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What Is a Stenographer?

Stenographers transcribe spoken language into text, and they often document dialogue in courtrooms, business meetings and public events. Stenographers use a specialized type of equipment called a stenotype machine, though they may also employ other transcription methods in their work. Read on to learn about stenographers' job duties and the technology they use.

Stenographer Job Description

Stenographers, often called court reporters, create written transcripts of legal proceedings, speeches, meetings and other events where exact written documentation is required. Correct grammar and accuracy of details are essential. Stenographers may also assist judges and trial lawyers in searching for information in official public records. More recently, stenographers are providing closed-captioning in translation services for the deaf and hard of hearing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, stenographers with closed-captioning skills should stand out in the job market.

Important Facts About Stenographers

On-the-Job TrainingShort-term
Work EnvironmentCourtroom, office; some may be able to work from home
Key Skills Strong writing and listening abilities, detail-oriented, concentration
Similar OccupationsInterpreter, medical transcriptionist

Types of Technology

Stenotype Machine

The stenographic method is most commonly used to transcribe proceedings. This is accomplished through the use of a stenotype machine. Unlike a computer keyboard, the machine uses multiple keys that can be pressed at once to record combinations of letters that represents sounds, words or phrases. In a process called computer-aided transcription (CAT), the symbols created by the stenotype machine are transcribed as text. Stenographers must maintain the computer dictionary that is used to translate keystroke codes or voice files.

Electronic Reporting

A stenographer may use a method of court reporting called electronic reporting. Audio equipment is used to record court proceedings, and a stenographer monitors the process by taking notes, identifying speakers and listening to the recording to ensure that audio quality is maintained.

Voice Writing

Another method of court reporting is voice writing. The stenographer speaks directly into a hand-held mask, which contains a microphone called a voice silencer. People in the courtroom cannot hear what is being said by the stenographer. Voice writers record everything said by judges, witnesses, attorneys and other parties to the proceedings. This process also includes transcribing gestures and emotional reactions. The stenographer prepares a transcript of the court proceedings after the session is ended.

Education and Professional Requirements

Stenographers typically need to earn a certificate or an associate's degree. Programs generally include coursework in legal terminology and English grammar, though the types of technology taught vary. Learning to use a stenotype machine generally requires more training than other methods.

Graduates from a stenography or court reporting program often need to earn professional licensure or certification. Several states require individuals to hold the Registered Professional Reporter credential.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graduates from a court reporting or stenography program can expect modest employment prospects. A 3% increase in employment of court reporters is expected in the 2016-2026 decade; this is a slower than average growth rate. Stenographers who are familiar with Communication Access Real-Time Translation (CART) or other captioning methods may have more opportunities. Also per the BLS, the average salary of court reporters was $62,390 in 2018.