A stenotype, stenotype machine, shorthand machine or steno writer is a specialized chorded keyboard or typewriter used by stenographers for shorthand use. In order to pass the United States Registered Professional Reporter test, a trained court reporter or closed captioner must write speeds of approximately 180, 200, and 225 words per minute (wpm) at very high accuracy in the categories of literary, jury charge, and testimony, respectively.[1] Some stenographers can reach 300 words per minute. The website of the California Official Court Reporters Association (COCRA) gives the official record for American English as 375 wpm.[2]

The stenotype keyboard has far fewer keys than a conventional alphanumeric keyboard. Multiple keys are pressed simultaneously (known as "chording" or "stroking") to spell out whole syllables, words, and phrases with a single hand motion. This system makes real-time transcription practical for court reporting and live closed captioning. Because the keyboard does not contain all the letters of the English alphabet, letter combinations are substituted for the missing letters. There are several schools of thought on how to record various sounds, such as the StenEd, Phoenix, and Magnum Steno theories.


The first shorthand machine (the word "stenotype" was not used for another 80 years or more) punched a paper strip and was built in 1830 by Karl Drais, a German inventor.[3] The first machine was made in 1863 by the Italian Antonio Michela Zucco and was in actual use since 1880 in the Italian Senate. An American shorthand machine was patented in 1879 by Miles M. Bartholomew. A French version was created by Marc Grandjean in 1909. The direct ancestor of today's stenotype was created by Ward Stone Ireland about 1913, and the word "stenotype" was applied to his machine and its descendants sometime thereafter.

Modern hardware

Most modern stenotype keyboards have more in common with computers than they do with typewriters or QWERTY computer keyboards. Most contain microprocessors, and many allow sensitivity adjustments for each individual key. They translate stenotype to the target language internally using user-specific dictionaries, and most have small display screens. They typically store a full day's work in non-volatile memory of some type, such as an SD card. These factors influence the price, along with economies of scale, as only a few thousand stenotype keyboards are sold each year. As of October 2013, student models, such as a Wave writer, sell for about US$1,500 and top-end models sell for approximately US$5,000. Machines that are 10 to 15 years old still resell for upwards of $350.

The Open Steno Project[4][5] has written free open-source software, including Plover, and has developed cheap open-source hardware for stenography. Plover software translates keypresses to Stenotype on any modern keyboard, with a preference given to ortholinear keyboards that have NKRO functionality. [6]


Stenograph is by far the largest manufacturer of American stenotype keyboards with an estimated marketshare in excess of 90%. Their top models are the Luminex professional writer and the Wave student writer. The Stentura paper-based writers and the paperless élan writers preceded the current models. There were two other large manufacturers in the 1980s (Xscribe, with the StenoRAM line and BaronData with the Transcriptor line).[7] Stenograph purchased both companies and discontinued their products. The current manufacturers in the U.S. include:

  • Advantage Software[8] (Passport)
  • Neutrino Group[9] (Gemini, Revolution, & Infinity writers)
  • ProCAT[10] (Stenopaq, Flash, Stylus, Impression, and Xpression)
  • Stenograph[11] (Stentura, élan Mira, Fusion, élan Cybra, Wave, Diamante and Luminex)
  • Stenovations (LightSpeed)[12]
  • Word Technologies (Tréal)[13]

Keyboard layout

Stenotype keys normally are made of a hard, high-luster acrylic material with no markings. The keyboard layout of the American stenotype machine is shown at the right.

In "home position", the fingers of the left hand rest along the gap between the two main rows of keys to the left of the asterisk (little finger on the "S" to forefinger on the "H" and "R"). These fingers are used to generate initial consonants. The fingers of the right hand lie in the corresponding position to the right of the asterisk (forefinger on "FR" to little finger on "TS"), and are used for final consonants. The thumbs produce the vowels.

The system is roughly phonetic; for example the word cat would be written by a single stroke expressing the initial K, the vowel A, and the final T.

To enter a number, a user presses the number bar at the top of the keyboard at the same time as the other keys, much like the Shift key on a QWERTY-based keyboard. The illustration shows which lettered keys correspond to which digits. Numbers can be chorded just like letters can. They read from left to right across the keyboard. It is possible to write 137 in one stroke by pressing the number bar along with SP P, but it takes three separate strokes to write 731. Many court reporters and stenocaptioners write out numbers phonetically instead of using the number bar.

There are various ways to combine letters to make different sounds; different court reporters use different theories in their work. Historically, reporters often created "briefs" (abbreviations) on-the-fly, and sometimes mixed theories, which could make it difficult for one reporter to read another reporter's notes; but current versions of theories are primarily designed for computerized translation using a standardized dictionary provided by the company that promulgates the theory, which forces reporters to stick with one theory and use only the specific combinations in that company's dictionary. However, it is not uncommon for students and reporters to add a significant number of entries to a stock dictionary (usually when creating briefs of their own).

Some court reporters use scopists to translate and edit their work. A scopist is a person who is trained in the phonetic writing system, English punctuation, and usually in legal formatting. They are especially helpful when a court reporter is working so much that they do not have time to edit their own work. Both scopists and proofreaders work closely with the court reporter to ensure an accurate transcript. The widespread use of realtime translation of the strokes has increased the demand for scopists to work simultaneously with the court reporter. With transcripts produced on computer-aided transcription (CAT) software, a scopist no longer needs to have any knowledge of shorthand theories, because the software converts shorthand to text in real time via a dictionary. However, it may still be helpful in some situations while scoping, as misstroked words may not translate and would appear in steno. Depending on availability of scopists and proofreaders, court reporters may use a scopist only to clean up a rough draft of their transcript, then proofread and certify the transcript themselves, or they may use neither and produce a final transcript by themselves, though this is a very time-consuming practice.

Steno paper

Steno paper has become almost obsolete with the advancement in paperless stenotype machines. When it is used, steno paper comes out of a stenotype machine at the rate of one row per chord, with the pressed letters printed out in 22 columns corresponding to the 22 keys, in the following order:



This is a basic chart of the letters of this machine. There are, however, different writing theories that represent some letters or sounds differently (e.g., the *F for final v in the chart below), and each court reporter develops personalized "briefs" and alternate ways of writing things.

Stenotype chords
English letter Stenotype chord
Example Comments
Initial consonants b    PW
c (soft)   K   R cell Use for soft c only
ch   K  H
d  TK
f  T P
h      H
j S K W R
k   K call Includes hard c
l      HR
m    P H
n  T P H
p    P
qu   K W
r       R are, our, hour
s S is, his
t  T
v S     R
w     W
y   K W R you
z S        * alternatively, commonly chorded by the entire initial bank, STKPWHR, in order to avoid thousands of potential conflicts
Vowels Short a /æ/        A
Long a //        A  EU
aw /ɔː/ /ɑː/        A   U
Short e /ɛ/           E
Long e //        AO E
Short i /ɪ/           EU
Long i //        AO EU
Short o /ɒ/         O
Long o //         O E
oi /ɔɪ/         O EU
oo /ʊ/ //        AO
ou //         O  U
Short u /ʌ/ /ə/            U
Long u /juː/        AO  U
Final consonants b                B
ch             F P
d                     D
dz                     DZ friends use only for words that end with ds
f             F
g                  G
j               PBLG
k                B G
l                 L
m               P L
mp             FRP
n               PB
ng               PB G sing
nj               PB G range
nk          *    PB G
p               P
r              R
rch             FRPB
rf             FR B
rv             FR B curve
s                    S
sh              R B
t                   T
v          *  F
x                B G S
z                      Z
shun                  G S nation
kshun          *     B G S action
Punctuation Period             F P L T
Comma              R B G S
Question mark ST P H
New paragraph          P    F
Correction (asterisk)          *


The following example shows how steno paper coming out of the machine represents an English sentence. Notice that key combinations can have different meanings depending on context. In the first stroke of the word example, the PL combination refers to m. In the second stroke of the word, that same key combination refers to the two letters pl.

Note also that many words have been abbreviated: this, of and from are chorded as th, f and fr, and machine and shorthand become mn and shand respectively.

See also


  1. "Closed Captioning Web". 2006-02-13. Archived from the original on March 10, 2006. Retrieved 2013-01-14.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  2. "COCRA – Read/Write Like a Court Reporter – California Official Court Reporters Association". California Official Court Reporters Association. July 6, 2012. Retrieved August 1, 2019.
  3. Karl Drais-The New Biography by Dr. Hans-Erhard Lessing
  4. Type 225 Words per Minute with a Stenographic Keyboard (Video), Slashdot, Posted by Roblimo, August 12, 2014
  5. "The Open Steno Project".
  6. "Beginner's Guide: Get Started with Plover". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  7. "Stenograph Closes Deal For Barondata". Chicago Tribune. March 6, 1990. Retrieved May 11, 2014.
  8. "Advantage Software,". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  9. "Infinity Writers, Neutrino Group,". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  10. "". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  11. "". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  12. "". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
  13. "". Retrieved Aug 1, 2019.
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