Steno Machine Basics

Court reports and captioners turn what they hear into word-for-word text, and Certified Shorthand Reporters (CSR) can do this at 225 word per minute.   To do this, they use a specialized machine called a stenograph.  Unlike a typical QWERTY keyboard on a computer, a stenograph has only 22 keys.  As you see below, not all letters are are on the keyboard and some appear twice.

How are words typed on a Stenograph?
Most words are typed phonetically, or how they sound, instead of how they are spelled.  Only when two or more words sound the same (e.g., to, too, and two), are different "spellings" used on a stenograph.

The left hand spells out the beginning syllable sound (to the left of the "*" key), the thumbs spell out the vowel sound (left thumb for A and O & right thumb for E and U), and the right hand spells out the ending syllable sound (to the right of the "*" key).  Dividing the keyboard at the "*" key, the left side of the keyboard is called the "initial side" and the right side of the keyboard is called the "final side"

For example:
Cat = KAT = K(left side) A (left thumb) T (right side)

How are sounds (or letters) spelled if there is not a key?
If the sound or letter does not appear on the initial or final side, then multiple keys are pressed at the same time to create that sound or letter.  For example:

initial M = initial P + initial H
initial B = initial P + initial W
final N = final P + final B

How do court reporters achieve typing speeds of 225 Word per Minute (WPM)?
The answer is several ways:
1. Practice.  Just like practice on a standard QWERTY keyboard can increase your speed from 20 WPM to 60 WPM, practice will improve your speed on a stenograph.
2. The keys on the stenograph are pressed AT THE SAME TIME to write the syllables of the word instead of each letter.  For example the word "keyboard" is written in two strokes: one stroke for the syllable "key" and one stroke for the syllable "board".
3. They use "briefs" or abbreviations for words or entire phrases.  For example, the word "the" is a single stroke of final T and the phrase "are you" is initial R plus vowel U (pressed at the same time).