How to Learn Stenography

by Mark Salzwedel; Updated September 26, 2017
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Stenography covers both the shorthand notes taken by secretaries during dictation, and it is one of the tools of a court reporter, who has to take notes on everything anyone says in a court proceeding. There are many systems of shorthand. The most popular and perhaps easiest to learn is Gregg shorthand. It was developed in 1888, but it has gone through periodic revisions to keep up with trends in language. You will need progressively more education if you want to become a personal note-taker, a secretary or a court reporter.

Items you will need

  • Steno book or pad
  • Pen
  • Internet connection
  • Voice recording system
  • Stopwatch or clock showing seconds
Step 1

Decide how you want to use stenography. If you just want to use it to take personal notes, you can probably get by with an online course. If you need to achieve greater speed and accuracy to work as a secretary, you will probably need to take a class in person. The feedback from an instructor needs to be more frequent and detailed than you can get from an online course.

Step 2

Start with something simple. Try writing your name in shorthand. In the process, you will be learning the system of phonetics that underlies shorthand.

Step 3

Learn all of the phonetic forms. Some will be simple consonant sounds (e.g., M, N, P), some will be consonant combinations (e.g., TH, ND, LD), and some will be vowels. It is important to become familiar with these before moving on to what are called abbreviations or short forms.

Step 4

Learn the short forms. Common words such as YOU, THE, AVAILABLE, and WILL might have a single stroke to represent the whole word. Find or make a list of them all so you can review periodically. The first form in the sample image is a combination of the short forms for THIS, IS and NOT.

Step 5

Find dictation texts; usually, business letters or speeches work best. Anything spoken that someone might want written down or transcribed is a good candidate. You can have a friend read them while you transcribe, or you can record them yourself and play them back to copy. If you want to improve your speed, you can read at different speeds. Dictation speeds are categorized by words per minute, so you will need to pace your reading using a stopwatch or clock showing seconds.

Tips

  • The idea of learning shorthand is to be able to take notes quickly and be able to transcribe them accurately. The reason people study a system is that it has been tested to cover all situations, and an idiosyncratic system you develop might miss certain points or be hard to read, especially when you come back to it days or weeks later.

Warnings

  • If you want to become a court reporter, there is specific knowledge you will have to learn, so it might be best to start by taking a course. You might otherwise start with wrong ideas or bad habits.

About the Author

Mark Salzwedel, writing professionally since 1992, is a hypnotherapist, masseur and game designer in New York. He studied seven languages and worked in publishing, childbirth education, film/TV and foreign policy. Since receiving a Bachelor of Arts in English from Macalester College in 1984, Salzwedel has studied biology, astrophysics and world religions.