I’m no expert on speedbuilding; I never made it all the way to my 225 words-per-minute goal. But I have my thoughts on the subject and since failure frequently teaches us more than success, I figured I'd share what I've learned.
There are two separate things to keep in mind: factors of shorthand speed and the process of speedbuilding itself.
of shorthand speed
To my thinking, shorthand speed depends upon several factors:
1. If you try to write longhand really fast,
you'll only reach about 50 w.p.m. if you write words out in full. No
matter how much practice you get, your speed is hampered by the
mechanics of forming legible words. Most alpha shorthand systems are capable
of reaching speeds upwards of 100 w.p.m. Most symbol systems can go 20-40
w.p.m. faster with adequate work; the old symbol systems, the ones intended for
court work, can be cranked up
to over 200 w.p.m.
(For comparison purposes, average speech is about 150 w.p.m. Beginning secretaries were required [in years past] to write at least 80 w.p.m. for three or five minutes. Experienced secretaries were said to have speeds of 120 w.p.m. or more since they would be familiar with the vocabulary of their field. Really good executive assistants had speeds of 150 and up. While certified court reporting speeds vary with the requirements of each state, in New Jersey, for example, a speed of 225 w.p.m. is required.)
2. For short bursts of time, you can take down and read back faster dictation than for longer periods. As the dictation continues, mental fatigue sets in quickly, causing you to fall further behind the longer the dictation lasts.
3. Whether you write Gregg or Pitman, pencils are not recommended for writing shorthand. Pencils drag on the paper; the points dull with continued writing, forcing you to make larger outlines. Use a pen for best results.
4. Easy material, with common words, is easier to write and can be written faster. Uncommon words, technical material, and text sprinkled with foreign words must be written at a lower speed.
5. Shorthand must be automatic to be written swiftly. If you have to pause to think, you're in trouble!
6. Nervousness (whether from test conditions or other causes) and stress will hamper shorthand speed. My personal solution to nervousness was to take lots of job interviews and take lots of shorthand tests. Eventually, I calmed down and was able to test well because my nervousness of being tested had faded.
7. It may sound detrimental to speed building, but writing accurately is better than scrawling something you won't be able to read later. Your mind will build speed faster if you write outlines according to the rules of your system.
8. Shorthand is written
with your brain. Most of us are all physically capable of writing at high
rates of speed if only our minds can supply outlines fast enough. A
thorough review of your shorthand system will help stock your mind with correct
Given the above, how do I suggest you build speed? Here are some tips:
a. Know your system. You can’t base speed on a faulty knowledge of your shorthand system. If you pause to think “Isn't that a brief form?” you’re in big trouble. Hesitation is bad. Knowing your system thoroughly allows you to write according to rule, actually making it easier to read back your notes, even when they're stone cold. So, get out your old introductory book or a good theory book and start reviewing/practicing with Lesson One. A good review always helps.
b. Read back what you're written. “Sure,” you say, “I can get something down for every word.” That's great IF you can read it back! The proof is always in the transcript. Compare your transcript against the original EVERY TIME. You’ll be surprised how often you think you did well, but didn’t. Consider every mistake an error. Don’t go for faster takes unless you can consistently write with 95% accuracy. Missed words or wrong words (even if your notes have it right and you transcribed it wrong) are errors. If your notes are sloppy and hard (or impossible) to read, the dictation was too fast. Again, accuracy before speed.
c. Consistent (daily) practice. It is better to write ½ hour a day than to cram a week's worth of practice into one 3½-hour session. Your mind needs to absorb the work and it needs to rest between practice sessions. Certainly, more than ½ hour a day is desirable. More IS better.
d. Practice Matter. There are those who insist that easy material is better for speed building—and that it should be practiced at a slightly higher rate than “real” dictation. Of course, there are those who argue that hard material is better. I’ve done both and cannot say which is better. I’ve also been told the Gregg materials are easier than Pitman because Gregg sticks to the more common words. Regardless, practicing legal matter is fine if you’re going to be taking legal dictation; if you’re only ever going to write business correspondence, then business correspondence might be a better practice vehicle. However, no matter what you write, a good shorthand vocabulary never hurts.
e. To repeat or not? Should you take the same take more than once? The experts differ on this one; their answer also depends upon what speed you're writing. I've always felt that repetition builds speed. You should go over and over the same take as often as necessary to get good, clean notes. If you have the kind of tape player or mp3 player or even certain sound editors (such as Audacity) which can increase the speed of the output, you might even want to repeat the dictation enough so you can eventually write it 10 or 20 words more per minute than the speed at which it was originally dictated.
f. What to take. There are those who say that ANY dictation is good. Well, dictation can be too fast, too uneven, too technical. Dictation rates vary widely, even on "professional" tapes. Like typing (excuse me, keyboarding), speed is measured in a "standard" word of 5 strokes—regardless of how many keystrokes actually make up the individual words—Gregg standardized on 1.4 syllables equaling one word. The Pitman people, as court reporters still do today, say one word is one word. Therefore, electricity (five syllables) will count just as much as the (one syllable). I don’t think either method is better; they’re just different. You should be aware of how your dictation was counted to get maximum practice results. Certainly, if you’re going to count and record your own material for practice, the one word/one word is easier. When you’re counting up your errors, regardless of how the material was counted, missing the word electricity is one error, just as missing the is one error.
g. Some days, it just doesn't pay. We all have days where it is clear NO PROGRESS is going to happen when we sit down for a practice session. My advice is to stop and try again later. If you start thinking I can make 120 errors a minute and really write only 10 words per, come back to your practice later in the day.
h. Read shorthand Read lots of well-written shorthand. The older systems used to publish "literature" written in shorthand. See if you can get your hands on a few of those old books and start reading. It's perfectly OK to read and reread your own textbooks as well.
i. Practice what doesn't flow. If writing numbers is difficult for you, practice writing numbers. If certain word beginnings or word endings drive you crazy, create your own takes of words with those beginnings and endings and practice them. Shorthand speed is a complex thing and it requires that all phases of theory be cranked up at the same rate. Unfortunately, some principles lag behind others in your mental machinery, so work on the problem areas in each practice session.
j. Vocabulary. The better your vocabulary, the more rapid your shorthand writing will be. Unfamiliar words will slow you down; familiar words, even if you've never written then in shorthand, won't slow you down as much.
I’m told a positive attitude helps and it probably does.
Don't think you're not making progress if you practice regularly; it is the
cumulative effect which will produce increased shorthand speed. It will come but there's
no way to predict when.
You may also want to keep track of your progress by keeping a log of your shorthand sessions. List the date, the speed of the take, and the number of errors made. When you think you're not making any forward progress, take out your list and review it. You'll be surprised!