A court reporter, also referred to as a stenographer, shorthand reporter, real-time reporter, or captioner, graduates from a comprehensive post-secondary court reporting college with writing speeds of 225 words per minute or higher. Typically, court reporting programs are two to three years in duration. A court reporter is trained on a stenotype machine using computer-aided transcription referred to as CAT. The average human speaks at about 180 words per minute; however, when you add multiple speakers at once, spoken words per minute can exceed 300 in lightning fast bursts. Training to be a court reporter and learning to write on a steno machine is like learning a new language.
The court reporter is trained to capture the spoken word into a phonetic code onto a stenotype machine with each line of characters representing a sound or syllable. The steno machine is an extremely complex computer with a hypersensitive keyboard consisting of 22 blank keys and a long blank number bar. The spoken English language is then broken down into combinations of sounds and phrases that the court reporter will capture using keystrokes consisting of thousands of combinations of these blank keys. Keystroke combinations that correspond to sounds of the spoken English are taught and the reporter must memorize thousands of keystroke combinations that represent frequently used phrasing in the English language, as well as thousands of brief keystrokes used for commonly used words and complicated medical and industry terms.
Learning the steno machine and mastering the language is half of the technology used by a court reporter to produce accurate and immediate transcripts. The second half of court reporting technology is computer-aided transcription (CAT) software. Like our machines themselves, CAT software is extremely sophisticated, very expensive, and requires separate training for a court reporter to truly become comfortable with and proficient in all of its functions and capabilities.
CAT software is loaded onto a laptop, and that laptop will be communicating with the court reporting machine either through USB or wireless, and will be translating the keystrokes of machine shorthand into written English on the laptop screen in real time. It is not just a multitude of words showing up on the screen in little or no format, like a Word document. CAT software translates into an immediate transcript format with specific spacing, line numbers, timestamping, margins, and automatic punctuation at the end of questions and answers.
What is actually happening is the court reporter is instantaneously translating spoken English into machine shorthand in the form of quick keystrokes on the court reporting machine, and then the CAT software is translating those complicated keystrokes of machine shorthand into written English on a screen. There is virtually no delay in the time someone speaks and when the written words show up on the screen. These two levels of translation happen that fast and are incredibly accurate.
The next function of the court reporter’s job is to ensure a verbatim, accurate transcript is produced by listening to the digital audio at the same time as reviewing the translated text, proofreading the entire transcript, and correcting errors or inconsistencies. The completed transcript is provided to the client in a format requested which can be Word, PDF, ASCII, through paper delivery or electronic.
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