How Shorthand Writing Can Improve Your Note-Taking Skills

Girl writing notes in her notebook
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Have you ever gazed at a test question and wondered where on earth it came from? You're just certain the teacher never, ever covered the information, because it just wasn't in your notes.

Then, alas, you discover that some of your classmates did record the information in their notes, and furthermore, they got the question right.

This is a common frustration. We miss things when we take class notes. Very few people can write fast enough or concentrate long enough to record everything the teacher says.

College lectures can stretch much longer than the lectures you receive in high school and they can also be very detailed. For this reason, many college students address the potential problem of missing critical information by developing a personalized form of shorthand.

This sounds much more complicated than it really is. You don't have to learn a squiggly-line language. You simply come up with a set of symbols or abbreviations for common words that you find in lectures.

History of Shorthand

Developing shortcuts in your writing is not a new idea, of course. Students have been using this method for as long as they've been taking class notes. In fact, the origins of shorthand date back to Ancient Greece during the 4th century B.C. However, even prior to that, scribes in ancient Egypt developed two different systems which allowed them to write more quickly than they could using complex hieroglyphics.

Gregg Shorthand

Gregg is essentially a simpler and more efficient way to write than longhand English. Consider that the Roman alphabet we use is much more complicated necessary to distinguish one letter from another. To write a lower-case “p”, for example, requires a long, downward stroke with a clockwise loop at the top. Then, you have to pick up your pen to move on to the next letter. Gregg’s “letters” are comprised of much simpler shapes. Consonants are made up of either shallow curves or straight lines; vowels are loops or small hooks. An additional advantage of Gregg is that it’s phonetic. The word “day” is written as "d" and "a." Since letters are less complicated and joined simply, there are fewer of them to write which will increase your speed!

Tips for Using Shorthand

The trick is to develop a good system and to do it well. To do that, you have to practice. Try these tips:

  • Develop a list of the most commonly used words and make shortcuts for them.
  • At the beginning of a term, look through the textbooks for each course. Find the common terms that you'll see over and over and develop shortcuts for them.
  • For example, words that might appear frequently in a literature class are character (ch), allegory (alg), allusion (allu), figure of speech (fos), and so on.
  • Practice your course-specific shorthand at the beginning of the term while your text is still new and you're curious and excited about the information. Find a few interesting passages and practice writing them in shorthand.
  • If possible, find a study partner to read the passages to you. This will simulate the real experience of taking notes during a lecture.
  • Time yourself for each passage you practice. Pretty soon you'll start to build up speed.

Sample Writing Shortcuts

Sample Shortcuts
@ at, about, around
no. number, amount
+ bigger, greater, increasing
? who, what, where, why, where
! surprise, alarm, shock
bf before
bc because
rts results
resp response
X across, between
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Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "How Shorthand Writing Can Improve Your Note-Taking Skills." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Fleming, Grace. (2020, August 26). How Shorthand Writing Can Improve Your Note-Taking Skills. Retrieved from Fleming, Grace. "How Shorthand Writing Can Improve Your Note-Taking Skills." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).