The Four Rules of Stenography

This is an article originally aimed at students of machine shorthand, but is equally relevant for those learning pen shorthand, that I’ve found useful, and believe that members here might find helpful as well:

The Four Rules of Stenography, by Steve Shastay

As you might know, I came to Gregg Shorthand from Plover, software that aims to make machine shorthand (steno) open source. A lot of tips I learned from machine shorthand are applicble to Gregg.

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10 comments Add yours
  1. Frankly, it bothers me that two of the rules boil down to, "If the dictation is too fast, skip words, especially the longer ones." Those longer words usually contain essential content. In professional work, I can't imagine that this can be done. For practice, I'd think the thing to do is to run a preliminary vocabulary review, and then to take the dictation at a manageable speed.

    1. I agree with you, Larry. Even if one is taking dictation cold and all of a sudden one draws a blank, one would not skip words but write the first thing that comes to mind and continue. Skipping words is an indicator that the dictation speed is too fast for the writer's word carrying ability and/or that the writer does not have a good command of theory.

    2. At first, these 2 rules did bother me as well, until I realised that they were not fully explained in this document.

      TL;DR it is an exam technique, for exams only, and the dropping technique needs to be practised separately from other dictation with special exercises, otherwise all words should be attempted to be written.

      In a blog post (link), he writes:

      In no way, do I ever suggest that students should ignore hard words. But during the test, when the chips are down, the students should endeavor to write as many words as possible on that specific test on that specific day. After the test, the student should write down any difficult words and practice them. But during the test, every ounce of energy should be directed towards passing the test.

      This appears to be a common court reporting test strategy. In an article in a court reporting magazine (link), the 6 times NCRA speed champion Ed Varallo says:

      Varallo says that taking the certification test requires a different strategy than doing day-to-day deposition or trial work. A reporter can scramble to catch up if they get a few words behind during their work, counting on things like pauses in between questions and answers to get back on track, he explains. But in the test, Varallo says, “People get nervous and they fall behind during the test and falling behind is a disaster because then you have to write faster than the people are dictating in order to catch up — and that’s not going to happen.”

      Because of that, Varallo’s biggest piece of advice — which he admits is a bit radical to do in your day-to-day job — if you feel like you’re falling behind, drop words and catch back up to the dictation. “You won’t know if you’ve dropped two or three, but it will only be a couple and it will be worth it to take those couple of errors in order to get caught up,” he says. “You can even do that two or three times during a five minute test and you’re still going to pass."

      1. Exam vs work is a huge difference! If the only thing that matters is percent words correct, yes, focus on the easy words. For all other times, though, the big words are important. The difference between nitrite and nitrate is important. A more useful skill might be recognizing less important parts and leaving them out. Losing "and so I went, like," is better than losing an important word.

        1. That's what I do. When I use Gregg during meetings, if the speed goes too high, I take down the important bits that matter, dropping all the "umm", ",like," etc..

          But I think the point of knowing the dropping technique exists, is that when people say in the Gregg Writer etc. person X managed to take dictation at 280wpm with over 95% accuracy, there are a few tricks that can be used.


          1. My understanding is that people like Swem and Dupraw simply had minor errors in their shorthand takes and/or transcripts. I don't believe they used a word-dropping scheme.

  2. Thanks for the article, as well as the explanation about rule 3 only being for exams. The rest looks very useful for everyday dictation.

    Every now and then I drool over the idea of learning Plover. So far I've talked myself out of it because of the time investment and the fact that I would need specialized equipment. I compromised by deciding to finally learn a more ergonomic and potentially faster keyboard layout, Colemak. Since writing Gregg means I'll be typing up more notes, I figured it was worth the effort and the initial pain of the withdrawal from QWERTY (and no special equipment needed). I still drool over Plover, though…

    Are you still using Plover? I'd be interested in your experience with it. I love that it's open source.

      1. Yeah, there's even one as low as $95, or you can buy/make key caps to transform a typical keyboard. Some day perhaps… For now my priority will be Anni.

        1. The advantage is instant translation. Also it's easier (for me, at least) to get to a higher speed. One stroke is several characters. You do have to worry about other things, like word boundaries and conflicts. You should join the Plover Discord – quite a few people who write pen steno there.

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