Teaching and Learning Shorthand: Past Practices

I have been recently reading Lesley Cowan’s biography of John Robert Gregg and I have been finding it quite interesting.  One of the things that it has sparked an interest in, is the teaching methods for Gregg shorthand, when it was still being taught in schools and colleges.

What I am not sure about is the purpose of the shorthand plates in the magazines for example, the Gregg writer and the Light Liner: how are they meant to be used by students?  From what I understand what you meant to do is as a student, read back the plate.  After you have read it back successfully the plate is then used as dictation material.  Part the reason why I was puzzled is because sometimes in these magazines the key was put before the shorthand plates, sometimes it was put in the magazine in the next month, or the solution key was not published in the magazine at all.

Another thing which I am puzzled about is how shorthand speed was tested.  Looking at resources on the Internet, nowadays transcripts are meant to be verbatim to pass court reporting exams and a market deducted for every omission or every insertion or every mistake.  The pass mark for modern court reporting exams is 95% accuracy at 225 words per minute and above.  From what I understand, it seems that a long time ago, for example at the beginning of the 20th century that these standards were a lot more lenient: for example 200 words per minute was considered extremely fast.  Does anybody know about the shorthand examination systems of the past and how they were conducted?  In addition from what I understand the NCRA exam requires you to turn in your raw steno notes, but these are not marked as such, this is actually to show that you have not cheated and did actually take down the audio instead of using voice recording or other things.  Last time when shorthand was taught, was any deviation from what was put forward in the manual classed as incorrect, or were you given freedom to devise your own outlines and contraction rules?

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4 comments Add yours
  1. The plates in The Gregg Writer were used for additional reading and writing material for students and for those stenographers in the field to keep their shorthand current. The key to the shorthand plates used to appear in The Gregg Writer until another magazine geared towards teachers, The American Shorthand Teacher which later became Business Education World, was put in circulation. The first issue of The American Shorthand Teacher appeared in 1920, and Business Education World appeared in 1933.

    With respect to the tests in the good old days, as far as I understand, I believe that all you needed to produce was a correct transcript — points were deducted from transcription errors. I don't believe the original shorthand was part of the examination. Also, at the reporter level, you don't really devise your own outlines on the fly — you practice a lot with varied material and varied vocabulary so that you can come up with an outline at speed. But certainly, you can devise shortcuts and contraction rules before you take the examinations!

  2. Cowan's biography is wonderful.  

    Two other books complete the biographical picture of Gregg and his work:  "John Robert Gregg:  The Man and His Work" by F. Addington Symonds (McGraw-Hill, 1963), and "The Story of Gregg Shorthand" by Louis A. Leslie (McGraw-Hill, 1964).


  3. I second Lee about the biographical material. I've read all three, and have found them interesting and informative.

    Regarding the issue of turning in shorthand notes, this was not necessary in the old days because surreptitious voice recording was impossible. (Dictaphones and similar machines existed, but they were large, cumbersome, low fidelity things that recorded on wax disks, spools of wire, or reel-to-reel tape. No way could they be used surreptitiously.)

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