or in a personal diary. You will see that when you're done, you'll feel you have accomplished a lot, and indeed you will have!

    If I were you, I would stick with Simplified and once I finish Lesson 54, I would start the Notehand manual, and rewrite all passages in Simplified Gregg, as you are going through your review of theory of the last 16 lessons of the Simplified manual. You will see how much faster and cleaner your outlines are in comparison to the outlines in the Notehand book. This exercise will also help you solidify your Simplified theory. Your mileage may vary, but it is just a suggestion.

    Lastly, you know you're done with Gregg Simplified theory when you can write the word "tedious." Keep that as a motivator, :-). I urge you not to quit now and stay motivated.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement. You make some sensible points about the theory and number of lessons. I have been through all of the theory chapters in Simplified on my "first run" through the system… so I'd hoped Notehand might be an easier review, due to less (presumably) obsolete brief forms to worry about. And yes, I will now blame Louis Leslie for those boring business letters! 🙂

      One annoyance with Simplified for me was that after going through all of the theory lessons, I should be "able to contruct a satisfactory outline for any word in the English language." However, this was not the case. Or more to the point, I often find my outlines are wrong, if wrong is defined as not matching the Simplified Dictionary.

      Your saying "tedious" is a good test is a good example. I guess td-e-oo-s. (Basically, writing 'to do' and then adding an 's'.) The "-ious" didn't cause me a problem, but I don't understand why the proper outline is t-e-d-oo-s. I went back to see what FM had to say about using the td sroke, and there is nothing about when it should be avoided. Is there an unwritten rule that this is only used at the end of words?

      The word "meditate" is another one that got me. I was guessing an md curve to start, but in the dictionary, it's m-e-dt.

      Do these sorts of things sink in by the time one works through the entire FM? Or at least, is that anyone's experience?

      I don't know that I'm looking for reasons to quit, so much as reasons to switch gears.

      I have the Dictation Simplified as well. I looked at the first few chapters, and could read most of it. There are a phrase or two that I think I haven't seen yet, but that was encouraging. In fact, my reading speed in Simplified is quite good, as far as I can tell. Writing is another story. 😉

      Thanks for the motivation. I've been reading everybody's comments, and have resumed my studies of Simplified the day after this post.

  2. Here's a site with lots of fresh Gregg content — some of it really up-to-date, and written in a hand worthy of Charles Swem himself. (Unfortunately, because it's a Tumblr blog, there's no way to know who the author is.)

    I also found the Gregg textbooks to be dry and sometimes incomprehensible, since many of the ones I've bought have no key to certain lessons, and the content is so dated that I could never infer the meaning.

    I'm also bad at following instructions, so I found that going "off-book" and simply using Gregg in day-to-day situations made me more and more comfortable with it. When I'm ready, I can add the next principle, and I'm grateful for it. ("Oh, that makes so much sense, and it's so much easier!")

    So, counter to your experience, over time I've gone back further and further through the systems, because writing in Series 90 and even Simplified felt a lot like writing whole words longhand, but in Gregg phonemes. What's the point? Add in the abbreviations of the earlier systems, though, and everything quickly becomes *much* more efficient.

    My main use of Gregg is as a mild form of 'encryption' so I can write unselfconsciously in the margins of my sketchbook, knowing there's only a handful of us who could read it. Plus it looks magical!

    1. Thanks, Hamish. I've also been trying to write a little more — I use it to take notes at work (while my co-workers are all using their laptops!). Yesterday I was able to write a couple of phrases that impressed me in terms of how I've progressed; even if one or two big words were probably "wrong".

  3. Jason, thanks for asking this. I go through the same wondering, questioning, frustration, etc.

    Carlos, thank you. Just the explanation and encouragement I needed. 🙂

    Hamish, you named several things that fit "to a T". Thank you, and that blog will be a very nice help.

    I really appreciate this question and your answers. 🙂

  4. Also, remember that the bottom line is there's no right or wrong choice . . . since shorthand is now a personal subject (rather than academic or commercial) you are free to learn what you're interested in, mix systems, and use the results as you like.

    There are, of course, advantages to following a systematic approach if you want to really "learn shorthand". But even when shorthand was widely taught, people who used it in their work constantly adapted and personalized what they wrote. That's why we often puzzle over old shorthand documents . . .

    I think for most personal use, Notehand is perfectly suitable.

  5. I have been there, more than a few times.

    I started studying Simplified in January of 2012. I spent about 10 months working my way through the first 54 lessons in the manual. I worked in bursts of excitement followed by times of frustration at how long it was going to take. Ye gods, but the material gets old really fast.

    I spent most of 2013 kind of using it for lists and things, but not really feeling like I had mastered it, and not really feeling motivated to keep going.

    Then, last year, I started getting back into it. I found the key, for me, is to kind of space out on the actual content of the letters, while getting lost in my fascination with the system itself. I love the feel of writing with a pencil. I find the outlines to be beautiful, and I've worked on my Gregg penmanship like I never did with longhand (which is truly ugly and rarely legible to others when I write in it).

    Since then, I've made it through the 2nd edition of Dictation Simplified. At least that one divides up each chapter (of 5 lessons each) into a different subject. So sales are separate from insurance, which is separate from talk about movies, etc. I've also made it through 52/80 lessons in the 1st edition of Gregg Transcription (and that has only been during this year). I do one lesson a day.

    I'm able to use Gregg in my daily life at this point, although there are still some hesitations. For what you need, you could probably do fine only working through Dictation. Personally, I am very focused on being able to write my first drafts in shorthand, so I'll push it through another 2 books.

    One of the things I did was start writing in it after finishing the last alphabetic stroke (30 something, I think). I didn't have down all the abbreviating principles, but it gave me the ability to practice on shopping lists and meeting notes, stuff like that.

    1. Forgot to say: while I've had my share of ups and downs, I am completely happy that I took up this challenging skill and would do it again in a heartbeat. I look forward to using it for the decades to come. What are a few years of study compared to that?

    2. Hello! I remember reading your posts about your progress in Simplified; and I believe it wasn't that long ago that you talked about your using Gregg for your journal. I would also like to use Gregg for journalling some activities of mine. You commented, "Ye gods, but the material gets old really fast." Yep, that's exactly how I felt and which prompted this post!

      I think my Dictation Simplified as also 2nd edition. One positive for me (glancing through it) is that it starts each chapter with a little picture, which gives me a warm fuzzy feeling because it reminds me of my fondness for the Notehand book's illustrations. 🙂 Because I've been recapping Simplified that I've covered before, I may read more than one lesson in a day; it just depends on my schedule. However, I write less than that. My wrist gets too tired writing one full lesson from the FM! I think on my first time around, I wrote less because some of my writing practice followed the regular manual.

      I'd love to do drafts of writing in shorthand; although I wonder if I can learn to relax my hand enough to not hurt! Thanks for replying.

    3. This may be something completely different from what you're experiencing, but I used to get a horrible cramp in my writing hand after each lesson. I discovered that this was because of the way my hand would hang off of the side of the page when I wrote in the left column (I am left handed). I started writing only in the right column (then flipping the pad 180deg so I could use both columns) and the pain immediately stopped happening.

  6. We've all been there, wondering if we're learning the right system. How many times in my studies with Anniversary did I think Pitman was a better solution? Or Simplified? Or SpeedWriting? Or just going with a tape recorder and dumping it all?

    As for those letters, I used to find them somewhat funny. A good salary of $40/week? Really? And some of the expressions in the Anniversary texts showed just how much language changed over the years. Are some people still "worth their salt"? I found that sort of stuff fascinating and it managed to get me through some pretty boring material including endless letters about coal heat and oil burners. That said, Anni and Pre-Anni texts had more "literary" pieces which were somewhat interesting but also quite dated. And funny at times.

    I have to agree with Carlos. But I want to add that changing systems is a bad thing because it's going to cause mental hesitation–lots of it. When you start thinking that's a brief form in Simplified but was written out in NoteHand and was turned sideways in DJ and added the dot when it was in S90, that's beyond bad. Shorthand needs to be automatic, whether that means a goal of 80 wpm or 225 wpm. Too much thinking caused by different systems or different versions of the same system will get you in deep trouble.

    I say stick with Simplified and keep at it and stop looking at other systems.

    1. Perhaps that's what I need to do: look for the humor in the attempts to collect bill payments! I do find it interesting to note the apparent introduction of things like dishwashers or non-coal-burning heaters at the time the Simplified manuals were written. And I will never stop laughing every time I recall that classic: A girl does not have to be a beauty to get ahead in business, but she needs good grooming!

      I don't want to sound like I'm constantly reassessing my system and comparing to others. I did that before settling into Gregg and then Simplified. In my case, I just wondered if I'd be better suited to Notehand because (a) it was my first Gregg love and (b) I thought I might get done faster, which would meet my goal of having a usable system (for my non-speed-intensive needs) without multiple years of study.


  7. Jason, I'm in a similar situation to yourself. Notehand was the first Gregg textbook I read and now I'm working on Simplified. But I think if you have an analytical personality you might never stop being attracted to Notehand. It has a finite amount of theory and it consistently obeys its own rules.

    Somebody at a teachers' college once wrote a thesis called "Exceptions and Inconsistencies in Gregg Shorthand Simplified." I don't think there are enough inconsistencies in Notehand to fill up a postcard. And that matters a lot to people who have a certain kind of personality. So, as Yoda would say, search your feelings.

    1. Hey Rich: yes, I remember you starting with Notehand and when I wrote this, I'd wondered how your Notehand was going. Interesting to see you are also going with Simplified now. Did you get very far before switching to Simpilfied?

      The one example of Notehand vs Simplified that sticks in my mind is picture. Notehand is p-e-k-t-r; Simplified is p-k-t-r. I think DJS follows Notehand on this one; I believe I've posted about it before. I think it makes more sense with the circle, as in Notehand. Conversely, I find when writing personal things in Simplified, I tend now to omit vowels that shouldn't be, according to the Dictionary! 🙂

      Yes, I do have an analytical personality, and the inconsistencies that I've seen in Gregg have been frustrating to me at times. And I dislike wasting time studying brief forms that I expect to forget due to my belief that they won't be used.

      Which brings me to a related advantage of Notehand: the fewer brief forms means there are fewer things that I'll forget without practice. As I've commented above, shorthand is a means to an end for me, not an end in itself. So while I anticipate regular use of it once learned, I don't see myself having (or making) time to just sit and practice, so that I can recall all of the brief forms for words that might turn up once or twice a year.

      Nonetheless, I think I'll stick with Simplified, just because I've put so much time and effort into it. Kind of like in college, I took calculus level 3 even after the requirements were changed and I no longer needed it. Just because I'd gone through 1 and 2, and felt I might as well tackle 3. (I struggled with them all, I might add.)

  8. I'm going to combine some shorter replies rather than respond to everyone in-line, to somewhat reduce the number of my comment posts.

    Silver: I'm glad you appreciated it, and it's nice to hear from other people who have experienced the same. It's helpful to know that I'm not alone in this!

    Philip: Thanks for the tip. I will probably stick with what I have, just to avoid spending more money at this time. Perhaps it's too bad I didn't know in advance that I might find the college books more appealing?

    Lee: You are right, this is a personal subject. As I commented, it's not "vocational" for me (to use the term in some of the Gregg material). So I will try to feel free from the tyrrant of must-do's as I study! Argh! Yeah, easier said than done… In any case, thanks for your thoughts, I get what you're saying.

    One general comment that I neglected, although it may have been implied, is that I don't want to spend years studying Gregg. This isn't my only hobby or practice in my life, and I have a finite amount of free time. I chose Gregg because it is a skill that supports my other interests. I appreciate the aesthetics and such, and can understand why many people are treating Gregg similar to how a calligrapher treats their writing. However, I'm not there, which is why I didn't choose Anniversary or earlier — even though I'd love to be able to read Alice in Wonderland in Gregg!

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