What Keyboards Do Court Reporters Use?

What Keyboards Do Court Reporters Use?

Court reporters play a vital role in legal proceedings by creating word-for-word transcriptions using specialized equipment. However, the unique keyboards court reporters use are often shrouded in mystery. This comprehensive guide will uncover everything you need to know about court reporter keyboards.

What is Court Reporting?

Court reporting is the process of documenting legal proceedings such as trials, depositions, arbitration hearings, and more using written transcripts or electronic documentation. Court reporters are highly trained transcription experts who are responsible for accurately capturing every single word spoken during a proceeding.

Court reporters produce important legal records and documents that attorneys rely on for cases and appeals. The transcripts they generate serve as the official record of a case and can be used as evidence. Given the significance of their work, court reporters must have exceptional focus, comprehension, and transcription abilities.

Why Can’t Court Reporters Use Standard Keyboards?

Court reporters cannot use standard QWERTY keyboards because they do not allow typing speeds fast enough to keep pace with normal human speech. The average person speaks at a rate between 120 to 150 words per minute. To become a certified court reporter, you need to achieve speeds of at least 200 words per minute with a minimum 97.5% accuracy – that’s over 16,000 keystrokes per hour!

Standard keyboards simply have physical limitations that prevent such speeds. Court reporters overcome this through specialized shorthand machines called stenotype machines or shorthand keyboards. Let’s take a closer look at how these unique keyboards work.

The Stenotype Machine / Shorthand Keyboard

The stenotype machine, or shorthand keyboard, is a specialized chorded keyboard that allows court reporters to press multiple keys at once to spell out words and phrases in a single stroke. This enables exceptional typing speeds surpassing human speech.

Here are some key facts about stenotype machines:

  • Only 22 keys – Unlike standard keyboards, stenotype machines have just 22 keys configured in a unique layout optimized for speed.
  • Chorded input – Multiple keys can be pressed simultaneously in chords, similar to piano keys. This spells out syllables and words rapidly.
  • Phonetic typing – Keys represent phonetic sounds instead of letters, allowing court reporters to type what they hear phonetically.
  • Specialized software – The keyboard connects to software that translates shorthand into English text and formats transcripts.

Initial consonantsRepresent starting consonant sounds like “S” or “P”
Final consonantsRepresent ending consonant sounds like “D” or “T”
VowelsRepresent vowel sounds like short E or long A
Number barTypes numerals
Table: Stenotype Machine Key Functions

By combining multiple key presses into quick chords, court reporters can capture words at speeds over 300 words per minute! It’s an exceptionally efficient system optimized specifically for court reporting transcription.

How Do Court Reporters Learn Stenotype Machines?

Learning to use a stenotype machine takes extensive training and practice. Here is a summary of the court reporter education process:

  • Stenotype theory – The foundation for all machine shorthand, mapping sounds to keys.
  • Briefs – Shorthand representations for common words and phrases.
  • Speed building – Techniques to increase typing speed without sacrificing accuracy.
  • Legal terminology – Understanding and transcribing legal vocabulary.
  • Certification – Passing a stringent skills examination to become certified.

It takes at least two years of court reporting school to learn stenotype skills. Court reporters then continue building speed and accuracy before becoming certified. It’s an impressive feat of technical expertise.

Common Stenotype Hardware for Court Reporters

While the stenotype machine itself has remained largely consistent, the hardware court reporters use has evolved considerably:

Vintage stenotype machines – Early versions printed shorthand notes onto paper tapes. However, paper tapes have been entirely phased out.

Computer-aided transcription (CAT) – Modern stenotype machines connect directly to computers running specialized software that translates shorthand notes into English automatically.

Laptops – Most court reporters today use laptops loaded with CAT software instead of standalone stenotype machines. Some models even have the stenotype keyboard integrated into the laptop itself.

Realtime software – With realtime software, transcripts can be viewed remotely as they are typed. This is invaluable for attorneys needing to review testimony as a proceeding is still underway.

By embracing technology, court reporters now leverage advanced digital tools to enhance their unique stenotype skills rather than replace them.

Why Can’t Speech Recognition Replace Court Reporters?

While speech recognition technology has improved considerably thanks to AI, it still cannot match the skills and reliability of a trained human court reporter. Here are some of the biggest challenges automated solutions struggle with:

  • Accents and dialects – Software struggles with variants like regional accents and non-native speakers.
  • Audio issues – Background noise, crosstalk, microphone problems, and poor audio quality causes errors.
  • Specialized vocabulary – Legal terminology, medical jargon, technical words, and proper names are often mistranscribed.
  • Translation skills – Software lacks the human ability to rephrase dialogue into written sentences.
  • Formatting – Software cannot reliably format transcripts, insert speaker IDs, and apply styling like court reporters do.

Without human insight and context, speech recognition solutions falter when transcription gets complex. The continued dominance of stenography underscores the irreplaceable skills court reporters contribute.

Why are Court Reporters So Important?

Court reporters play an invaluable role in legal settings by creating usable records with their unique skill set:

  • Speed – Capture testimony at over 300 words per minute with nearly perfect accuracy.
  • Clarity – Rephrase disjointed dialogue into sensible written transcripts.
  • Focus – Maintain concentration and accuracy even during long proceedings.
  • Reliability – Produce usable records that stand up to legal scrutiny.
  • Adaptability – Adjust to challenging situations like overlapping speakers, audio issues, or unusual vocabulary.
  • Efficiency – Provide instantaneous rough drafts and rapid final transcripts through realtime feeds.

Court reporters are truly masters of their complex craft. The precisely detailed transcripts they produce make them absolutely vital to the legal process.

How Can You Become a Court Reporter?

If you are interested in becoming a court reporter, here is a quick overview of the process:

1. Graduate from court reporting school – Earn your associate’s degree in court reporting. This teaches machine shorthand, legal terminology, and prepares you for certification.

**2. Pass the state certification exam ** – Prove your proficiency by passing a skills-based test proving both speed and accuracy.

3. Gain work experience – Build professional experience at courthouses, private firms, or as a broadcast captioner.

4. Consider specialty certifications – Pursue additional credentials like the Registered Professional Reporter (RPR) certification.

Court reporting offers an exciting and rewarding career combining technology, legal expertise, and writing skills. With demand for qualified court reporters continuing to expand, it’s also a stable profession.


Court reporters use incredible expertise and specialized equipment to document legal proceedings with exceptional speed and accuracy. Stenotype machines enable a unique shorthand typing method that allows capturing speech faster than typing conventional text. By coordinating multiple key presses into quick chords representing phonetic syllables, court reporters can keep pace even with rapid dialogue. It’s an invaluable skill powered by one-of-a-kind keyboards.

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