What Is Stenography?

by Patricia Deneen; Updated September 26, 2017
What Is Stenography?

Stenography, commonly known as shorthand, is a method of quick writing that uses symbols in place of letters, words and phrases. It's used to make note taking easier in classes, lectures and business meetings. It is still being used to take notes even with the advent of personal recording devices.


The term "stenography" comes from the Greek word "stenos," which means narrow or small and refers to the narrowing of words into symbols. Even though the word has come to be used synonymously with the term shorthand, it technically is the physical process of transcribing in shorthand either with a writing implement or a stenography machine.

Early Styles

Shorthand dates back to ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. The Egyptians used simplified forms of hieroglyphics to keep records of everyday events. The earliest records of shorthand found are from Tiro, a Roman who recorded the speeches of Cicero. Early shorthand styles from Greece and Rome used parts of the letters being shortened.

Modern Styles

Several Englishmen played a large part in the development of modern shorthand, including the monk, John of Tilbury; Timothy Bright; and John Willis, the so-called father of shorthand. In the 1880s, Englishman Sir Isaac Pitman and Irishman John Robert Gregg developed the phonetic style of shorthand most commonly used today. This style uses the sound of the word to create the symbols used. For instance, the f sound--regardless of whether it is spelled with f, ph, or gh--has one symbol assigned to it.


The stenography machine is used by court reporters to transcribe testimony into shorthand, which is then later translated into standard writing. Closed captioners use the machine to type real-time speech, such as live television broadcasts. Computer software translates the shorthand to ordinary writing shown on the television screen. The machine consists of 22 keys plus a space bar. Multiple keys are pressed to spell out words much like written shorthand uses a symbol to correspond to a word or several letters. Closed captioning is not only popular, but it has become the law. In 1996, video distribution companies were required to provide closed captioning. Since then, the Federal Communications Commission has required closed captioning for new television programming. Countries around the world are using this technology.


Written stenography is still used by journalists and students who need to take notes quickly.
Using stenography to expedite information gathering is more valuable now than ever before.

About the Author

Patricia Deneen is a medical transcriptionist and freelance writer for various Web outlets including Demand Studios, Suite 101, HubPages and Squidoo. She started writing for the Web in 2007. She has earned a certificate in medical transcription from Everett Community College in Washington state.

Photo Credits

  • Stenography/Shorthand Samples, Wikimedia Commons
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