The Four Rules of Stenography

I have written extensively about the Four Rules of Stenography, but this particular article comes from the defunct newsletter, Advanced Steno Techniques.


Before you can work out a proper practice plan, you must diagnose your writing.  If you are sloppy, you must work on that.  If you hesitate, you need drills aimed at that problem.  If you carry (that was me), you must learn not to put yourself in that situation.  And if you don’t know how to drop effectively, focus on that.


This article deals with symptoms.  What happens on your test?  It does not explain why you do what you do.  Why do you carry, write sloppy, hesitate, etc.


You should look for the first symptom that appears.  That is probably your overriding weakness.  For instance, if you just don’t know how to drop, you might be a very clear writer until the point where you fall way behind in the dictation.  After you fall behind, you become overloaded and your clarity suffers.


Which rule do you break first?  That is the answer.



Issue 09

The Four Rules of Stenography

Steve Shastay


Over the years, I have analyzed the writing techniques of thousands of students.  After a while, I began to notice patterns.  I drew conclusions from what I found and published them originally as the White Papers, then as the Four Basic Writers, and finally, as the Four Rules of Stenography.

With each transmutation, I distilled and refined the rules to make them easy to understand and easy to apply.  While the White Papers was technically accurate, it sure was a load to understand.  I pared them down considerably.  With what was left, I created the Four Basic Writers.

This was an improvement.  It made it relatively easy for any student to find out what kind of writer they are and why they are that kind of a writer.

While that was a bit better, it still did not give the student a definite course of action.  All it did was point out the tendencies and weaknesses of the student.  It did not tell them what to do.  It merely told them what they should not do.  It was not enough.  I needed something that would clearly and concisely tell every student what they need to do to succeed.

I remember when I finally hit on the solution.  I was at home thinking about some of the questions that my class had asked me.  I came up with the first three rules: write clear, drop quick, do not carry.  Initially, those rules seemed to be sufficient, but there was still one more piece to the total solution.

One day a student asked me how to tell if she was writing fast enough.  I asked her if her hands were moving continuously or if they hesitated and/or stopped while writing.  She said they were moving slowly, but not stopping.  I told her not to worry about it.  Her hands would move faster when she mastered the strokes a little better.  That conversation gave me the fourth and final rule.

I have not found any steno stroking problems that are not helped by the Four Rules.  They apply to every student, and they address every possible fault without getting bogged down in extensive explanations.


Rule No. 1:  Write clearly.

All students should be able to read at least 99 out of every 100 words written.  Perfect notes are not required, but guessing at the outlines is not sufficient.  Either the student can absolutely read 99 out of every 100 words written, or the student should work on clarity to the exclusion of everything else.


Rule No. 2:  Do not trail the speaker.

Learn to stay up with the dictation.  A normal distance for a student at any speed is 1 to 3 words behind the speaker.  Once the student falls behind by 5 or more words, the student should make a decision to write faster or to drop the extra words.


Rule No. 3:  Drop the big words when necessary.

When you fall behind, it is because you are not fast enough for that particular passage.  Accept that you can only write at your present speed and drop the extra words.  As you gain experience with dropping, you should try to drop the words with tough outlines or with multi-stroke outlines.  These are the words that slow you down the most.  With luck, by dropping one or two large or difficult words, you will lighten your load enough so that you can write the rest of the dictation.


Rule No. 4:  Keep the hands moving.

Disregard the speed of the movement.  If your hands are moving (even if they are moving very slowly), they are doing fine.  Pushing them to move faster will probably result in sloppiness.  Simply work on keeping them from stopping in between strokes.


There you go.  Each rule outlines exactly what you should be doing.  If you follow these rules, you will make steady progress.  You will see improvement each and every week.  You will pass your tests.

I do not expect you to take me blindly at my word.  Examine what happens when you drill.  You will find that you break at least one of these rules right before the dictation gets away from you.  The rule that you break first is usually the one that causes the difficulty.

Steve Shastay

Kicking steno butt since last century


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