Shorthand and Typewriting

— May an old stenographer come to the defense of many young people who feel rather aggrieved at certain criticisms of their work in an article in The Atlantic for December, 1895 ?

It is true that young shorthand writers have difficulty in reading their own imperfectly made hieroglyphics ; but the best stenographers read with facility not only what they themselves write, but each other’s notes, unless these are taken at great speed. One of the most rapid congressional reporters has for many years employed in his office two or three ladies to transcribe his notes, and transcription is found a fascinating, not a severe task. Many other experts follow the same method.

As to shading in stenography, there is no need of a marked distinction between light and dark strokes, but the best writers make a difference which their own eyes readily recognize. So, too, the accurate shorthand writer makes his vertical characters perpendicular to the line, even in the most rapid writing ; and it almost never occurs that a p can be read for a t, or a b for a d.

Again, the good stenographer invariably begins a paragraph as a paragraph should begin, with the line indented. He makes the long stroke for a period. Proper names simple enough to be written in shorthand he underlines, vocalizes those which might be doubtful, and spells out those which it would be unsafe to trust to phonography. This takes quick thinking? Yes, but the expert is nimble not only with his fingers, but with his brains. In the course of thirty years’ experience it has been the good fortune of the writer to know at least a score of the best stenographers in the country. They have all substantially followed these rules, and there are hundreds following them now who read their notes as fluently as most people read longhand.

If an imperfectly educated amanuensis stumbles over her writing, that may not be the fault of any one of the many systems of shorthand ; it is the common American habit of “ skimping.” Because many halfeducated girls have found their way into offices, it is a fallacy to suppose that all amanuenses may be charged with stupidity, ignorance, and inaccuracy in their work.

To test the supposed impossibility of reading a page of this magazine without vowels, paragraphs, periods, or other marks of punctuation, a column of the article in question was copied, eliminating these supposed necessities. This skeleton page was submitted to two intelligent persons, who read it all after a little puzzling. But shorthand is much more easily read, when written correctly, because position implies certain vowels in every case.

As to the assistance of memory, reporting becomes so mechanical that often a speech, a sermon, a long address, may be entirely new to the reporter when he comes to transcribe his notes. It is as though he had never heard a word of it.

Now for typewriting. Within the last fifteen years, hundreds — nay, thousands of manuscripts have passed through the writer’s hands. In the earlier part of that period they were all pen-written, and the work of preparing them for printing was a burden to the flesh and a vexation to the spirit. The majority come now in neat typewritten dress, which is easy to read, and therefore the editing of them requires not one tenth of the time. Yet these are rarely typewritten by the authors themselves. They have been guilty of “the absurdity of entrusting the transcription ” to copyists, who, as a rule, have improved on the verbal form of the original manuscripts.

As for the machines, some of them have every punctuation mark (with one triflingexception) used by The Atlantic Monthly. It is, therefore, impossible to sympathize with the writer of the article under review, who says, “ What would be my sensations were I obliged to put even this modest article which I am now preparing into the hands of a copyist ? All I know is that, until the agony was over, I should not get a single night’s sleep.” This “ modest article,” on the contrary, will be handed to one of half a dozen young ladies to copy, any one of whom will return it in such shape that even the critical proof-reader of this most carefully printed magazine will have hardly a change to make. Upbraid those who deserve it, but let it be acknowledged that there are copyists who are a “luxury,” and not a “ torment.”