Gregg Penmanship

It’s interesting how much Gregg shorthand relies on the user having great, legible shorthand. As soon as you start writing, they advise you to write shorthand rather than drawing it- that way you can have neat, readable forms that can be written quickly and accurately. But they also stress importance on having good penmanship, and spending effort towards creating legible, and beautiful outlines.

Compared to other shorthand systems, I can really appreciate how flowing and nice Gregg is to look at. (Except for when it’s my shorthand. :D) I think Gregg can definitely be personalised through unique handwriting, just like longhand. Except due to the nature of it, it’s not as simple as learning a longhand script by learning each letter of the alphabet!

In order to improve your penmanship, I’m guessing you can’t write as fast, or at least you need to slow down a lot at first. I’m curious about what you all think about it: what are some ways you’ve developed your Gregg ‘handwriting’, and how has it evolved throughout the years? Through wanting to improve your penmanship, how did you go about it? (E.g. reading a lot of shorthand (such as Carlos’s wonderful article transcriptions!), or studying outlines and copying them.) Or just in general, what do you think defines good penmanship with Gregg shorthand?

Any thoughts are appreciated!

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  1. Hi Madeline,

    I think the more you practice, the more comfortable you will be writing various outlines.  And by practice, I mean both writing and reading.  By writing, your muscle memory will recall outlines faster as time goes on; by reading, you will see outlines written correctly and will often think back to them when you are writing them later (or at least, I do).

    I agree that you should write at a speed that allows you to form most words correctly most of the time.  For myself, if I slow down a bit my writing looks more "beautiful", but if I speed up then I don't have time to focus on forming the outlines properly:  my "e's" get bigger, my "v's" shorten to "f's", my "m's" curve into "g's", etc.  There's nothing more frustrating than zipping something down, and then being unable to properly read it back afterwards.

    Since I've joined this group I've seen a huge improvement in my shorthand writing.  The first time I wrote in shortand here, Carlos (and others) pointed out that my outlines were all over the place.  Once I realized that different forms should start in a certain place in relation to the lines on the page, it became much easier to put everything together.

    Keep on working at it!  Soon your own shorthand will be "flowing and nice".  🙂

    1. Your personal experience about slowing down and prioritising accuracy over speed is really helpful! I will take your advice about practising legibility before trying to write quickly, as I come across the same obstacles you do. By slowing down and focusing solely on penmanship as you have, I hope I will improve in control and accuracy. Thank you for the detailed reply!

  2. For penmanship practice, take a well-written passage, slow down (since you're not taking any dictation) and copy the passage in your best handwriting possible. By doing this, your brain will make the appropriate connections between the joinings and create nicer outlines. While you do this, slow down so that you get a nice steady motion, and pay attention to proportion and slant. It may seem that you're drawing; however, in my opinion, that advice about not drawing characters applies more when you're practicing speed dictation and not when you're practicing penmanship, because you cannot do something well if you start doing it too quickly. You may also practice individual words and phrases, especially those of high frequency, so that you're able to write them quickly and nicely.

    Eventually, after you do this many times with many passages, you will develop your own style, and outlines will come out much easier, thus improving legibility and overall speed.

  3. Thank you for the advice! I will endeavor to study from more passages in the future, and I'll definitely try to pay more attention to proportion and slant, as I struggle the most in those areas. I was worried that reading and copying was a more passive way of learning, and that it wouldn't help with developing good habits in the future- this post really cleared my confusion up!

    Edit: Oops, meant for this to be a reply to Carlos’s message. 😅

    1. When shorthand was taught in schools, teachers used to assign shorthand passages from the book for penmanship practice, so definitely reading and copying shorthand is part of the learning process.

  4. I have always felt there was a relationship  between cursive handwriting/penmanship and Gregg shorthand penmanship; i.e., if cursive is beautiful, then shorthand will be likewise.  I learned the Palmer Method of handwriting starting in the first grade; and it is a beautiful, free-flowing method of handwriting. My handwriting style has definitely been reflected in my shorthand style.  Other Gregg writers can usually read most of my shorthand notes.  I don't know if Palmer Method is taught much these days in the elementary grades.

    The book REFRESHER COURSE IN GREGG SHORTHAND (available in Simplified and Diamond Jubilee) is a 20-lesson book which contains many drills that could improve one's shorthand writing style, including proportion drills. Some of these are very similar to those used when learning the Palmer Method of handwriting.  One of the authors of this book is Howard Newhouse, a prominent speaker on methods of teaching shorthand forty+ years ago.  At a conference I attended in 1974, I heard him speak of a drill to use with shorthand students:  it is to write 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 as many times as possible in one minute.  (Nearly all the strokes of Gregg shorthand are represented in this little exercise.)  Then, have the students determine their rate once the teacher calls time.  The students would keep a record of their rates each week on the back of their shorthand notebooks.  In no time at all, students would achieve a rate of close to 200+ wpm.  It was quite motivational.

    1. Thank you for the book recommendation, your anecdote is inspiring! I'm happy to hear there's a book that's the equivalent of handwriting training that exists. Also, that proportion drills are something that even exist, that is bound to be very helpful 😀

      It's great to hear that someone else sees the link between cursive and Gregg! The look of the two do seem very similar in a way, and as a person who likes the look of both, I can definitely see the connection between the two. Palmer business cursive is such a lovely style, and I really aspire to incorporate more aspects of the method in my own handwriting. "Combined movement" is such an important part of cursive and all related styles in my opinion, and it's too bad they don't really teach those core elements anymore. 

      I think they teach D'Nealian and Zaner-Bloser in schools nowadays, which in my honest opinion is a bit of a shame; these later styles might be 'simplified' from Spencerian and Palmer, but in changing the forms themselves, they lose the simplicity and benefits that come from writing Spencerian and Palmer (quick, sustainable writing using the arm muscles, only seven or so strokes that make up the whole alphabet, etc.) I understand the newer systems make cursive more digestible for elementary schoolers, which is fantastic, but almost all my fellow high-schoolers don't write in cursive anyway. Unlike me, they did learn cursive in elementary school, but they say it's too hard, outdated, and needlessly complicated. Also untrue, but apparently the way they taught cursive in elementary school was just being forced to them through lots and lots of tracing in books, so I can unfortunately understand why they feel that way!

      If only they changed the way they taught cursive in schools (for example bringing back the beautiful Palmer, and reintroducing the concept of arm movement, which relieves so much tension in the hands), I feel confident more people would actually use it. One can only hope, however, since apparently they're probably going to be taking cursive out of the curriculum soon. Such a shame 🙁

      Aaaaand it occurs to me that talking about cursive probably isn't appropriate in a shorthand forum, sorry!

      Edit: I forgot to mention the crystal-clear similarity with handwriting drills and shorthand drills. It’s all connected 😉

      1. The Facebook group Gregg Shorthand Reader, Writers, and Fans has a collection of Files, including the book "Shorthand Penmanship" by McClure, from 1909.  

        The Gregg publishing company also published "Gregg Handwriting", by John Robert Gregg and Mary Louise Champion, in 1931.  It's firmly in the Spencer/Palmer/Zaner Bloser tradition.  I have a scan of it, but I'm not sure how to post files in this group.  I don't think we have a collection of group specific files here.  

        Palmer and Zaner Bloser were essentially the same, through at least the 1960s.  Zaner Bloser materials now present a "simplified" alphabet, but still fully cursive.  I don't have a real sense of what kind of handwriting instruction is happening in US schools now.  We have two elementary school grandchildren, but I can't extract any details from them.  Both of them are able to write, and the 9-year-old knows about cursive, but that's about all we know.  

        1. The Facebook group is a wonderful recommendation, I'll have to join that as soon as I create an account. I also checked out the book, and I am very happy to hear there are even more Gregg drills to be discovered. I love drills. Bring on the drills!

          Wow, I had zero idea Gregg published his own cursive script as well, that is fascinating. I'd really like to take a look at that, even if only for curiosity's sake more than anything! 

          "Yes, I do know how to write Gregg."

          "Oh, wonderful, that'll come in handy for your secretarial position."

          "Uh… you do know I mean the cursive, right?"

          I did do a bit more research, and apparently, in general cursive writing isn't required to be taught in most states anymore, and some schools have replaced the cursive course with a keyboarding course. Understandable, given that most assignments and essays will be typed up rather than handwritten nowadays, but still quite a loss. At least the schools around me are still requiring cursive in their Common Core standards, but that might be going to change for them too, soon.

          This probably doesn't apply everywhere, but I asked one of my classmates how they learned cursive in elementary school, and the way they did it was getting a bunch of worksheets with one line of cursive printed lightly on the top of the sheet, tracing a lightly printed second line, and then free-handing it for the next couple lines, over and over until they learned all the letters and dozens of phrases and sentences. I don't know whether that's the most effective way or not, but apparently it's the most efficient!

          I also looked up Zaner-Bloser, and yep, the original versions definitely look very similar to Palmer, but the teaching versions they sell now look a little different. Even though they do have all the proper cursive versions of the letters, like the r, s, b and z, something just looks off. I think it's the slant, it's not the customary 50 degrees. Does changing the slant make it easier to teach to children or something? I was under the impression that slanting the letters made it a bit faster to write, and also easier, because people usually tilt their paper to the side when they write.

          In losing the slant, the influences of Spencerian seem to be diminished- you can see this especially in letters like m and n. In the original, the leading stroke and the forward curved stroke that makes up the letter are the same, adhering to the Spencerian principle, but in the newer version, the forward curve is far more cramped and vertical. I marked an image up to try and explain what I mean.

          Maybe they tried to make it look more manuscript-y, so it'd be easier to teach, but that sort of backfired on them because in doing so, they lost the efficiency (only six principles!) and simplicity that Spencerian, and Palmer, and the original Zaner-Bloser, offered.

          Alternatively, perhaps I'm just reading into this too much. 😁

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