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 terminology, 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 1, 2015
I thought ct rptg would be w/o vowels
  Comment by Rebecca P. | Wednesday, August 5, 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 6, 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 1, 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 2, 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.
  Comment by Elizabeth Welch-Evert | Saturday, October 29, 2016
I studied bilingual English/Spanish manual Stenography in High School, and I had to learn the
shorthand symbols by memory. But now that the machines can make it so easily, I am more eager to become a court reporter, because I now understand the purpose of those symbols which I had to memorize and practice daily taking dictation in my shorthand class. I had to be fast too!
Speed was a requirement in order to get a job
in a law office or court room.

  Comment by Tommy | Saturday, December 31, 2016
that is interesting. I have alway thought about how they could type 200+ woods per minute. now I know, yes yes yes!!!
  Comment by Chris | Friday, March 24, 2017
I came here cause im watching the Oj simpson trial on you tube and judge ito tells Cochrane it would be nice if he could spell a certain name amd it would be nice for the court reporter So that`s weird right
  Comment by Kevin | Friday, June 9, 2017
Years ago in high school, I took a course in Gregg shorthand (a system invented in 1888!). It, too, is based on sounds and combines many short forms for words. I was able to work up to a sustained speed of 160 wpm with 98% accuracy in my subsequently typed transcripts. It came in handy in college (had the BEST notes) and I still use it to this day. It also helped that my typing speed was 140 wpm (probably faster now on computers without the need for bars to physically strike ribbon then paper). During recent service on jury duty for a murder trial, it was fascinating to watch on the screen the output of the court reporter`s work—from simple sounds going into her head, fully spelled out words completely formatted were just flowing onto the screen!
  Comment by Quinten | Thursday, August 24, 2017
So this is why court reporters don`t know how to spell!
  Comment by Al Z | Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Excellent post.....l learned a great deal....
  Comment by Amanda Drew | Wednesday, September 13, 2017
That`s really interesting that court reporters only listen to the sounds rather than the spelling, the context, or the meaning. That would really work well. It sounds like they are really able to make sure that they report what people say accurately as far as phonetics know. A good court reporter will be very important for any case.
  Comment by andrea rubin | Monday, September 18, 2017
I`ve been a court reporter for over 40 years. I don`t work in a courtroom. I work for private attorneys or law firms. I go a different place every day, sometimes two depositions a day. Often I work in attorneys` offices, also medical offices, hospitals, morgues, boardrooms, private homes (deathbed statements). Traffic accident depositions are boring, but lately I`ve been doing many medical malpractice cases so those are generally interesting. I`ve sat in on plenty of juicy divorces as well. I often see grown men cry. I see attorneys have hissy fits and storm out of the proceedings. I get to hear deep dark secrets from people who are sworn to tell the truth. It can be stressful, there are difficult (mumblers, foreign accents, etc.) witnesses and often the job is needed in an almost impossible time frame. Also, when I`m writing an easy job, my mind can be elsewhere. While I`m writing verbatim, my mind is thinking... let`s see.. do we need any onions? anyways, any questions, feel free to ask at
  Comment by Tammy | Friday, February 2, 2018
I am not sure how I got on this site but I am glad I did. It was my dream to be a court reporter after high school. I took shorthand in high school and went to my local community college (1978) and majored in Court Reporting. My very first semester, on the very first day of class, the teacher said, Only a few of you will actually complete this course. What a boost of confidence that was. Unfortunately, I was one of the students that did not complete the course. I had cut open my hand and was not able to continue and lost my momentum. I so regret that I did not stay in the course after my hand healed. I still have my book! It is such an art form and anyone that does this for a living is truly talented. I can appreciate all of the hard work to get to that point in one`s career. To anyone thinking about this for a career, please follow your dream, work hard and it will all be worth it. Good Luck!
  Comment by Brian White | Sunday, April 1, 2018
I`ve suddenly become obsessed with stenographers` skills and have even thought about buying a machine just to experiment and hopefully crack it! Can you tell me please, how, when recording one or voices as in a courtroom environment, how this stenographer `delineates` on the machine between one vocal input and another; and in the case of a few seconds of both parties talking a the same time, which can often happen, how that is handled?
  Comment by Brian White | Sunday, April 1, 2018
I forgot to thank you in advance for if you`re kind enough to reply - and having just read through my questions, apologize for the typos!! Kind regards and I`m so pleased I happened to stumble across your Google entry, it`s absolutely fascinating.
  Comment by Brian White | Sunday, April 1, 2018
Andrea Rubin`s post made me laugh out loud - `Do I we need any onions?` How I envy her abilities, her profession, and the sheer job satisfaction which she so obviously has. Now - did I make any typos?? lol
  Comment by Ali Rion | Tuesday, April 17, 2018
I was wondering if there were any stenotype for computer use when taking notes or reporting?
  Comment by Ali Rion | Tuesday, April 17, 2018
I was wondering if there were any stenotype for computer use when taking notes or reporting?
  Comment by Pam | Thursday, July 5, 2018
In HS I took shorthand two years. It was fun. I know I forgot most of it but it’s the same thing. Only write what you hear. I’m 62 now would be just fun to learn the court reporting thing.
  Comment by MickeyMike | Wednesday, September 12, 2018
I allways regretted not taking typing school in High School but totally regret it! But how was I to foresee everyone could have a great advantage in the future do to our computerized society thinking I was never going to be a secretary! Well I aced all my industrial arts classes never receiving a cirtification promised from my school and retired early, ( semi retired because of good investments) but totally admired my cousin for making a fortune in Court Reporting! South a entertaining job in wich I believe she was so good cuz she learned from her mother (speed typist Sec) and played piano all her life. & a very limited profession!
  Comment by Jacqueline Arnold | Tuesday, October 16, 2018
I worked for my local Magistrates Court some years ago and I used to take depositions in Court, but I used a typewriter. That was difficult enough, so I can imagine how hard it must be to train to be a Court Reporter.
  Comment by Marie | Monday, August 12, 2019
Hello. Interesting article--thank you for sharing!

The word terminology has been misspelled. See sentence copied/pasted from your article below.

There are a whole host of skills and studies that go into court reporting - law, medical teriminology,....

  Comment by Dennis Sanchez | Monday, October 14, 2019
I appreciate you helping me to understand that court reporters can type so quickly because they are trained to work at high speeds. I imagine they need to go fast because of how much happens during a court session. It would be interesting to learn more about how they train to become so fast.
  Comment by Jessie Holloway | Friday, July 1, 2022
I had no idea that court reporters type based on sound rather than word spelling. I`ve been wanting to learn more about how the job works since my sister went to court as a witness. Knowing that they type words on entirely different rules than we do explains how they can write as fast as a person speaks.

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