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What is Stenography?

What is Stenography? on

Everything you ever wanted to know about stenography

Stenography is an important, but often overlooked, part of our legal system. Little is known about it, beyond noticing someone in the courtroom who is typing away on a little machine. We thought it might be helpful to explain about the history of the practice and the role played by stenographers today.

What is stenography?

Stenography is the act of recording spoken words through shorthand using a stenotype machine. A number of different shorthand systems have been used over the last couple centuries.

How does shorthand work?

According to, “Depending on the language, a shorthand system may rely on symbols, which represent specific sounds, concepts, or letters, or it may rely on letters that have specific meanings. Some shorthand systems are even specially coded for a specific organization or company, thereby keeping sensitive information safe from outsiders.”

What role does the stenographer play in a trial or hearing?

The job of a stenographer is to attend trials, hearings, depositions or any legal proceeding relating to a case, and record (or transcribe) everything that happens to create a public record. That record is vital in order to protect both the court and the litigants. Stenographers are appointed “officers of the court” and not under the control of either attorney.

“The notes must comply with provisions requiring the stenographer to prepare and sign a certificate stating that the proceedings, evidence, and charges levied against the defendant were fully and accurately taken at the trial and that the transcript represents an accurate translation of the notes.”

When was the stenography machine invented?

Miles Bartholomew invented the first shorthand machine in 1877. He is considered the “Father of the Stenograph.” Bartholomew’s machine was still being used in courtrooms up until 1937. A later model called “The Secretarial Model shorthand machine” was the first to trademark the name Stenograph. In the 1960s, stenographs were first connected to computers, which began the era of “real-time” court reporting.

Why does the machine look that way?

If you’ve ever looked closely at a stenography machine, you’ve probably noticed that it looks a little strange. It’s smaller than a typewriter and seems to be missing some keys.

A standard stenotype machine has only 22 keys that are used to create coded numbers, phrases, words, and sounds. There are universal symbols/codes used, but some stenographers also develop their own “language” of coded letter combinations.

How fast can a stenographer type?

If you thought the lack of keys might slow a person down, think again. Experienced stenographers can “type” up to 300 words per minute. “Because the stenotype machine has just 22 keys, the stenographer often hits multiple keys at once. This process, which is called chording, may appear to be downright jumbled to an ordinary observer, but to the stenographer it makes perfect sense.”

How are the court reports generated?

Traditionally, reports have been printed out directly from the stenography machine and then transcribed later. However, modern machines often use internal memory storage like a flash drive. The report is then downloaded onto a computer and special programs generate a readable transcript. The machine might also be connected directly to a laptop to create a real-time transcript.

Do stenographers ever work outside of a courtroom?

Yes, they can. Stenographers often work for private businesses, recording important meetings or events where a public record is needed. Closed captioning services for the hearing impaired is another area where stenography skills are increasingly being used. The service might be done for both live and recorded TV shows or events.

At Boss Certified Realtime Reporting, we’ve been providing nationwide court reporting services for trials, depositions, mediations and more since 1995. If you’d like help or more information, you can call us at 954 467 6867 or complete our contact form to let us know how we can assist you.