Shorthand speed vs. keyboard typing speed


I was talking to a family member who studies in college. He was explaining that most students take their laptops in class and simply type the oral lectures given by teachers directly on their laptops, because their typing speed is much faster than their note-taking speed. According to him, he can type about 4 times faster than he can write, which allows him to have more comprehensive notes. He also said that he did a typing test speed and can reach up to 70 French words per minute.

I’m a bit surprised because I’ve read about English Gregg speeds of about 120 wpm as not being uncommon even today. Now I know that 120 English wpm is not the same as 120 French or Spanish wpm (do you know the equivalence Carlos?). In my case I’m still at a stage where my typing speed is much higher than my shorthand speed but it’s fun to imagine that a trained shorthand writer, still today, could take faster notes than someone typing on a keyboard (excluding stenotyping of course).

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6 comments Add yours
  1. A standard word in English is 1.4 syllable, 1.6 syllable in French, and 2 syllables in Spanish (these were standardized in French and Spanish starting with DJS, as they were using 1.4 syllable in Simplified in both languages). Hence, in terms of standard words, if you can write at 120 wpm in English, that means that you’re writing 120*1.4 = 168 syllables per minute. The equivalence would be 168/1.6 = 105 wpm in French and 168/2 = 84 wpm in Spanish. For someone with lots of shorthand and typing training and practice, shorthand will be naturally faster than typing because you write complete words when you type (unless you’re using a stenotype machine like court reporters do, as you mention). Both methods, shorthand and typing, are faster than regular longhand.

  2. Carlos is right in stating that a standard word, used for measuring shorthand word count, is 1.4 syllables (28 syllables = 20 standard shorthand words).  This method of measurement was devised by Louis Leslie in the 1930s.  However, by the 1970s, it was determined that business vocabulary had changed since the 1930s and that the standard word was really 1.6+.  Nonetheless, it seemed unimportant in terms of changing how dictation material was counted; and by 1990, with the elimination of shorthand instruction from the schools, it became a non-issue.   Shorthand is definitely faster than typing.  Typically, in secretarial training programs at the collegiate level, 35+ years ago, it was required that graduates take shorthand dictation at 120 words per minute and type at 60 words per minute.  The shorthand rate of 120 words per minute was very difficult for many students to achieve.  Today, since I am still teaching in college, I observe many students using laptops to take down the teacher’s lecture.  These students, almost always, use the so-called hunt-and-peck method though because typing (now called keyboarding) is very rarely taught in a formal way in the schools (sad to say).  In observing them, I do think even when they use this method it is faster than writing in longhand.  Then, again, many school systems do not even teach longhand (cursive writing) these days!

  3. I think maximum attainable shorthand speeds will always exceed maximum typing speeds. My wife, who was a legal secretary for many years, reached 110+ words per minute typing, and she won awards for her speed. Contrast this to the 120-130 wpm I normally write shorthand (and that’s not even really fast). I suspect that mechanically, having to type so many keystrokes for longer words compared to a few short pen-strokes in shorthand (eg. “organization”, which is 12 keystrokes, but which is only one continuous pen-stroke, “o-g”, in Gregg shorthand) would ensure an advantage to shorthand.

    Just for fun I took a couple of typing tests online today, and my speeds on the two tests were 85 and 88 wpm. So for me shorthand wins!

  4. Thank you!

    I guess the real winner would be typed shorthand 🙂 i.e. using shorthand shortcuts to type on a computer (i.e. type o-g for organisation for example). But I think that’s the idea behind stenotyping.

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