Pitman's system has a number of useful features:
- It is phonetic. Using very simple strokes of the pencil, sounds are written down and not the letters themselves.
- Vowel sounds are optional and are written with small dots, dashes or other shapes next to the main strokes. This saves time in writing when the consonants alone make clear what the word is. In the majority of cases, the consonants alone can clearly identify an English word.
- The strokes used vary in sound depending on a number of rules. It matters whether the strokes are thick or thin and whether the first stroke of a word is above, on or through the line on the paper. Halving or doubling the length of a stroke is also significant.
- The system developed a large number of "short forms". For example, the letters "th" can represent two sounds (called "unvoiced" and "voiced" th). In Pitman Shorthand they are represented by a curved stroke similar to an open bracket: ( . The thin stroke ( represents the sound of "th" as in the words "thank" and "think", and in fact the single stroke is also used as a short form for these words. The thick stroke ( represents the sound of "th" as in the words "though" and "they"/"them" and is likewise used as the short form for those words as well.