Heather Baker explains how speedwriting can help you take notes in a quick and efficient way

What is speedwriting?

For many years, trainee secretaries would learn shorthand to prepare them to take notes in meetings, take dictation and jot down things to remember. With the evolution of technology, colleges stopped teaching shorthand as people were starting work and finding they didn’t need it… until they got into more senior roles and then managers were surprised their assistants couldn’t take notes.

So, speedwriting was developed to fill that gap in a quick and efficient way.

Taking Notes

Despite the numerous software packages and apps for notetaking that are available, many people nowadays still want a system to handwrite rapidly in meetings (not necessarily verbatim), on the telephone, to note down instructions or quick reminders.

We have smart pens, iPads, laptops, smartphones and computers where we can easily store data; however, sometimes we just need to write things down – but quickly – and be able to read it back. Often people have problems reading back notes because they have made up an abbreviation in the moment and then can’t remember what it was when they come to transcribe their notes. This is because they have no structure to their notetaking; speedwriting, however, does give a structure.

Speedwriting enables people to write up to at least 70wpm – more quickly than normal handwriting. The higher speeds come with practice and regular use.

Simple to Learn

It is simple to learn because you only use letters of the English alphabet, eliminating the need to get to grips with squiggles and lines. You simply learn to use the letters in a different way. It is also very flexible as you can abbreviate words in a way that works for you, making it very simple to transcribe. You don’t have to do what someone else does, unless an organisation wants all their employees to be consistent.

The Basics

The basics, which can be learnt in just a few hours, are straightforward. Words are abbreviated by missing out vowels or double letters – very much like texting used to be (before predictive text).

no = know

tl = tell

scs = success

ltl = little

btr = better

You can also use subscript characters to represent groups of letters, for example:

You can use superscript characters to represent common prefixes and suffixes, such as con…, intro…, …ment or …tion. So, for example:

Prefixes and Suffixes

Here is a summary of the prefixes and suffixes that could be used:

Speedwriting table

Being skilled in speedwriting is a definite advantage for any PA or administrator. It can ensure your efficiency and effectiveness and looks good on your CV!

Tips for Taking Notes

As well as having a speedwriting system, here are some general tips to help you take notes more efficiently:

  1. Always keep your writing small and close together; you will write faster because your pen spends less time on the paper.

  2. Don’t press too hard; you will become more physically tired and write more slowly.

  3. Don’t use capital letters; block capitals are much slower to produce.

  4. Don’t write too close to the edges of the paper; this prevents faster writing because you must slow down near the edges.

  5. If you’re using an A4 notepad, fold the page in half lengthways and write down one side and then the other; because you have less space you will automatically write less. It also reduces the amount of movement of your hand.

  6. As you near the bottom of a page, start to push the paper up and then flip the page over as you reach the end.

  7. Use your non-writing hand to fold over the bottom corner of your pad to enable a quick flip (see above) and hence faster writing.

  8. Use a sharp (H2) pencil or a good pen for clarity. Smart pens are also a great idea.

Although we are increasingly using technology for taking notes, I believe it will be a very long time before people stop handwriting – if ever. So, in the meantime, make it easy for yourself and invest in speedwriting!

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After more than 20 years as an Assistant, Heather Baker established Baker Thompson Associates in January 2000 to fulfil the need for specialised PA/EA/admin training. She now travels the world working with Assistants to find ways they can excel in their ... (Read More)

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