Shorthand: how can you reach 100 words a minute?

Day one of your NCTJ Diploma and it’s your first lesson in that cornerstone of a journalist’s skills – shorthand. But how do you break the code, boost your speed and reach the elusive shorthand 100 words per minute?

PA Media Academy Fast-Track NCTJ students Will Conroy, Piers Mucklejohn, Louis Altman and Elli Hodgson – who have all achieved their shorthand 100 words-a-minute in recent months – share the tips they would pass on to new trainee journalists.

First, regular practice is key, as is making an early start: “Practise every day, always use a margin on the page and if a speed feels unattainable remember you are not as far away as you think you are. You will get there,” Will says.

Fast-track NCTJ Diploma students at PA Media Academy can expect to see shorthand trainer Kate Charles several mornings a week for two hours of expert teaching. But Piers recommends starting work before your course starts if possible so that you give yourself more time to build your speed. “I did about 40 minutes per day before I got here so when we were learning about things in class I knew the basics,” he says. “I would revise before a lesson.”

Next, work out your priorities to help you build towards 100 words a minute. Shorthand outlines – which are essentially the way you write complete words in shorthand – can be difficult to master. Louis says: “Don’t worry about the right outline. Prioritise keeping up with the audio.

“If you spend a split second trying to get an outline right you will fall behind. Make something up and try to remember to correct it later. Worked for me!”

Piers adds: “Another good tip is when you are listening to something, or reading something, or you overhear something on the train, imagine the shorthand for it.”

Finally, think about how to tailor shorthand notes so they work for you and pay close attention to the words you’re being asked to take down. Elli advises: “Listen carefully to the passage and make your own outlines. If you have one that’s more memorable then use it. Enjoy it. Practise twice a day.”

Learning shorthand may be daunting, but mastering shorthand 100 words a minute will help you stand out from the crowd when it comes to landing your first job in journalism.

And as Elli says – enjoy it!

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