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Note-taking techniques IV: Use abbreviations and/or shorthand

When I was a child, I learned Pittman and Gregg shorthand because my grandfather taught me about them. He learned Gregg shorthand in secretarial/administrative assistant school, and I learned both Pittman and Gregg when I took a class (I was in grade 7 but this was not part of the school’s curriculum, so I had to take it outside of my campus). I knew that shorthand would be useful to me as an employable or hireable skill, but I never imagined it would also be helpful to my scholarly life down the road.


Photo credit: Christopher Newsom on Flickr. Creative-Commons Licensed Attribution-Non Commercial.

Note-taking - arrows and abbreviationsWhile I don’t usually insert Gregg shorthand symbols into my notes anymore (for fear of not being able to understand them down the road), I do sometimes when I am pressed for time and I need to capture ideas from a workshop or a conference. Nevertheless, I DO use abbreviations and I strongly encourage my students and research assistants to use them as well. I usually abbreviate “with” (w/), “because” (b/c), and I also use arrows and superscripts to indicate where I ran out of space and I need to make a note (like a footnote if you will, but on paper, and by hand). I’m a chemical engineer originally so I also use delta (the greek letter) as a symbol for “increase”, and the mathematical notation for “which is demonstrated”. I use arrows to indicate “therefore” but also “causes”, which sometimes becomes a bit confusing, I know.

I strongly believe that every student/scholar/practitioner should adopt whichever abbreviations and/or shorthand techniques they want to or need to, but I am hopeful these posts will be of use for their practice.


  • Handout with a few common abbreviations.
  • This post by the Learning Center of the University of North Dakota is golden.
  • This one from the University of Redlands also offers additional abbreviations that might be useful.
  • This blog post from the University of South Australia offers a few more insightful abbreviations.

You may be interested in my other posts on taking notes, which you can access by clicking on this link.

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