Top 5 Ways to Practise Shorthand

February 10, 2011

When it comes to mastering shorthand there is little you can do but practice, practice and more practice. Unfortunately there is no other way of doing it. There are plenty of shorthand dictation tapes out there on the web, or from your course centre for you to pass. You should be practising for at least an hour a day if you want to get your 100wpm. However, there isn’t an endless supply of dictation and the passages can become familiar after a while. It is always nice to try something different to spice up your shorthand relationship, so why not try these five on for size?

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Shorthand to the beat

It is possible to take down teeline to a song and it can be a novel way to change up your practice routine. Try and pick songs that have clear lyrics and a tempo that isn’t too fast for your shorthand speed. Not only will it help your shorthand but transcribing the words back will help you learn them for your next karaoke trip as well.

While watching T.V

Finding time and motivation to churn out an hours worth of shorthand practice can be difficult at times. But as all you need is a pen and paper sometimes it is nice to encorportate it into other activities like watching T.V (or listening to music). Taking down teeline to the news, or a chat show can be good practice at the faster speeds. Even if you are only at 60wpm trying to keep up for 30 seconds is still good practice.

On the move

If you take the train or the bus anywhere and you have left your Ipod at home, don’t worry. You can still practise your shorthand. Take down what you hear and try and get it back, it could be a mobile phone conversation or the radio on the bus (not sure if the bus plays the radio, to be honest) but it all helps towards that 100wpm.

Ask a friend to read to you

Probably the most unlikely of the five to happen on a regular basis. But if your flatmate or partner is around with nothing to do, asking them to read at a certain pace is a good way to break things up. If only to get you away from the usual shorthand passages and voices.


OK so it’s really a top 4 but it cannot be avoided. Your shorthand dictation passages provide the best way of practising your shorthand and getting up to speed. The above methods are good ways of getting away from the dictation when they become monotonus or familiar but the passages should never be kicked to the curb. Take a break from them to try something different, but keep them close at hand, they really will help you pass.

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Top 5 NCTJ Textbooks

January 20, 2011

You can’t remember everything and sometimes you need to look stuff up. That’s what are books are for anyway and the NCTJ course is no different in requiring their students to own certain textbooks. Each course will be different but you can’t go wrong with the below:

Your Own Notes

It’s important to take notes in the classes. Do not rely on the textbooks alone or the handouts you are given in class. When it comes to cramming revision for Law and PA you are likely to understand the meaning of your own notes a lot quicker than relying on long passages in books.

McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists

The only book you will need for the law classes. It explains every part of media law in simple terms and also includes very handy examples, the knowledge of which will score you extra marks in your exam. At the end of each chapter there is a recap of the major points in bullet point form to aid revision as well.

Public Affairs for Journalists

Again this is the only book you will need for any PA class. In contrast to McNae’s though, do not rely on it for examples. Always keep up to date with government news as things happen every day which can be related to your PA class. The examples in the book are by no means terrible but they focus on Blair and Brown’s Labour government. For more marks in the exam you want to keep your examples as relevant as possible. Again the end of each chapter is useful for revision with further reading, review questions and online resources all offered.

Teeline Fast

This book by Ann Dix was preferred by my course in Wimbledon but there are other options available such as NCTJ Teeline Gold Standard for Journalists. Teeline Fast, however, is compact and concise and used in combination with your lessons will really help to get you through the theory of why you write shorthand the way you do.

Essential Reporting: The NCTJ Guide for Trainee Journalists

Not one that I used during my time but seeing as the NCTJ has changed slightly and now has a whole module called Reporting, I’ll wager that this would be one of the key texts for that subject. It looks at everything from how a newsroom works to handling sound, pictures and the web and with more of a focus on web reporting in the NCTJ these days, this book looks a good bet.

At the end of the course, although you will be very tempted, don’t burn your books in celebration. Keep them, they not only serve a purpose while you are studying but they can be handy reference material when you work into your first job and need to report on a rape case in court.

A list of the books mentioned, and others can be found on Amazon here

Top 5 Tips to Compiling Your NCTJ Portfolio

September 30, 2010

Your portfolio can be a very important tool in your armoury when trying to find a job. It can show off your skill not only to write, but to get published as well. As part of the NCTJ pre-entry exams a portfolio is one of the required elements. It can often be left to the last minute as you scramble to get a pass in all the other sections of the course, but hopefully with these tips it doesn’t have to.

Keep All Originals

Your portfolio not only consists of published articles. It also needs to be accompanied by the original piece (so the marker can see how much editing it needed) and a brief explanation on how you found the story.  Keeping track of these articles can really save time when it comes to deadline day, as you will have to rewrite the stories if you lose them. Set up an email account dedicated to portfolio articles and email yourself the documents as you write them.

Track Down the Published Articles

It is likely that most of the articles for your portfolio will come from your time on work experience. When you submit a piece, make sure you find out where and when it will be published and get a copy of it when it comes out. Without it, you could lose out on a good story and give yourself more work to do.

Write Your Feature Early

You will need to complete ten news stories and one feature for the ‘folio. The feature is not only the longest article but also the only thing you won’t have learnt how to write during the course. If you can get your feature written early on you will give yourself a lot more time at the end of the course to concentrate on other aspects.

Mix It Up

If you are interested in sport, for example, resist the urge to fill your ‘folio pages with match reports and sports stories. The NCTJ like diversity in stories and look at sports matches as an event staged for you rather than a news story you have unearthed. Stories on your favoured topic aren’t a bad thing by any means but do try to mix up your articles.

Ask For Help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your tutors. You are not expected to know how to compile a portfolio and it can be a confusing time, especially trying to pick which stories to use. Your tutors have seen this all before and will be more than happy to guide you through. Asking for help can make your portfolio life a lot easier and more effective.

Picture Credit: br3akthru

Top 5 Tips While on Work Experience

September 17, 2010

Work experience can be a daunting prospect, especially if it is your first one. But it is something that can really work in your favour if you play it the right way. Here are some tips.

Prior Contact

This is the best way to make sure your work experience isn’t spent making tea. If you blog, send them the link. If you do an exercise in class, email it to them. A little reminder every once in a while lets your future work mates know that you are a capable writer. They will be more likely to give you some writing tasks earlier on in your experience and it shows that you are eager.

Don’t Be Afraid to Talk

Contributing to ideas and discussions shows confidence and reflects well on you during work experience. Showing that you aren’t afraid to speak up by contributing to an article or feature will help to leave a longer impression with the people you are working with.

Always Keep Yourself Busy

If you are on Facebook with nothing to do during work experience you are missing the point. Always make sure you have enough to be getting on with. If you don’t have anything to do, ask. Chances are the staff will be happy for you to take some of the workload off their hands. The more you do the more cuttings you get. It’s a win-win situation.

Remain Enthusiastic

We all want to write, that’s why we want to be journalists. Sometimes on work experience the opportunities to do so can be few and far between. There could be times when you are asked to do vox-pops, other writers’ research or fact collecting when all you really want to do is write. If you can remain enthusiastic throughout, eventually a chance will come. Just make sure you take it.

Stay in Contact

This is possibly the most important aspect. Staying in contact and building relationships is a fundamental part of journalism. If you keep in contact with the publication after your time there you keep yourself in the memory of the editor and the staff. Further work experience, freelance work or a full time job can come from just staying in contact.

Top 5 Places You May Not Have Looked for a Journalism Job

September 14, 2010

When you are looking for a journalism job on a daily basis then it can be very easy to slip into a daily routine, looking in the same old places. Here is a list that may just freshen up that routine:


There is a certain amount of filtering needed with Gumtree, and some adverts give you next to no information but the odd gem can be found if you persist with it.

Magazine/Newspaper Publishers

Typing the above into Google can bring up some very handy lists of publishers that sometimes only advertise their vacancies in house rather than using sites like Gorkana.


The social networking site is becoming increasingly known for its employing power. Try the Marketplace section of the site to see if anyone is hiring.

Fleet Street Blues

This one may not be the world’s biggest secret but if you really want to know what a job is offering, in between the lines, then you can bet the guys at Fleet Street Blues will tell you.

Recruitment Agency Sites

Places like ReedTotalJobs and the like aren’t the most obvious places to look for a journalism job. But they do list them and if you don’t look then you don’t know.

Do you know of any others? Please feel free to comment and add them to the list.

5 Things You Need to Know to Pass News Writing

September 12, 2010

While I am not a journalism lecturer, I have been taught very well and passed the NCTJ’s news writing exam as a result. So if any of you are about to embark on an NCTJ course and want some tips to put you ahead of the game then look no further.

Manage Your Time

This wouldn’t be an exam if it wasn’t tough and the NCTJ give you a lot to get through in your two hours. But there isn’t anything that can’t be managed. There are four questions to answer and it is all made much easier if manage your time. If you can spent just enough time on each question to do a thorough job and still leave time to check your work at the end then you will be in good stead. My lecturer used to say “those who spend time reading at the end will do better than those who are writing.” This is the best advice I was ever given and just so happens to lead in nicely to point two.

Check, Check and Check Again

One spelling mistake of a name or fact given to you in the question can end your entire exam before it has even begun. Checking your work at the end of the paper can really be the difference between a pass and a fail. The NCTJ will deliberately try to trip you up with tricky names that are oddly spelt. Check them once, check them twice because if it’s wrong it’s a fail.

Stick to the Script

There will be times when the grind of practice questions and papers will become monotonous but it would be dangerous to try and take some creative license. The NCTJ like their news to be written in a certain way and, as they mark your paper, it would be wise to give them what they want. It may sound obvious but being able to write to a desired style is a very valuable skill to have.

Take Lots of Pens

Not to write your exam with but to annotate your question paper. In the questions you are given you are going to need to know the line to the story, the newsworthy pieces of info you want high up, your key quotes and all the facts that flesh out the piece. That’s a lot of stuff to remember and if they aren’t marked out in a different colour (or symbol) then it’s easy to miss something that the markers are looking for you to include.

Stay Calm

The NCTJ don’t want you to fail and your tutors don’t want you to fail. You will have had a lot of practise in writing the news before you sit the exam and it is a very passable test if you just stay calm and tick all the boxes. Deep breaths, a relaxed mind and a calm approach will do you the world of good.

Well I hope these tips help as they certainly treated me well during the exam. Check back soon for more updates and NCTJ and Beyond.

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