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Equipment for learning shorthand

Updated on February 22, 2016

Learning shorthand can take several months - and then two or three years to perfect. Having the right equipment will speed up the learning process. It will also ensure that you learn shorthand quickly, more thoroughly and pass shorthand exams at the first attempt. Plus, for reporters and journalists who need to use shorthand as part of their jobs, having the right tools will ensure that fewer mistakes are made that important facts and quotes are noted down accurately.

So what equipment is necessary to learn shorthand? Here is a brief list then we will look into each item separate, why it is needed and where to buy them.

  • Pens
  • Notepads
  • Audio player
  • Workbook / textbook
  • Shorthand course
  • Messenger style bag (optional)


Pens are the most obvious item needed for learning shorthand. But which kind and how many you have can make a big difference to how quickly and effectively a student learns shorthand. We recommend using black biros made by the company BIC. They are strong, long-lasting and good quality. They are a little more expensive than the cheap biros, but well worth the extra cost. Avoid fibre tip pens, ink pens, gel pens, pencils, felt tips, and other types of writing instruments!

Buying BIC biros in packs of 10, 20 or even 50 will ensure you always have plenty ready to write with at home, in the office, at college, in the car or while out walking in the street. Plus, buying them in bulk from a cash and carry or online works out a lot cheaper than picking up packs of 5 from the local store.


Just like pens, this one would seem obvious. But it never surprised me at journalism training school to see how many students insisted on using different kind of notepads. They had leather Moleskins, big A4 jotters, notebooks that flipped from left to right and even blank, unlined paper. It's not surprising that most of them failed.

Reporters notepads have that name for a reason - they are used by reporters for making notes, and are the most effective notebook for writing in shorthand. Why? Because the pages are norrow, so each time the hand moves from right to left and and back down onto a new line, it is quicker - so precious milliseconds are saved in that time that the pen is lifted off the sheet of paper to begin a new line. Plus, the ring binder at the top allows pages to be flipped quickly and easily - saving precious seconds which are so valuable when writing in shorthand notes and keeping up with somebody who is speaking at 120+ words a minute!

Smartphones can be used as audio players to listen to practice dictations when learning shorthand
Smartphones can be used as audio players to listen to practice dictations when learning shorthand

Audio player

Having an audio player for listening to practice dictations in essential while learning shorthand. In the old days (well, not much more than 10 years ago) we could use CD players, audio files on PC, or some might use their relatively new MP3 players or iPods. Well, things have changed a little since those days, and anyone with a smartphone doesn't actually need to buy an extra audio player. Just save the recordings onto a smartphone and play them back in the phone's audio player. Listen through the speakers or through earphones. Isn't technology great? I'm sure if this kind of thing had been around back in 2005 I would have picked up shorthand in half the time!

Anyone learning shorthand should have a good textbook to accompany their lessons
Anyone learning shorthand should have a good textbook to accompany their lessons

Work books

Any shorthand courses will provide their own workbook or text book to accompany their physical lessons. Some tutors will have designed their own, unpublished books which aid their students with practice material and mock exams. While other courses may use the NCTJ official shorthand books and work according to those. Whichever is the case, be sure that a workbook is provided along with the course as this will significantly help the learning and development process.

Anyone who is considering learning shorthand without signing up to a course or taking lessons from a private tutor, can look online for books. They range in price from around £15 to £20. We recommended buying them as an introduction to shorthand before taking lessons. They will give you a head start over other students and a boost in the jobs market when looking for a career in journalism.


This is the most important part - a shorthand course. It could be as part of a university journalism degree, on a journalism training course, a night school college class for shorthand, a private tutor at home or even over the Internet on Skype, or one of the online shorthand courses available over the Internet.

The important part is to join a course to actively learn Teeline, Pitman or Greg shorthand. They should last about 6 months to a year to be a competent enough in writing shorthand to use the system professionally. So grab all the pens, notepads and textbook then head on over to lessons

A messenger bag is great for reporters while they're working outside and need to take notes quickly in shorthand
A messenger bag is great for reporters while they're working outside and need to take notes quickly in shorthand

Messenger style bag

The messenger style bag is a little added tip for those who are working professional as journalists and will need to use shorthand to make notes when they are interviewing people in the street, on their doorstep and myriad other locations from car parks, hotel lobbies, court room waiting rooms, hospitals and more.

Messenger bags are useful because they hang to one side just below the right hand and have a flip open top. This means that within seconds a reporter can flip open the flap, reach inside and grab their notepad and a pen (keep the Biro slotted through the ring binder at the top of the pad). This might seem a trivial point, but when you're in an unplanned situation and don't have time to prepare, it's important to know where your notepad is and be able to grab it quickly. It's a good idea to even keep the notepad in the same internal pocket so you know where it is. Those precious few seconds could make the difference between taking down an important fact or quote, or forgetting it in the melee, and one of the best stories of the month slipping away - all because someone's shorthand wasn't fast enough.


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