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Tag Archives: shorthand

Work Experience Update 2

After six weeks of ‘Christmas holidays’, I am now preparing to go back to university. It would be nice to say that I’ve had a relaxing break, but in truth after almost five weeks of work experience I’m just as tired now as when I left uni in December (or perhaps that’s the after-effects of my friend’s Australia Day party last night). It’s definitely been a worthwhile experience though.

Firstly, I’ve conquered my fear of picking up the phone. Relying on e-mail alone as a journalist is dangerous, it’s a lot easier for people to ignore your e-mails than it is for them to hang up on you (although I have had this happen to me in the past). So coming into work in the morning and being told that my job is to phone seven different press offices and get statements on everything from the M&S financial results to Tesco’s response to the horsemeat scandal, while terrifying, has been hugely helpful for me in the long run. Now to get over my fear of listening to recordings of my voice.

I’ve also learned the importance of checking that my dictaphone is switched on. And of taking notes while recording so that I have a back-up if the recording comes out as white noise. I was taking notes while I recorded purely because the publication’s editor was watching me, but I’m very glad that I was on the day that my trusty dictaphone failed me. On a more positive note, I have learned that using a dictaphone is vastly preferable to getting ‘shorthand claw’ (although obviously not if you’re in court).

Finally, I’ve become more confident in my abilities as a journalist. If I can run an unfamiliar news website single-handedly for a week then I can do anything! Or anything journalistic anyway, running a news website probably doesn’t qualify you for winning an Olympic gold medal or becoming Prime Minister…

Five Tips for Learning Shorthand

Earlier, as I was browsing through my Twitter feed in an attempt to do anything but revision for my Essential Media Law exam on Wednesday, I caught sight of a tweet from a fellow journalist asking for advice to help with learning shorthand. Never one to pass up an opportunity to procrastinate, I decided to write a whole list of tips. In my defence, my first shorthand exam is also fast approaching, so this exercise has helped to remind me of what I need to do to pass.

1) Start early. The best piece of advice that I was given when I came for my Kingston interview was to start learning shorthand during the summer. If you haven’t started shorthand yet, but know that you will have to soon, get a head start. Even if you just learn the alphabet, it will make a difference in class.

2) Practice makes perfect. Any shorthand book which you buy will tell you that you should be practising for at least half an hour per day. This is an understatement. Often an hour or even more will be necessary if you have been learning difficult outlines in class. If you struggle to find a large block of time in which to practise, keep your notebook with you and do some outlines whenever you have a spare five minutes. I use my twenty minute wait on Twickenham station – excellent use of dead time!

3) Keep a pen in your hand at all times. During shorthand lessons, we’re told that if we aren’t reading shorthand then we should be writing it. Every single outline which you write improves your speed and accuracy, so even if you don’t have as much time outside of class to devote to practising, you can use every minute of your shorthand lessons.

4) Read shorthand as well as writing it. When you’ve written out a passage of shorthand, make sure to read it back. This serves a dual purpose: you can see if you’ve made any mistakes, and by improving your reading speed you will also become more familiar with the outlines and thus improve your writing speed.

5) Learn to associate outlines with sound. As you practise a new outline, say it to yourself under your breath (this may not be advisable if you practise on the bus – people will think that you’re crazy). When learning sentences or passages, try to get someone to read to you, or use a disc if your book comes with one. This will make the response to sound automatic.

Shorthand: We should not be amused

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Amidst my media law woes, I’ve found time in my busy schedule for something else: stressing about shorthand. It comes second on Independent blogger Martin King’s list of important journalistic skills, but is also one of the hardest skills to learn.

After two months of learning outlines for such bizarre words as ‘pebbly’ and ‘frolic’ (try using both of those in the same sentence) we have been deemed ready to sit our first exam. This entails taking shorthand notes on a four minute passage, read at a speed of 60 words per minute. Given that the average person speaks at two or even three times this speed, we have a long way to go before we’ll be able to take notes from actual people, but the idea of writing at 60 w.p.m. is still faintly terrifying.

Yesterday, our tri-weekly dose of shorthand was scheduled for 4pm. I had been at university since 10am, and had already endured three hours of local government and a gruelling law revision session. I was not in the mood. By the time we started dictation, I had already tried to read the word television as ‘T…V…shun’ and forgotten multiple words which I was supposed to have learnt already. Then Sue decided that as a special treat, we would do our dictation at 70 w.p.m. rather than 60. This was to be my undoing.

Surprisingly, the problem was not actually the speed. With shorthand passages, the word ‘a’ counts for one of your 60 but so does the word ‘supervise’. Therefore a 70 w.p.m. passage can actually be easier to write than a 60 w.p.m., which seemed to be the case here. Then came the fatal sentence ‘Mr Brown had returned from walking his dog to find that his pet parrot, Jack…’ Don’t ask me why I found it hilarious that a man would name a parrot Jack, but I did. So did several other members of the class. And the teacher. The passage had to be paused and restarted, but once I’ve found something funny, I can’t stop laughing. I tried to muffle my laughter enough that I didn’t disturb anyone else in the class, but unsurprisingly my own transcript had several large gaps. These gaps seemed to coincide with the mentioning of a certain name.

So my advice to anyone who is learning shorthand is this: do not find anything funny in the exam! Unfortunately, I have no tips as to how to help with this problem, and if anyone has managed to combat it then I would appreciate their help. In searching for solution though, I have discovered this useful article from Wannabe Hacks on passing 100 w.p.m. shorthand. There may be hope for me yet, providing that no other unusually-named birds show up, of course!

If you want to share your own shorthand-learning stories or tips for passing the exams, then please leave a comment below.

Enrichment Week: A Short Breather

Photo by Ken McKay / Rex Features

This week was labelled on the timetable which I received at the beginning of the course as enrichment week. Having never had a reading week at Durham, I was quite excited at the prospect of having half term again. Then I went to induction, and the prospect of that glorious week of free time slipped away before my eyes. It was to be used for shorthand!

In the event, shorthand bootcamp only took up two days of enrichment week (although my days of freedom were quickly filled up with a family funeral, an interview for work experience, a small amount of socialising and an even smaller amount of law revision), but it was intense. Wednesday was particularly draining, with eleven hours spent on campus.

Those eleven hours were not all devoted to shorthand. The day started at 9am with three and a half hours of shorthand, covering much more of the book (and certainly many more long passages) than we normally get through in a lesson. We were all rather grumpy about being there so early, especially as the broken coffee machine in the postgraduate café meant that we had to venture into undergraduate territory (uninhabited due to enrichment week, but it was the principle of the matter), but we were cheered by a trip to Pizza Hut when shorthand was done with for the day.

Before long though we were back for the Media Summit, opened by the one and only Sir Trevor McDonald.  He gave an inspiring speech, and one which for once didn’t leave us feeling afraid about what we would face in the media industry (all of the other guest lecturers have succeeded in terrifying us). A networking class by Nicky Moran followed, with a little too much ‘talk to your neighbour’ for our liking given that we (or at least I) had been up since 6am, but which had some very useful pointers for the networking which we will all have to do in our careers.

Then it was time for a caffeine pit stop before Marian, Felicia and I finished the day with a crash course in web design with Adam Westbrook.  None of us knew anything about web design beforehand and before the end we were talking about creating our own websites, so it certainly gave us confidence in our own abilities. Whether we’d be quite as confident without Adam guiding us through the process is another matter entirely.

The next day was filled with more shorthand, and our very first unseen 60wpm dictation. Given that we’ve only been learning it for a month, it didn’t go too disastrously, but it also could have gone a lot better considering the fact that we have an exam at the end of the month. I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be interesting!

The Two Week Mark

It’s been three weeks since I started at Kingston, but two weeks of normal lectures, so I feel that an update is in order. I have classes Monday-Thursday, and with travelling time included I generally spend about ten hours every day out of the house. It’s a bit of a change from my lazy undergraduate life, that’s for sure!

This semester, I have six modules. After Journalism Practices, which I’ve already written about, there’s:

Law

This is a three hour block on Monday afternoon, in which we learn how not to get sued, what to do if we do get sued, and how many times our lecturer has been sued. There’s a lot of precise language, and it’s important that we get the definitions just right, so we have a lot to learn before our first exam in November.

Hands On Journalism

The most practical of the six modules, this takes place on Tuesday afternoons, and also in every moment of our free time as we have to run a hyper local website, the Kingston Courier. This semester I’m the Business Editor, so I’m spending a lot of time looking for local businesses stories, whilst also trying to write the court and council stories which the NCTJ wants in our portfolios.

Journalists and Government

Another module with lots of information and definitions to learn, although the scary thing about this is that my father, a local government accountant, now wants to talk to me about his job. We’re starting on local government, which is pretty dry (although exactly what we need to understand those aforementioned court and council stories), but things should get a little more exciting when we move onto central government next semester.

Multimedia News Writing

This another practical module, in which we learn to write.  So far, this has involved being handed a press release or some fake sources and then being told to turn them into a story. This has taught me that many of the writing habits I’ve picked up over the years are wrong, particularly some of the words I like to use (whilst is out for one). I’m enjoying it a lot though, because it’s a chance to write, but without the pressure that there is on the Kingston Courier.

Shorthand

My favourite module, because although a lot of people complain about it, I’m still finding it easy at this point. This is mostly because I spent a month before starting university learning it in preparation, but I like to think that all that time spent getting to grips with the Russian alphabet has helped too. Shorthand means a new alphabet, new words, and a new way of writing altogether. It’s still fun at the moment, but we haven’t properly started speed building at the moment, so we shall see what happens.