Problems of Shorthand to Secretarial Students in Institutions of Higher Learning

Problems of Shorthand to Secretarial Students in Institutions of Higher Learning ( A Case Study of Institute of Management and Technology and Federal Polytechnic Idah)

Authorities abound in the literature in support of the view that shorthand poses much problems to students of secretarial administration to our institutions of higher learning. There are technical qualities that are indispensable for successful career in shorthand and amongst these are excellent, knowledge of English. Although the application of shorthand skills is specialized,  one must nevertheless develop skill in applying the fundamentals of English language to everyday learning situation. Gartside (1970:115) agreeing with this view, stated

From a purely practical stand point it is worth nothing that examining bodies in shorthand not infrequently report that many candidate fail through poor English rather than through poor shorthand. Shorthand and English are in separately bound, and the success of the shorthand transcript depended in the last resort upon correct use of the English language.

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Regular dictation of well-written prose helps to culture an ‘ear’ for good English and at the same time extends vocabularly if the meanings of new words in the passage are discussed. Written or typed transcription affords excellent practice on spelling punctuation and paragraphing.

Still on the emphasis of the need for  second knowledge of English language to secretarial students some of the problems facing them in writing shorthand as one of their major causes Igwe (1989:3) stated that “dynamic English gives one power to tackle problems often encountered in the mastery of skill-subject” shorthand being one of them.

He also points out that the shorthand writer needs the skill of quickly grasping the meaning of the passage in other words comprehending the ideas otherwise, difficulty and probably inaccurate transcription will result

English thus becomes a mental skill and the shorthand writer who has not developed it to a fair degree will be unaware of the possible dangers of mis-hearing of tendency to write the outline for the familiar in the place of the unfamiliar word. Of writing what one does expect top hear instead of what one does hear or of the need to register when a passage does not make sense.

Supporting this view, with particular emphasis on spelling, Condon (1984:10-11) stated that the English spelling of a word is often just as prominent in the transcribers thought as is the sound. In fact there is reason to believed that knowledge of English spelling has supporting view, with particular emphasis on spelling Condon (1984:10) stated that the “English spelling of a word is often just as prominent in the transcribers thoughts as is the sound. In fact there is reason to believe that knowledge of English spelling has a tremendous impact upon how we hear a word.

Ojukwu (1991:10) agreeing with this view, stated that “Students who read novels invariably perform better in shorthand classes. This is because they are constantly seeing, reading and pondering over words which are used in everyday life and which form the bulk of the dictated matter. They build up a wealth of vocabulary. Such students are likely to transcribe weak for wick or trade for tread as do some who have poor language power.

Udemuezue (1989:10) “The most irritating error in shorthand transcript and perhaps one of the most conspicuous is the spelling error”

There is plenty of evidence that large numbers who set out to learn shorthand have little or no aptitude for it. We have the authority of the former board of education for the following observations on this point.

“In no subject is the waste of effort is great. The proportion of students who ever attain a practically useful speed say eighty words a minute or more is small” Gartside (1970:115)

authorities abound in the related literature in support of the view that student lack of interest in shorthand is one of their major problems

Kanu (1980:5) conducted a study of the problems and difficulties facing both the learners and teachers of shorthand in institutions of higher learning in Imo state. The study established a positive response that students’ lack of interest affects their performance in shorthand.

On the scale of what they thought were the causes of difficulties in learning shorthand, a great number of students respondents 28 or 30% checked the third option “student lack of interest in shorthand”

Gertside (1970:122) in support of this stated that “Interest is the greatest motivating force in all learning, and the task of those who teach certain subjects will always be more difficult than that or others”. He said further that interest. In subjects that have an obvious bearing on prospective employment is usually spontaneous but in subjects where the vocational worthiness is less obvious interest is often lacking and has to be rouses. This is not so with shorthand. Students must come to their teacher motivated from the start with a genuine interest and wish to learn and the teachers should try to maintain that interest in them.

Emphasizing still on the importance of interest to students of shorthand, Ojukwu (1991:8) stated that “interest is a critical factor in learning, especially the skill subject” therefore any student who wants to succeed in the learning of shorthand must be interested in acquiring the skill. Since out of interest comes the drive to go on and advance step by step up the difficult slope of attainment. It won’t keep one for wanting to be a secretary simply because he likes the way they behave and dress without having the interest in the courses that leads one to that. Anyone who wants to make his/her career in secretarial studies must see himself as one who should be fulfilling a certain role. There is no way one will like to be a secretary but is ashamed of telling people that he is reading secretarial administration so that they will not say he is doing typing and shorthand. He should therefore be proud to take place, announce his career with as much enthusiasm as any other professional. To do otherwise would lead to a feeling of inferiority and a dampening of one’s interest. One student of secretarial administration said that he wants to be a secretary but does not want to do typewriting and shorthand, so this type of student will ever find shorthand most problematic.

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A student who is genuinely interested in what he or she is studying stands a better chance of succeeding than his counterpart who is doing it because he wants to belong. Pretense may lead to usual attractive or pleasing behaviors which are counter-productive.

As shorthand continues to pose much problem to students of secretarial administration, researchers also try to trace these problems and find solution to them. Kanu (1989:4) in his paper presented at the Lagos 1989 international conference of the Nigeria association of business educators on problems and difficulties facing both the learners teachers of shorthand aid that under the theme “What difficulties do you think students encounter in learning shorthand?” with a scale of seven point options, all the nine shorthand teachers who responded checked the first option which is “Inability to retain what they have to learned”

It was mentioned earlier in this work that shorthand is for intelligent and fast learning students as well as those who can retain wehat they have been taught while emphasizing on the importance of learning grammalogues or short forms as they are called in Pitman shorthand. The researcher did mention the importance of memorizing them which makes the student a good and fast shorthand writer and this cannot be possible if the student cannot retain what he or she has learned.

In support to this Ojukwu (1991:9) stated that “The mastery of skill subjects demanded the combination of manual dexterity with quickness and receptivity of the mind. The extent to which the student develops his retrieve memory determine to a reasonable degree, the extent to which he or she can go on the shorthand speed ladder.

For one to do well in shorthand be needs to develop an acute hearing ability , sharp sight and quick responses. Memorization of the short form is a must for every shorthand students for you to develop your speed writing and this requires a great mental and manual ability.

Memorization o these logograms or short-forms cannot constitute any problem as long as they are constantly reviewed. Especially the beginners who may have fears about memorizing of these special forms what you need is constant practice and revising of them. If a student frequently revises and practice these forms everyday or the passages that contain practice and revising of them. If a student frequently revises and practice these forms everyday or the passages that contain most of them there will be no need disturbing yourself memorizing them you will master them without any difficulty. Before you think of memorizing them you have known and master them all.

Ojukwu gave two exercises which can help you to sharpen your retentive ability.

  1. Listen to the radio/television news broadcast. At the end of the news try to remember the first new item. How did the announcer introduces it?
  2. Read a page or just a paragraphing of any written documents as fast as you can. Try to remember what you have read you will find that a deliberate attempts to concentrate will improve concentration.

A retentive memory is an invaluable asset to a shorthand writer. Do everything to cultivate it try improving your powers of concentration.

There are still other problems and difficulties that secretarial students encounter in the study of shorthand. The importance of good penmanship needs to be stressed. According to Gertside (1970:120) “Most beginners are far too heavy-handle, they grip their pens instead of holding them highly and grossly exaggerate the difference between thick and thin. They draw rather than write the strokes and as a rule make them far too large” He further stated that if habits of good penmanship are not fixed in the early lesson, it may be too late for once habits and particularly bad habits are formed. They are difficult to break. He gave the following points to shorthand teachers to continue to stress them until the right habits have been formed.

  1. Strokes must be of a size that can be doubled or halved without becoming unimaginably large or small.
  2. Strokes must be written with a delicate touch with no more than a slight difference between light and heavy.
  3. Strokes must be written quickly and not laboriously draw
  4. Straight strokes must be written at the correct angle, the tendency with some to write T and D with a “backhand” slope must be avoided.
  5. Curved strokes must be given sufficient body and the tendency to flatten them avoided.

It has been observed that individuals tend to adopt their own natural style of writing and applying same to shorthand writing. Gertside (1970:140) is of the opinion that “there should be no attempt to impose a uniform style based on the copper plate of the textbooks, complete freedom should be permitted in the matter of style, so long as it is fluent and legible nut good penmanship and relaxed pen control should be insisted upon for style in shorthand writing, as in other fields, is essentially an individual matter”

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Nevertheless, Gertside stressed that the importance of good penmanship and suggest the to give much more attention to it in the early lessons with the beginners. He stressed that the only really effective method is demonstration with pen and paper to a few students at a time, immediately followed by practice in which the techniques demonstrated and explained by the teacher are consciously initiated in his presence.

The problem is that most of the time we have too many students in a class and the teacher will find it difficult to go and see how they are handling their pen and demonstrating it on the board cannot be enough because they need to see the teacher handle the pen and write then they will follow him and do the same. This is wasting so many student’s time during dictation because many draw the strokes instead of writing them after writing you will see their lines of writing appearing in more than two extra sheets behind their writing paper.

It is also good to advise students to use pen instead of pencil and a good quality notebook. Copying outline from textbook will also help them, to improve in matters of penmanship.

Emphasizing on the need of pen instead of pencil Gartside (1970:121) stated that: Good shorthand writing demands a pen and after the notebook the students first need is a good fountain pen”

He goes on to draw out attention to the superior merits of the pen. Here are the advantages

  1. It produces a neater and more legible shorthand note
  2. It requires less pressure and is less tiring to use than a pencil. It needs only a light touch to produce a clear outline.
  3. There is always the danger that a pencil point may break down the pressure needed for a clear shorthand note.
  4. Penciled notes at high spaced are much too faint to be easily readable.
  5. It is significant that verbatim and high-speed writers use pen and not pencil.

Student should therefore be encourage to use a good fountain pen, which must be fine, flexible and smooth writing once they have found a pen that suits them and built it into their writing habits, they will never want to take down in pencil.

Another problem that still poses great difficult to secretarial student in shorthand learning is nervousness. Ojukwu (1991:14) agreeing with this stated

“ Students complain of being nervous during shorthand examinations. A shorthand examination, like all examinations will normally cause some anxiety and nervousness. But too much nervousness is symptom of lack of adequate preparation of lack of adequate preparation or some deficiency known to the student”

As mentioned earlier in this work, shorthand is not a last minute subject. You smut be doing your practice every day. Some students do not prepare well before entering shorthand examinations and since you know that you cannot write the speed that is going to be dictated nervousness will start even before the examination.

Since the speed to be written is normally given at the beginning of a semester, in order to avoid any anxiety or nervousness, the students should start in time to prepare for it and not to wait till the examination remains one week or a few days, there is no way the person could make it.

This nervousness is also caused sometimes by students hearing unfamiliar words during dictations. Before he could think of how to write it the dictator must have gone four of five words ahead of him and he will start shivering, thereby missing the whole dictation or he may end up not writing at the middle of the dictation. The best thing for any students if during dictation you hear an unfamiliar word, just give gap for that word and continue to write. It is better to miss a word than to miss the whole sentence or the passage.

Nervousness could also be the result students teachers’ impatience on the student to conform with the expert’s dexterity in shorthand. The teachers knowing the nature of the subject they teacher should try as much as possible not to add to the fear students have had about the subject. Some teachers are of the habit of using hash words on the students because they are not following at the rate he expected of them. Such lecturers are not encouraging rather they are helping them to run away and believed that they must never pass it Ojukwu (191:14) has something to say on this point.

Nervousness could also be the result of the teachers importance and grievance pressure on the students to confirm with the experts dexterity in shorthand. The teacher becomes very intolerant of certain lapses which shorthand students may exhibit at the early learning phases. The teacher often reminds the students that failure in shorthand would be flushed out of the institution or make other derogatory remarks on student’s intelligence. These generate emotional stress. When the teacher comes close to a student writing shorthand, the student becomes nervous. The mere voice of the teacher in the examination hall is enough to trigger of nervousness.

Kanu (1989:7) in a paper presented at the Lagos 89 International Conference of the Nigeria Association of Business Educators on the problems and difficulties encountered by both learners and teachers of shorthand, found out that most students were always tensed during shorthand tests or examination and that they feel useless at times in the middle of a dictation.

Apart from the above problems, secretarial students still have another problems which we call motivational technique. Experience shows that there is need for motivation by the teachers of this great subject to enable the students work hand. In a test conducted by Kanu (1989:5) in his paper “Use of adequate and appropriate motivational techniques” which has three scale options “often” very often and not very often. The students were asked’ How often does your teacher arouse your interest before introducing his lesson’. A total of 50 or 54% of the students respondents check ‘not very often’ while 29 or 32% checked ‘often’ and 13 or 14% check ‘very often’

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The above illustration shows that there is need to use adequate set “individual to arouse the interest of the students. According to Crack (1982:37) and associated, there is no one way to motivate all students within a group but some attempts must be made. He stated “shorthand teachers, like all other instructors are models for students. The teacher who can demonstrate shorthand skill effectively and enthusiastically may at least indirectly arouse students desire to become proficient.

Gartside in support to this emphasized that teachers should be known that not all students have the same ability and not all can maintain the same rate of progress. Differences in acuity  of hearing, in powers of concentration and in ability to comprehend and in speed class to respond quickly to the stimulus of the dictated word are all reasons why differences in progress are to be expected.

Gartside (1970:118) suggested that “if differences in progress become troublesome,. Some arrangement must be made to ensure that the faster students are not held back by the slower progress of the gifted and that the less gifted are not carried along art a faster rate than they can sustain”

It is not usual for shorthand speed classes to consist of students writing with different speed qualifications, group teaching may becomes necessary of possible especially to help the new ones.

Apart from the above problems there are other things that poses problems to secretarial students that should be looked into. Most characters in Pitman shorthand looks alike and care must be taken to make sure that the outline are represented correctly. Misrepresentation of outline poses a great difficult for students of shorthand especially during transcription for the students will  find it hard while reading back thereby being unable to transcribe.

As well, many students are slow in typing that they cannot finish the typing of the dictated passage within the allotted time for it. This may be caused by the inability of the student to spell certain words in the passage. You are advised to make sure that dictionary is always by your side whenever transcription work is being done.

Misplacement of books or paper also affects shorthand writers. Since one strokes can mean many things depending on the way it is written. If you did not place your note book well when writing you must find it difficult to read

Size of the class is another thing that poses problems especially to the teacher because of the class is so much it will not be possible to see them all and watch the way they hold their pen while writing

Some students also move their hands so often from one end of thenote book to another. If the notebook is not too wide. I do not see the need to divide it

Gartside (1970:120) in support of this stated that “ It is doubtful whether anything is gained from dividing the pages of the notebook. Any time saved in moving from the end of one line to the beginning of the next is virtually lost in the doubled frequency of the movement.

Apart from individual authors examining candidate fail through poor English, rather than poor shorthand and the inability of the students to type what they have written down in shorthand and all these are due to lack of interest and carelessness on the side of the students.


For a secretarial students to do well in shorthand he has to bear in mind that shorthand is not a last minute subject and so he has to develop interest in the course practice and memorize the logograms or short forms everyday.

Regular dictation of well written English helps to cultivate an ‘ear; for good English and at the same time extends vocabulary of the meanings of the words in the passage are discussed.

Apart from the above mentioned the secretarial students should be motivated by their teachers to enable the students work hard.

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