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Use the Right Tools for the Job
If you are learning shorthand, you'll need to buy shorthand pencils. It's important that you have the best pencils for shorthand, which are not standard writing pencils. On the face of it, it's just a notepad and a pen/pencil, but these are the tools of the experts, and proper shorthand pencils will make you take down shorthand faster.
If you are about to start a shorthand class or are teaching yourself shorthand, then it's important that you start off with the correct notepad and pencils—and that you understand why. Using the wrong type could lead to failure without you understanding why you're struggling. The best pencils for shorthand are the ones that enable you to write more smoothly, faster, and more confidently. Read on to better understand what makes a good pencil for shorthand and why another might not be so good.
Nobody will stop speaking while you take time out to turn a page—and that's why it's important that you start with the best shorthand notepads.
A proper shorthand notepad is a spiral-bound, lined notepad. You can pick these up cheaply enough, but I'd recommend you buy a pack of these as one won't be enough. It's surprising just how fast you can whip through the pages once you're taking dictation. I used to buy enough shorthand notebooks to last me at least a whole term when I started learning.
It's important that the pages move smoothly over the spirals, so before you start writing, just make sure the spiral's positioned so that you can quickly flip the current sheet over and start writing on the next sheet without pausing.
You will need lined pads because shorthand transcription relies not only on the outline shape but also its positioning—whether it's above, through, or on the line. Lined pads also ensure your shorthand is written in an orderly fashion, meaning that transcription is fast and accurate.
In short, shorthand notepads need to be:
- Spiral bound
- Top bound
How to Use a Shorthand Notepad
To use your shorthand notepad, start at the beginning, flipping over the pages until you get to the end of the notepad. At this point, you've only used one side of each sheet. You can now flip the book over and start this time on the back page until you reach the front again. No waste! Don't try to use the back of each sheet as you're taking down shorthand, as it's an awkward thing to try to do and will slow you down.
Some steno notepads will have a margin on the left, some will have a line down the middle of the sheet, and some are just horizontally lined. A notepad with a margin down the middle is less often seen but allows the minute taker to make corrections or notes more easily, as there's plenty of space to do this.
It's usual when taking shorthand to draw a margin of about 1" down one side of the page (usually the left side for right-handed people and the right side for left-handed people)—and creating this margin often gives you paper cuts as you draw it by using the edge of the paper to guide your hand/pencil—so many people prefer to buy notepads that already have a margin. If you want a notepad with a margin down the middle, then this can be trickier to draw by hand but still possible. Or, simply take two to three minutes to draw your own margin down the middle before going into your meeting.
Some people like to use the notepads that have a line down the middle of the page—leaving one side blank for additions/notes and marks, or, if you're interviewing somebody, or listening to a group, you can use the line to indicate where somebody else spoke.
You will come to your own conclusions which style of book you prefer. In the first instance, simply either pick a notebook without a margin (and draw your own) or buy steno notepads with the margin printed.
Shorthand Notepad Tips:
- Use your shorthand pads in order. Write the date you started using the pad clearly on the front cover—and again, the end date. This makes it easier to find the right one if somebody ever questions one of your transcriptions.
- Write the date on the page. I write the current date in the top right-hand corner of every page. An alternative method is each morning to write the current date on a fresh page. Doing this makes it easier to go back to old notes to check something if you need to.
As strange as it sounds—you will need a few elastic bands. An elastic band is used to keep your place in your shorthand notepad. Ideally, the elastic band should be a wide one and only just fit. It shouldn't be tight, and it shouldn't be thick rubber. It is just used to wrap around your previous shorthand so you know where in your book your next blank page is. When you grab your shorthand notepad, you can then immediately open up your book to a blank page and start writing. It's handy to have two or three of these on hand, so keep your eyes out for the perfect size to use.
It is for this reason that you might encounter shorthand notepads that have an included elasticated strap.
The Best Shorthand Pencils
You will eventually need to use proper shorthand pencils. If you are writing shorthand, then the lead in the pencil needs to give you the confidence that it won't break, it won't need sharpening too often, and yet it's sufficiently soft that you can write and transcribe the difference between what are called "thick" and "thin" outlines. Shorthand is based on sound, and, for example, the sounds "t" and "d" can be paired and so use the same outline, but with the "t" being a thin line and the "d" being a thick line.
Shorthand is written using a combination of thick and thin lines, and it is essential you can tell later what you wrote!
A pencil that blunts too quickly will cause you problems as suddenly everything looks like a thick line! You can also lose the detailing when you are forming curves and loops.
Round Pencils vs. Hexagonal Pencils
When you are starting out, the shape of the pencil might not seem important—but if you are ever in a situation where you're doing shorthand for an hour or even a whole day, then you'll quickly realize that the best shorthand pencil is around one. Round pencils avoid pressure pain during long shorthand sessions.
Official shorthand pencils are called steno pencils. These are round in shaft shape and have unbreakable leads. They aren't very expensive and will certainly last you a lot longer than regular pencils.
While I was learning shorthand, I used a steno pencil; I have since used a 2B pencil, which I personally found acceptable, but I did find the steno pencil needed a lot less sharpening.
In the UK, standard pencils are graded using the "H" and "B" notations, with an HB Pencil being a regular writing pencil, a 2H being harder, and a 2B being softer, with the full scale running from 6H to 6B. A shorthand pencil has a different grading and is known as an "F" pencil. This is often also popular with pencil artists who require the flexibility of thick/thin and reliable leads.
You can expect to be able to buy a box of about 12 shorthand pencils for under £5. 12 will be enough for one to two years!
Shorthand Pencil Tips:
- Get a proper shorthand pencil as soon as you can. They aren't expensive, and they DO make a difference. The lead grade should be an "F".
- Buy pencils in packs. One isn't enough. At the start of any session where you're taking down shorthand, you will want a pile of pencils sharpened and ready to go, sitting by your shorthand notepad. If your pencil breaks, or if you need a fresh/sharp one, you need to be able to drop the pencil in your hand and grab another and keep going . . . as I said before, nobody will stop talking and wait for you to find another pencil!
- Keep your pencils sharp and ready to go all the time.
- While it is possible for an expert to use a biro to write shorthand, they're relying on their experience and confidence to make this work. Biros don't have the ability to show thick and thin lines easily—and they can either stop working or leave a blot on the page.
Best Pen for Shorthand
Put simply, there is no best pen for shorthand. You should be using pencils for shorthand writing. The reason for this is that shorthand relies on thick and thin strokes—which are much harder to replicate at speed using any pen, e.g., a T is identical to a D in shorthand; it's just that the T stroke is thin, and the D stroke is written thick. You can achieve this easily with a soft pencil, but the best pen in the world would not work efficiently for shorthand.
That's All You Need!
As far as shorthand tools go—that's it. Yes, it's just a notepad and a pencil, but it's important that you've got the right type of notepad and the right type of pencil, as the wrong type will slow you down and be annoying!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Dedicated Content Curator (author) from United Kingdom on June 14, 2012:
I have always found shorthand fantastic for when I attend classes, courses or seminars. I can sit and take down very detailed notes and know I have all the details written down. Then, once back at home, when I transcribe those notes, not only does it mean that I recall/revise and remember them - but I also have a very neat transcript of the whole event.
Shorthand is invaluable for business and personal use!
Dee aka Nonna on June 13, 2012:
Brings back many memories. Took shorthand in high school to be able to take notes better for college, etc. found it came in handy for lots more. Voted up and useful