Practising the Art of Shorthand

In my younger days people would say that shorthand and typing were “such useful skills” and that one would scarcely be out of a job with such aptitudes tucked under one’s belt.

‘Shorthand’ includes many types both written with the pen and produced by machines. Pitman, Gregg and Teeline are renowned pen methods, whereas Stenotype and Palantype are well-known machine systems.

Keyboard skills are still valued, though shorthand seems to be appreciated less now. Has it disappeared from the face of the planet? Not completely. The Incorporated Phonographic Society (IPS), reputed to be the oldest shorthand society in the world, still offers live readings cheaply at Bishopsgate Institute near Liverpool Street Station, London, on Thursday evenings at 6.30pm in term-time for people who want to maintain or improve their stenography skills. Indeed I used to attend when I lived in London. This association does not teach shorthand from scratch but provides dictation practice for interested parties, irrespective of the shorthand system they use. 

Students of journalism are still required to take a shorthand component as part of their studies, using the Teeline method. Shorthand is no longer used in the courts in the UK, but some disciplinary bodies still have a stenographic record made of their proceedings. Such disciplinary proceedings would be recorded by a verbatim reporter, one who can take notes as fast as the delegates are speaking, at a shorthand speed of 180 words per minute or upwards, using either a pen or a machine.

There are also speech-to-text reporters who take verbatim accounts of meetings, usually for the deaf or hard of hearing, using a machine so that a ‘live’ or ‘real time’ transcript of the proceedings can be shown on a computer screen. Again, these reporters have a very fast speed, often in excess of 200 words a minute. Some TV captions are provided by verbatim machine stenographers, though this area of work appears to be in a state of flux, with some companies using an alternative method. In an office, a more modest shorthand speed would probably be acceptable. Most managers use digital technology to dictate correspondence these days, but some secretaries still use shorthand to take minutes of meetings. I know someone who works for an MP (obviously I cannot disclose identities) who uses shorthand regularly when sitting in on surgeries and taking telephone messages.

In the past I used shorthand to take minutes in Child Protection Conferences while working as a ‘temp’. Although the boss I was with longest while working as a Legal Secretary preferred audio dictation, he was glad that I knew shorthand on occasions that the dictation machine malfunctioned – and also for taking notes of conversations with clients.

Of course, one should not forget those shorthand buffs who use the skill on a voluntary basis. This may include taking minutes of meetings for a club or charity they belong to or writing their own messages in shorthand for speed or secrecy or perhaps even something as mundane as writing a shopping list.

I have seen some advertisements for secretarial jobs in London where a preference for knowledge of shorthand has been mentioned. Of course, I moved out of London three years ago!

The Society also offers shorthand examinations. Members of the British Institute of Verbatim Reporters (BIVR) make use of these assessments.

If people in the London area would like to recover ‘rusty’ shorthand, have extra practice if they are students of the subject, improve their existing speed, or simply enjoy shorthand for itself, they would be very welcome to attend the IPS readings at Bishopsgate. The first session attended is free of charge. It does not matter whether somebody is a slow or fast stenographer or somewhere in between. To find out more, for example, which weeks constitute part of term-time, the website address is or an email can be sent to Mrs Sorene, the Chairman, at The Twitter address is @theipstweets or #theipstweets. It is probably best to check times with the Society to be on the safe side.

The readers, all of whom are well practised in shorthand, would be delighted to see anyone who fancies practising their stenography at Bishopsgate on a Thursday evening.

If anybody wants to learn shorthand from the beginning, the Pitman schools teach Teeline. Otherwise it would be private study. The BIVR website has information on learning Stenotype, though the machines are very expensive.

Patricia O’Neill, Fellowship Member