Master the art of shorthand writing

No meeting would feel right if at least one person wasn’t taking notes. However, making sure everything is recorded can be a nightmare, especially in those make-or-break meetings where you’re meeting the CEO or a potential new client.

This is where shorthand comes in, simplifying and shortening the note taking process, but how does it work and can it be learned by anyone? We have the answers to those questions and more, poring over the different styles of shorthand writing as well as how to become king of the minute-taking!

Different schools

If you want to learn shorthand, there are four main types, which are either based on the alphabet, phonetics or a combination of the two. They are:


The earliest known form of shorthand, it uses a range of symbols made of dots, dashes and lines. The logogram (short form) of ‘–is’, for example, is a small circle towards the bottom of a line. A thin horizontal line, meanwhile, is used for the ‘kay’ sound. Although it’s hard to pick up straight away, Pitman is the quickest to write.

“This is the way I write.  I could of course substitute “This_is_the way_I_write” with an apparent gain in brevity; but as a matter of fact it takes longer to contract. Writing shorthand with the maximum of contraction is like coding telegrams:  unless one is in constant practice it takes longer to devise the contractions than to write in full; and I now never think of contracting except by ordinary logograms.”


Gregg shorthand is similar to Pitman, as it’s based on phonetics. However, it uses curved lines and ellipses rather than more complicated symbols like those in Pitman. An ellipse tilted at 45 degrees, for example, is used for the letter ‘a’, while a long, diagonal line is used to denote the ‘[t-d]’ sound, as used in words like ‘did’ or ‘date’. Gregg is similarly difficult to learn, but it can be quicker to use than Pitman.


This is one of the easiest to learn and is used by many journalists. This differs from Gregg and Pitman because it is based on the alphabet instead of phonetics, making it far quicker to learn. Each letter has a symbol, although it can take longer to write in Teeline than in Gregg or Pitman. Some letters such as ‘I’ can also be used to denote words containing ‘-ing’.

Alphabetic – Until fairly recently, shorthand didn’t include actual letters, but systems such as Stenoscript, Personal Shorthand and Speedwriting have changed all that, making it easy for novice note takers to record minutes in a flash.

Using Personal Shorthand as an example, single letters are used to represent words e.g. ‘v’ for ‘very’ and ‘a’ for ‘about’. For longer words, phonetic spellings of letter groupings such as ‘g’ for ‘-ing’ are used.

Sample (Personal Shorthand):

ds n rpli t y rqst o mr 5, svrl o r Dear Sir: In reply to your request of March 5, several of our


While sticking to one of the schools of shorthand might seem like the thing to do, there’s nothing wrong with creating your own. To do this, you should:

  • Write a list of common words and attribute a letter, set of letters or symbol to each of them
  • Consider using symbols to replace short words e.g. a plus sign instead of ‘and’
  • Make sure that words don’t take too long to write; this could be a pointless exercise, saving you little or no time

Even though creating your own shorthand system can take a while, the same can be said of learning to do Pitman, Gregg, Teeline or any of the Alphabetic ones. Patience is needed, but it will pay dividends when you’re in an important meeting. Trust us!

When learning shorthand, the thing to do is take it step by step. Plunging straight into creating long-form notes in Gregg or Pitman can be extremely difficult to get right first time. Here is what you should do:

  • Look at the alphabet of each shorthand system and read carefully
  • Start off with individual words or short sentences
  • Once you’ve mastered those, move on to longer sentences, then short paragraphs
  • Next, try to use your new skill in a test meeting, just to see if it works. If not, try again as practice makes perfect
  • Only start to use shorthand in meetings when you’re feeling confident

Alternatively, you could always take lessons from shorthand tutors. The National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), for example, provide teeline shorthand lessons, with exams at various words per minute (wpm) speeds.

Without at least some basic shorthand skills, taking notes in meetings can be tricky. The style you choose to take up is at your discretion, but as long as it’s right for you, every little thing said in meetings to come will be noted, making your job a lot easier!