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What is Shorthand? A Guide to Shorthand Writing

Updated on April 29, 2016
Shorthand writing
Shorthand writing

What is Shorthand?

Shorthand is a much faster method of writing by hand, also known as “Stenography” or “Tachygraphy”. Shorthand is the method of using specialised symbols or abbreviations for commonly used words and phrases. Although shorthand is typically declining in popularity as a method of writing due advancements in technology, it is still used to date the world over and is not only an incredibly valuable skill to learn, but an essential one when working in certain industries industries where transcription is required (journalism, law, policing etc). Journalism, for example has qualifications that can be obtained with a written “word per minute” requirement, only made possible with the ability to write in shorthand.

Most methods of writing shorthand involve writing the way words sound (phonetically) as opposed to how they’re spelt for the purpose of speed. For example: Computer: CMPTR , magazine: MAGZN or desk: DSK. Where the actual letters are replaced by an entirely different alphabet much quicker to produce using hand-written instruments. Using Gregg shorthand as an example: Consonants can be either shallow curves or straight lines, where vowels tend to be either small loops or hooks. Furthermore almost every letter of the Gregg alphabet represents a commonly used word. For example “r” could represent “our”, “are” or “hour”. These common factors amongst varying shorthand methods all contribute to the speed of handwriting in shorthand regardless of specific method used.

The very first usage of shorthand dates back to ancient Greece.
The very first usage of shorthand dates back to ancient Greece.


The very first known usage of shorthand goes back to Ancient Greece, where carvings in stone were discovered to show writing that mainly consisted of vowels and abbreviations.

The first, most popular method of shorthand writing was a method invented by 17th century stenographer Thomas Shelton which he publicised in his 1626 book “Short Writing”.

Gregg shorthand
Gregg shorthand

Modern Shorthand Writing

Nowadays. the most commonly used methods of shorthand include “Gregg Shorthand” created by John Robert Gregg, “Pitman Shorthand” created by Sir Isaac Pitman and “Teeline Shorthand” created by James Hill in 1968, a former teacher of Pitman’s method of writing. Teeline is the most commonly used and taught method of shorthand in Great Britain today. Although Teeline isn’t as fast as other methods of shorthand available today (up to 150 words per minute have so far been recorded using this method of shorthand), it is much easier to learn which is probably why it is so popular.

Further Reading

A Free Lesson on Shorthand


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