We started as a blog discussing issues for newbie reporters. In more recent times we’ve pushed this thing to encompass all kinds of issues, questions, and even political ideas. Perhaps it’s fitting to return, briefly, to the things that students can do to make their time in school more productive, less stressful, or even shorter. After all, the field needs new people, so logic tells us that efficiency in preparing and producing stenographers for the workforce is paramount.
Right out of the gate, let’s get one thing clear, respect perspectives. You will read things online and see things in the world that directly contradict what your teachers tell you. You will meet people that tell you that your teacher is wrong, or Stenonymous is wrong, or the world is wrong. Your newness to stenography may lead you to the conclusion that the most authoritative voice is correct. That way of thinking is an offshoot of the Might Makes Right logical fallacy, and may lead you down a hard road. Succinctly, take in opinions and asserted facts, but don’t draw too many conclusions. Everyone’s perspective is colored by their experience, and though our experiences may be similar, they are often quite different and can lead to wildly different advice.
With respect for what we just said, don’t be afraid to act. If you are so busy respecting other people’s perspectives that you never make any decisions, your progress will suffer. As an easy example, some reporters believe we must always use the number bar. Some reporters believe we must never use the number bar. You can respect both opinions. But in the end it is better for you to “pick a side” or develop your own method instead of trying to please everyone. Hesitation can make your job much harder than it needs to be.
Now for the good stuff. You want writing tips. That’s why you came. Here’s a look inside some common perspectives. Brief things you hear often. You may very well reach a point in your career where you are making 40,000 strokes a day with briefs. If everything takes two strokes, that’s more like 80,000 strokes. The amount of stress and strain on your hands is not a joke. Shorter writing can make you a faster writer.
Funny briefs work. You’ll remember them. It’s memorable. Just make them funny for you. It doesn’t matter if anyone else gets it. At one point in my own career every proceeding would start with the sections of law 240.30, 250.20. How long before they became TWAOEFT? Just to drive this point home, an old friend made up a brief for casino when we were in school a decade ago, SKWAOEPB. To this day, I remember it, and it doesn’t come up all that often at all in New York.
It’s better to write than lose. We’re expected to get pretty much everything in the working world. So if you have to make a choice between making a silly outline and dropping, write the silly outline. This can come in the form of condensed words (pseudo briefs) or even half words. For example, perhaps someone briefs “persuasive.” Finally, persuasive comes up — and someone doesn’t remember their brief. It’s okay to write “PER SWAEUF.” In some cases, it’s okay to write “PER.” For example, if the sentence is “The salesman was very persuasive when he sold me the car”, the only time you wouldn’t transcribe your PER as persuasive is if you don’t care or you’re not paying attention.
Testing with tactical drops. Most programs I’ve heard of count a missed word as an error, specifically one error. It doesn’t matter if the word is “Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia” or “hi.” So what happens, often, is students lock up or trip up on small words, and then a big word pops up, and all of it gets dropped or jumbled. So let’s analyze the fake test statement, “hi, my name is Joe, and I have had Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia since I was age 24 in 2018.” All things being equal, on test day, drop the big word and get all the little stuff. Those small words before the big one are potentially 9 errors. 9 errors versus 1. No contest. Please note, in the working world, you need the big words, but you also have the power to ask people to repeat themselves. Also, as a rider to the tactical drop, if you have to drop a word or punctuation while writing, drop the punctuation.
Practice fast. The whole point of speed building is being able to hear, process, and take down what you heard. Some practice slow and work on accuracy, and I hope that that works for them, but ultimately we are training our brains to hear the words and write with what educators call an “automatic response.” You want to be practicing at 10 to 20 words above your target speed. On that note, at least some of this has to do with muscle memory. Repetition is the name of the game. Don’t be afraid to take the same fast take over and over until you get it. Do that with enough takes, and your muscle memory becomes varied and fast over a wider variety of words. My take on slow practice? It’s working against you and training you to be slower. The only thing it might be good for is a confidence booster.
Know your numbers. It doesn’t matter if you use the number bar or not, you need to be very ready to hit numbers. Some of the most common numbers are years, and you should have easy ways to get those out. You can do funky things with the asterisk and lower letter keys to create creative number bar outlines, or you can create short forms. Everyone’s brain is different. Many people brief 2019 in one stroke. I do TWOEUPB TPHAOEPB. Yet with the 90s I do TPHAOEPB TPHAOEPB TPHAOEUPB, which translates literally to 19199, but because I defined it, comes up 1999. Three-stroke outlines are generally a no-no, but if you’re hitting it seamlessly, it hardly matters.
Try to practice interrupting. Worry about this one close to graduation. A lot of the tips so far have been about trying to get it or the tactical drop. Let’s touch on a working skill a lot of reporters don’t have practice with. The interrupt. In the working world there are folks out there that say just let the audio catch it. If you didn’t hear it, it may not be as clear as you think on that audio. So being able to interrupt is a valuable skill. If you have a family member or friend, see if they have time once a week or once a month to read to you. Ask them to read way fast every few pages so you can get a little practice with varying speeds and interrupting. Take note that how you ask can change outcomes. “I’m sorry, please repeat what you said” usually gets people to repeat exactly what they said. “What?” usually makes people expound on what they said or define what they said. Also note that interrupting is situational. Sometimes it makes sense to interrupt on the spot, and other times it makes sense to wait for a break to clarify names or spellings. No matter which way you shake it, how you do it matters. Be polite and professional.
Build your dictionary. There are two major schools of thought here. The first school is methodically go through and add outlines for stuff proactively from the dictionary or news. Another school of thought is to build your dictionary to the work that you do. Some people even maintain different dictionaries for different types of work. Succinctly, it doesn’t really matter what school you’re from, but you should always be adding stuff, with the understanding that anybody who’s taking the time to add stuff from Merriam Webster will have a larger and more complete dictionary.
Analyze misstrokes. If you have the same misstroke commonly enough, it’s either you or the machine. If you can’t get splits or stacks out of your writing, but they don’t conflict with anything else, just put it in. That misstroke that you fix manually every time just became a dictionary feature. In this same vein, if you have a close friend at school, maybe once every couple of months try transcribing each other’s notes. For one, it’ll teach you to read through “rough notes.” On the other hand, your friend may give you ideas that you wouldn’t have had by yourself.
Read back. Practice reading back out loud whether or not you have to do it alone. Practice reading back off notes and transcription. Read back is one of our important skills that we don’t get a lot of practice with. Speaking clearly is surprisingly helpful in matters of business, employment, and stenography. Your ability to speak well may not only affect on-the-job performance, but also whether or not you get a job at all.
Practice writing. At the very least, make sure you know how to compose polite, professional emails, a cover letter, a resume, and a rate sheet. We often like to assume we don’t need any help in this area, but as you have probably seen on this blog and from your fellow students, everyone makes mistakes, and practicing these functions before graduation will make you more employable.
Practice accents. A great deal of our training revolves around perfectly clear speakers at very high speeds. In the real world you may meet people that don’t speak particularly fast, but are not very clear speakers. The more time you get in school or training practicing this, the less difficult it will be during your work and the less likely you will make a critical mistake, such as misunderstanding testimony.
Create your own dictation. Are you having problems with a specific type of word? You can actually create a dictation tailored to the fingering problems you’re having. Get your creative writing on and take a few minutes to compose something, anything. Then you can even mark the thing for the speed you want. The manual way to mark for speed is to take your target speed and divide it by 4. That tells you how many words you need every 15 seconds. So 100 wpm goal divided by 4, you need 25 words every 15 seconds. Count 25 words, make a line. Then you time yourself reading with a stopwatch and hit your lines every 15 seconds. The automatic way to mark for speed is to use Todd Olivas’s Slasher. Alternatively, if you know anything about Python code, you can use my computer program. There are low barriers to creating your own dictation. Google has a stopwatch app and digital recorders can be as low as $50. Explained in more detail here.
Three chances to get it right. Our need to get it right is inviolable. A wise teacher said you’ve got three chances to get it correct, the writing, the transcription, and the proofreading. Countless working reporters skip that proofreading phase, and you may one day find yourself doing just that. That acknowledged, in your formative years and as you are learning, it will make you a better reporter to take that time to proofread your tests and early jobs. We make mistakes. It happens. We are new. The best way to identify mistakes is to take advantage of all the chances to get it right.
You are in charge of your destiny. We have been told by the arrogant that certain people are not fit to be a reporter, or that people over 30 cannot achieve high speeds. For some, this became truth. For others, this became a challenge. Determined reporters across the country have trained to do this. Whatever your issue, whether it be something you feel about yourself, or whether it be an inadequacy in your training, you can compensate and beat it. This is not meant to call anyone’s struggle illegitimate, but to point out that in the end the most likely descriptors of any endeavor are success or failure. Be a success. Everyone wants you to be a success and go on to help other people succeed, but it’s your action or inaction that’ll decide the outcome.
July 10, 2019 Update:
I came across this Doris Wong Blog and the Student Corner. Skimming it, it seems to talk about all kinds of things, and I agree with the writer on a lot of what they say.