How Does A Court Reporter Type So Fast?


No, We Do Not Have Any Extra Fingers!

Court reporting is quite a skill. Have you ever seen the court reporters on TV or the movies? They sit there in the courtroom or around the deposition table and type away on that funky machine ...

Did you know that the court reporting professional that you see there is actually trained to take down dictation at the incredible speed of 200 words per minute?

Did you know that the court reporting professional can transcribe what you say within 98.5% accuracy?

There are a whole host of skills and studies that go into court reporting - law, medical teriminology, anatomy, English grammar, et cetera. But for the sake of this article, we will be discussing exactly how it is that a court reporting professional can type so darn fast.

The Court Reporting Machine

The secret to the court reporting machine - and the court reporting expert's speed -- is that the keys represent sounds rather than words. The court reporting professional has to learn to divorce themselves from the way words are spelled and think purely phonetically.

The court reporting machine is not your standard QWERTY keyword. There are 22, unmarked keys. The keyboard is split into halves -- one for the left fingers, one for the right fingers. And there is also a second level of keys that the thumbs rest upon.

The left-hand side of a court reporting machine contains initial phonetic sounds like the hard K sound of the word cat. The right-hand side of the court reporting machine contains final phonetic sounds like the N sound at the end of the word man.

In the middle where the thumbs rest are the vowels. There are only four vowel keys on the court reporting machine. By using various combinations of the vowel thumb keys, all of the vowel sounds in the English language are represented: long A, short A, long I, short I, ou, oo, et cetera. Click here for an interesting article about the history of the court reporting machine.

The real trick about the court reporting machine is that the court reporting professional does not care or even listen to context, meaning or spelling. The court reporting professional only listens to sounds - the way the words sound translates into finger movements on the keys.

And therein lies the path to the incredible speed that the court reporting professional attains. For example, if you were to hear the words court reporting and type them on a standard QWERTY keyboard, you would have to press a key for each letter of the word; right? C-o-u-r-t r-e-p-o-r-t-i-n-g. The word court reporting is 14 letters long plus one hit of the space bar makes 15 key presses to type court reporting.

Now it's the court reporting professional's turn. The court reporting expert only hears sounds not individual words and certainly does not care about spelling. The court reporting professional could type the first word in one keystroke combination: KORT. Then they would come back for a second combination brief: RORT. Then finally end up with the third combination to produce the ing sound : G.

That's it. The court reporting professional only takes three strokes to write court reporting while the normal QWERTY keyboard typist takes 15. That highly efficient use of sound combinations and briefs is the key to the court reporting professional's skill and the secret behind their amazing speed and accuracy.
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Todd Olivas

Todd Olivas is a court reporter and entrepreneur.
He founded TO&A in 2003.

  Comment by Linda Kendo | Friday, July 17, 2015
How interesting! I didn`t know that it worked that way. Where does one go for training in court reporting?
  Comment by Ani | Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Great read, thanks for sharing!!!

Ever since I was little I would sit and hit keys everywhere to pretend to be a court reporter!! It is amazing, I really thought they typed out each word etc. So interesting it is sounds!!!!!!!

So cool!!!!!!

  Comment by Cheryl Hill | Saturday, August 01, 2015
I thought ct rptg would be w/o vowels
  Comment by Rebecca P. | Wednesday, August 05, 2015
Very nice explanation. Court reporting has always been a mystery to me. Thank you for sharing this information.

  Comment by Sammie | Monday, August 10, 2015
Court reporting can actually be written with one stroke by the reporter: KRPGT, where RPT is report, KRPT is court report, and the additional G is `ing.` The letters are in that particular order because that`s where they reside on the stenograph machine.
  Comment by Teresa | Saturday, August 29, 2015
As a person who watches a lot of criminal court cases I always wanted to know how these machines worked. Grateful for the explanation. Now I understand how much schooling is needed for such a position.
  Comment by eleanor dinkins | Sunday, September 06, 2015
Have always been fascinated by this occupation..what i find interesting is that content is a trial,transcrript is really an interpretation of sounds filtered through the brain of the reporter...the fact they can get such accuracy amazes me because they do not really register the meaning as they hear it....has there ever been an appeal based upon a transcript inaccuracy. I am interested in learning more about this. Mi also know that we dont see them much,anymore, so,what is replacing reporters
  Comment by Joel | Tuesday, December 01, 2015
I think it`s amazing how quickly professional court reporters can type. A friend of mine works as a court reporter. I would give a lot to be able to do that. I`ll have to show her a copy of this post. Thanks for sharing!
  Comment by wendy | Sunday, February 28, 2016
I was always curious but knew I could never be one because I have a tendency for my thoughts to drift away, especially if something is boring. lol However, I do remember when I was younger and living in upstate NY, there was a situation with a new court reporter screwing up royally. It was so long ago, I forgot what happened, but that could have been me!!!
  Comment by Braden Bills | Thursday, April 21, 2016
I`ve always been curious about the guys who type on those machines during court cases. It`s insane that they can type at up to 200 words per minute! Any with 98.5% accuracy, no less. It must be a tough job! Thanks for sharing!
  Comment by Todd Olivas | Friday, April 22, 2016
Hey, everybody. Todd here. Thanks for all the comments here and on Reddit (Reddit). Clearly, court reporting is an awesome career and the skills required are fascinating. Evidence of this is that over 6,600 people in one day were interested enough in what we do to read the Reddit post and then head over here to read my article above. My Google Analytics is off the charts for this page! And I`m just glad that what we court reporters do is piquing interest with so many people!
  Comment by santosh | Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Soo good
  Comment by neal | Thursday, June 02, 2016
are you sayiing that court reporters really cant truly listen to what`s going on for content, but rather for sounds? If so, wouldn`t that make this job rather boring?
  Comment by John Carston | Friday, June 24, 2016
I knew that special reporting machines were used but I had always wondered how court reporters could type so fast. It`s interesting to know that the court reporting machine uses keys that represent sounds rather than words. I also think it`s interesting how the reporter interacts with the keys as well since it`s very different than a standard QWERTY keyboard. Thanks for the interesting article.
  Comment by Kody Loveless | Thursday, June 30, 2016
Wow that is really impressive. Learning to be a court reporter is like leaning a second language, and being able to write in it, and translate if from another voice. Typing on a whole different set up is crazy as well. It must take some real time to lean it.
  Comment by Sammy D. | Wednesday, August 24, 2016
I was in court today and in the jury box in the first row and had a clear view of how effortlessly the reporter was typing on the key board and I also had a clear view of the lap tops screen that it was connected to. It was amazing how she would quote the defense attorney and then the witness and back and forth for about 30 minutes straight and how it was spelling out the words as they were spoken. Makes you wonder how much schooling is required for this.

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