What is Stenography?

Stenography is the process of converting language into a written shorthand. This shorthand allows for words to be compressed into a more condensed form. It is a common practice utilized in secretarial careers as well as with journalism and court reporting.


The first shorthand machine, which would later grow into what is today called the stenotype maching, was invented in 1830 by the German Karl Drais. Drais had previously invented the first typewriter using a keyboard. The most direct predecessor to today’s stenotype machine was invented by the American Ward Stone Ireland in 1913.

The stenographic machine is comprised of 22 keys which are in positions unlike with the modern keyboard. When in use, there is no one-to-one character correspondence as with the computer keyboard. Instead, multiple characters are pressed at once in order to condense and quicken the transcription process. One syllable or more results from a single simultaneous keystroke. It is something like playing chords on musical instruments. Additionally, the coding scheme utilized in stenography is based on pronunciation rather than spelling. A modern improvement or variation of Ireland’s machine is the computer-based translation that now occurs simultaneously. Previously, stenographers would have to go back and painstakingly edit their inputs. Now, little editing is required as computer software does the work. This technology is referred to as CAT (computer-aided transcription).


Stenography is common in settings such as the courtroom where one acts as a court reporter. Here, court reporters are expected to record all the dialogue that transpires in a timely and efficient manner. To do so, not only is it necessary to be intimately familiar with the stenotype machine, but a familiarity with legal lingo is also needed. Stenographers need to follow a code of ethics that any individual attending court is expected to.

There are other places where stenography is practiced outside of the courtroom as well. Wherever services are needed for the deaf and hard of hearing, you might find a stenographer. CAT is an invaluable tool in these contexts, allowing for real time translation for people who need it. Stenography is also commonly used for the closed captioning of television programming.

How to Become a Stenographer

In order to become a professional stenographer, you need to undergo specific training. This usually involves attending an accredited college or technical school. Here you will learn more about stenography and stenographic equipment. You will grasp the basics of the process and work to increase your typing speeds. It is important that you reach a speed of at least 225 words per minute as this is a requirement of the NCRA (National Court Reporters Association) as well as the United States Government. The NCRA provides a listing of accredited school that offer programs in court reporting.

Once you receive training in stenography, there are some certifications that you can take that will aid in your credibility when looking for a job. For example, the NCRA offers an entry level certification called registered professional reporter (RPR) if one passes a 4-part examination and attends continuing education classes.

The Life of a Stenographers

There are pros and cons to having a career in Stenography. You need to weigh these factors in before committing to pursuing a career in the field.

Stenographers work in a fast-paced environment. They are held to high standards and, particularly in the court room setting, accuracy is a must. For this reason, the life of a stenographer can be a relatively stressful job. Additionally, stenographers often sit in the same position for long periods of time. This can eventually result in back and neck pain or injuries. These can be mitigated somewhat by stretching and paying attention to posture and alignment.

Stenographers do provide a useful service to people. It may be a highly rewarding career, particularly if you are interested in the field in which you work. If court cases and legal proceedings really excite you, it would probably be a great career choice. If you are comfortable around keyboards and typing is like second nature for you, it also might be a great choice. If you are providing stenography services for the deaf and hard of hearing, you can also feel great about what you are doing. You are providing a service to people who might otherwise not have access to the information you are sharing.

Stenographers salaries vary depending on a variety of factors including experience level, certification, training and geographical location. The median salary in 2008 was $49,710. Particularly if you are working in the courtroom setting, you will probably work traditional hours. If you are working as a free-lance stenographer, you may work odd hours and weekends. Now is a great time to get into the field of stenography as job opportunities should abound. There is expected to be an 18 percent increase in job growth. This, coupled with less people currently getting into the field make this a highly attractive option.