Stenography Explained

 

               

 

Shorthand is one form stenographyStenography refers to any system of writing that uses symbols or shortcuts which can be translated into letters, words, or phrases.  Though many people associate the term with machine shorthand writers, a stenographer is actually anyone who is skilled at making a record of speech using a shorthand method.  While machine shorthand is certainly a form of stenography, the pencil and paper technique called “Gregg Shorthand,” as well as the method of voice writing, are also very respected forms of stenographic methods.

The Gregg Shorthand Method

John Robert Gregg introduced his method of shorthand to America in 1893.  Though his was not the only method being used at the time, it was soon determined to be the easiest to learn.  Eventually Gregg Shorthand become the preferred method and was taught in almost every high school across the country.  Mr. Gregg’s method is based on phonetics and uses very small strokes and curved lines instead of letters.  Less than 30 years ago, the ability to write in shorthand was a required skill for almost any secretarial position, including court reporting.  Even with the proliferation of computers, there are a number of court reporters today still using the method of Gregg Shorthand.  Most are working as freelance court reporters, but some work in state courts every day with their pens or pencils and a steno pad.

The Stenotype Machine Method

Like Gregg Shorthand, the stenotype machine method of shorthand is also based on phonetics.  Created by Ward Stone Ireland in 1911, the keyboard of his Stenotype machine is made up of 22 keys that are divided into three strategic sections.  The left bank of keys represents initial consonant sounds and is controlled by the four fingers of the left hand.  The right bank of keys represents ending consonant sounds and is controlled by the four fingers of the right hand.  Four keys at the bottom of the keyboard are operated by the two thumbs and represent the vowel sounds.  

When the keys are depressed, letters are printed on a paper strip or digitally, and they appear very similar to those produced by a regular typewriter.  Because there are only 22 keys, it is reasonable for a person to conclude that some letters must not be on the keyboard.  Though each key does produce a specific letter, the single letter in itself is fairly meaningless.  The keys are intended to be stroked in combination simultaneously with other keys to produce the shorthand language.  By pressing a specific combination of keys, one line of shorthand code is produced for each spoken syllable.  A shorthand machine stenographer is trained to read the code as quickly as regular English.  Also read "Technology in Court Reporting" for further information about other tools that court reporters may use during their careers. 

Stenography can also be done with a machineFor example, the letter N itself cannot be printed by any key on the stenotype machine keyboard.  Instead, the initial consonant N is created by pressing the T, P, and H keys on the left side of the keyboard.  The final consonant N is created by pressing the P and B keys on the right side of the keyboard.  The shorthand code for the word “nun” would look like this: T P H    U PB.  Any sane person would look at this example and immediately say what every new court reporting student says during the first class meeting for stenographic theory:  “There is no way that could be faster than just typing.  That’s six letters.  It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”  You must keep in mind that those six letters are all produced simultaneously with one very fast stroke.  To type the same word “nun” on a typewriter, a typist must strike three separate letter keys in proper order, as well as hit the space bar before moving to the next word.  During that amount of time, a machine shorthand reporter would already be starting the next sentence.  

Technological developments in the stenotype machine, along with advancements in specially-designed software, have made machine shorthand the method of choice in the field of court reporting for the last couple of decades.  It is now possible for a court reporter to connect wirelessly to the laptops of the judge and the attorneys and provide realtime services instantly for a proceeding.  Though the long paper strips have been replaced with internal memory and flash drives, Mr. Ward’s keyboard of 1911 is still at the heart of machine shorthand today.


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Written by , CCR on 10/31/2012 Suzanne has been a court reporter and worked in legal communities for over 18 years. 

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