What is steno?


What is steno?  What is stenography?  What’s a stenographer?  How does a person type fast enough to keep up with what someone says word for word in real time?  How fast can someone type?  What is that weird little machine that stenographers use to type?

If you don’t know what stenography is all about, this is your chance to find out! 🙂

Diamante steno machine

Steno machine

 steno key placement

An entire word (and even a phrase) can be written out on this shorthand machine in one or two strokes.
So instead of using the QWERTY keyboard and writing the word “hello” by pressing 5 individual keys (h-e-l-l-o), this same word can be written out in just two strokes in steno: /HEL/OE
It’s all about phonetics and pressing certain keys down together simultaneously to make a word. It’s like playing a piano except with words!

 Steno hand finger placement

Each finger and thumb is responsible for hitting either one or two keys at a time

Steno:  Using a shorthand machine to phonetically “type” (we actually call it “write”) what people say word for word.

1 )  Certified court reporters use a steno machine to transcribe every word that is said during an examination for discovery, deposition, arbitration, live trial, and hearing to later prepare into a transcript.  Transcripts are used to argue a case for lawsuits and other legal proceedings.  Court reporters can write (we don’t call it “typing”) up to 225 words per minute at 97% accuracy.


Me on my steno machine in Hong Kong

 court reporting

My setup at a typical job

2 )  Stenography is also used for live captioning for accessibility purposes and anyone who wants to read the subtitles when watching a TV show or movie or video.  Those live captions that you see on TV? (that people tend to make fun of about being inaccurate because a word or two is misspelled?)  The captions are actually really accurate; 98% accurate most the time (that’s only two errors per every 100 words spoken).  Most people tend to get caught up on the funny mistakes only.

The captioner uses a steno machine to write these words to be posted on your screen (no, it’s not a robot that does it and AI/voice recognition software will never get that good anyway).

 steno captioning from home
Captioning TV program from the comfort of your own home(Photo from https://asraonline.com/)

3 )  Deaf or hard-of-hearing students may need the assistance of a stenographer (CART provider) to help them succeed in school by providing instant transcription of what is being said in a classroom or meeting.  Fun fact:  Some stenographers who CART for an entire course sometimes receive an honourary degree for doing so!

CART provider
A CART provider helps provide instant captions for those in a classroom setting(Photo from https://www.deafinc.org/cart.html)

steno CART provider
A CART provider in a classroom setting(Photo from https://dcmp.org/learn/270-working-together-for-families-and-schools-pepnet-and-the-dcmp)

To say the least, stenographers are VERY important people.  It’s necessary that more people become educated about this field and what this amazing keyboard can do.

Learning how to steno professionally (it takes 2 to 4+ years to get up to speed) can give you unlimited potential to work anywhere in the world and make a six-figure income.

So how is it done?

 How is steno done

How is steno done

This short video below shows Stan, a talented stenographer, explaining how steno and shorthand is done.

Here’s a 4-minute video that briefly explains how a steno machine is used in the courtrooms:

A 81-second video that explains how a steno machine is different from a regular QWERTY keyboard:

Try your hand at typing steno using your computer keyboard with this cool interactive website to see what it feels like to be a stenographer. 

For anyone who wants to learn how to steno (type faster than a QWERTY keyboard) for fun in a non-professional setting, you can do so by purchasing a simple steno keyboard that you can connect to your computer (without the bells and whistles of a professional steno machine).  Visit openstenoproject.org or Google “Plover steno” for more details.

Georgi steno machine

The Georgi steno machine

Otherwise, if you want to become a professional stenographer and get a job as a court reporter, live captioner, or CART provider, you can attend the course at NAIT in Alberta, Canada (apparently one of the best steno schools in North America) or one of the many schools in the states.  There are also many online schools in the USA that you can attend to become certified.

For fun, you can also read about a few of my early steno experiences below: 

 lit-up steno machine

A fancy lit-up steno machine

Transparent steno machine

Transparent steno machine

 court reporting

Another day, another boardroom, another adventure

Since I started steno, I have been working as a freelance stenographer in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  You can read about some of my steno work ramblings here.

Thanks for visiting! 🙂

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at stenoodie@gmail.com or comment below!  I love talking about steno!  I can talk about it all day if someone was interested enough.

72 Responses to What is steno?

  1. Fantastic article – can I share this information on my blog on subtitles?

  2. Jazzman says:

    AWESOME blog!!!

  3. So informative! This is one of the coolest this we’ve learnt this week – Thank you!!!

    • stenoodie says:

      Woohoo! Thanks again for dropping by and browsing through my blog! Stenography is really such an amazing career path that lets you learn so much while on the job. So many people don’t know what it is that I just hope this page is informative enough to shed some light on the topic. Feel free to chat with your friends about it too!


  4. andy1076 says:

    I always wondered how someone could transcribe so quickly in court, I’m not sure I could get used to this though lol

    • stenoodie says:

      You know what, like with everything in life, it just takes practice. I started studying it in 2008 and it’s been… 6 years now (wow, even I didn’t realize that). Although I’m still learning and building my speed to this day, my response to steno has become so automatic that my fingers just write when I hear the words. You could become used to it too if you are serious about learning it. 🙂

      • andy1076 says:

        6 years! that’s quite the long time to be learning it. A silly question if I may? why not the regular keyboards? Or are those not accurate enough in hearings? 🙂

      • stenoodie says:

        Well, it takes 6 months to learn the shorthand theory and then at least another 2 years to build up speed. The rest of the time is to perfect the writing. Think of it like a piano player — they are never done practicing. 🙂

        The regular keyboards are simply not fast enough to keep up with the speed at which people talk! On this steno keyboard, we ‘write’ phonetically what is being said. In one “stroke”, we can write out an entire word or phrase whereas on the QWERTY keyboard, one stroke only is one letter of a word. That’s how we can keep up with speakers of 225 wpm and higher! It’s all about being fast enough to stay on top of what everyone says to provide an accurate transcript. 🙂

      • andy1076 says:

        225 wpm, Wow. I go at 180 but that’s only because I’ve been typing on the old school keyboards since I was 8 or so. :O

      • stenoodie says:

        Hey, wow, 180 on the QWERTY keyboard is actually incredibly impressive. Way to go! But yep, we have to hold high standards if we are to take down the record lol. We need to make sure there is accuracy and speed at all times! 🙂

      • andy1076 says:

        What’s the record at now? is it 200+? the goal you’ve set? mmmm..come to think of it, what would be the ultimate prize if you break the record for fastest? 😀

      • stenoodie says:

        Haha, the world record is actually at 360 wpm! It’s held by a very respected man who can steno amazingly well! I’ll be happy if I can get to 250 wpm in the next five years. 🙂 The ultimate prize would be to gain lots and lots of respect all around the world, especially from those that steno. 🙂

      • andy1076 says:

        I’m very confident that you’ll go well beyond 250, you have passion and that alone will get you there 🙂

      • stenoodie says:

        Haha, thank you very much. I appreciate that. 🙂

  5. I have ALWAYS wondered what the difference was between a normal typewriter and a stenograph! One of those question that just sat in the head but never got Googled. I shall watch the vid. 🙂

  6. sckeane1977 says:

    so very fascinating I will have to check out the clips and referenced content with children at my early learning centre they are so amazed my the computer and type writer getting their minds and ideas around another literacy tool with a specific purpose and job will amaze them too I think they are into superheros and It would be nice to explore a community service that gets little expose of a second thought as helping out in the big wide world. Thanks for sharing your knowledge

  7. This was fascinating reading. Glad I clicked the link — I was here for the photo challenge. I learned shorthand when I was 17. Even though I wouldn’t have any speed today, it’s a bit like bicycling — you never forget.

  8. ibrahim says:

    Thank you for this nice blog

  9. nnenna ijoma says:

    I am a verbatim reporter trainee in Nigeria and this is the first time such training is being held in my state I.e lagos state. Please can you recommend online sites where I can purchase a good dictionary that transcribes english words into steno forms.

    Thank you and sincerely look forward to your reply.

  10. kyyte.flyyte says:

    Fantastic article, it’s great to learn about what you do and how stenographers around the world do what they do!

  11. Joan Mae says:

    Oh! you’re amazing!

  12. litadoolan says:

    Wow this sounds fascinating! What a great ability to do this. Bravo!

  13. Rekha kori says:

    can u tell me how many type of steno in world

    • stenoodie says:

      Hi there. There are many theories of steno out there (theories and outlines of learning how to write out the words). Phoenix Theory, the one I learned, is one of them. Is this what you mean by “type” of steno?

  14. Rekha kori says:

    how can i write steno in a different form??

    • stenoodie says:

      Are you currently learning steno? What theory are you using right now? If you can clarify your question, I’ll be able to better understand it and answer you. 🙂

  15. gchan7127 says:

    This is so cool, Karen. I still don’t get it (how u can type hello with 2 strokes instead of 5). I do type pretty fast but definitely not fast enough compared to you. U are too pro.

    • stenoodie says:

      Haha, thank you, Grace. One day I’ll bring my steno machine to show you exactly how it works. Watch the steno video to see if it makes more sense. Basically, we’re combining all the sounds of a word onto a keyboard and sounding out a word to type it instead of typing out each letter.

      • gchan7127 says:

        I know, but I still don’t get it. lol for example, if I wanted to type “computer”

        And there’s 3 sounds to it, how do u know it will actually show up as COM PUT TER, because u don’t have the exact letters of the words?? It’s amazing how fast your brain can process so much. Omg.

      • stenoodie says:

        I’ll explain to you sometime in person with more examples. The word “computer” would be written as “/KUPL/PAOUT/-R” in steno. I know that looks like gibberish to you, but those were the three strokes I used to “write” the word (each stroke was separated with the /). More commonly used words actually only take one stroke to write out (phrases like “thank you” or “ladies and gentlemen” only take one stroke to “write” out). After we learned how to write out the words in full, we learn to memorize the common words and write them out together as “/KPAOURT”. Again, I know that doesn’t mean anything to you… lol.

      • gchan7127 says:

        Omg that’s like a different language! And Karen, this is the first time I am using the phone to respond to a comment. It is so cool! I downloaded the WordPress app. Omg I am so amazed by technology (I know I am five years behind) haha. Have a safe flight later! Love u!

      • stenoodie says:

        Thanks Grace. Yes, it is shorthand lol. Only people who have learned it can “read it”. 😛 Haha, you are so silly (and behind!) Thanks! Talk to you later!

      • stenoodie says:

        And that’s what happens when you get a new phone! Hahaha 😛 You are caught up with technology 🙂

  16. arnel edic says:

    what are the parts of steno machine?

    • stenoodie says:

      I’m not exactly sure what you are trying to ask, but the steno machine has individual keys, a screen, stands on a tripod, and is connected to CAT software for transcription.

  17. Interesting to read about the steno machine. When I trained to be a secretary, ages ago, I learned stenography too (system Groote) , but written by hand. Afterwards we had to type out the manuscript, so much more work than using the machine.

  18. Sahadeo Dhuri says:

    Is steno good for making career in India !?

  19. Wow! This is one of the best thing I’ve learnt about. All power to you, I just simply love the way you present the information to your audience.
    By the way, what’s your current record of stenotyping?

  20. foolnath says:

    how i can prepare of steno

  21. teri says:

    where did you get your wave customized at?

  22. Christopher Day says:

    I like this very much. Your writing and the resources shared here are exemplary.

  23. BeforeYour30 says:

    I came here because my mom used to tell me about steno when I was little. She however described it as “hand writing steno” ( I don’t know if that exists) : a particular way of writing symbols so she can take notes ( my mom was a secretary in a hospital) and transcript it later.

    • stenoodie says:

      Ah, welcome! Your mom did shorthand writing, the precursor to the steno machine! 🙂 It’s a dated method of transcription for sure, but there are still some shorthand writers around.

      • BeforeYour30 says:

        I don’t know if she still can shorthand, but she is always making fun of me because I don’t use the right fingers when typing on my computer keyboard ^^

      • stenoodie says:

        Ask her if she still uses it. I’m sure she recalls it easily. 🙂 Haha, learning QWERTY keyboard is indeed a valuable skill to have in the modern world! Your kids may make fun of you one day as well! 😉 (Assuming you aren’t already a parent!)

      • BeforeYour30 says:

        I thought that it was a great idea to ask her to write me anything in steno, but unfortunately she doesn’t 😦

  24. Denise says:

    Who made the transparent and light-up steno machines, and where did he/she/they get them?

  25. Agatha O. Edelegba says:

    wow! this is amazing, how much does it cost to get it?

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