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You never know where your next tip will come from

By Cathy Busa

Tips and tricks for writing realtime are something all working court reporters could use more of! So, for that reason, I canvassed some of my fellow officials for realtime tips that they swear by for improving their writing and translation rates.

The first response I received was from a coworker at the courthouse (who also is a part-time broadcast captioner). For her, the key to becoming a more expert realtime writer is learning to fingerspell. While it may seem that this activity would slow you down, it actually keeps you from slowing down because instead of hesitating over an outline that you may or may not have in your dictionary, you can rapidly fingerspell the word and ease on down the road. If you aren’t in the habit of it, start when testimony is not too onerous and just fingerspell little words like that and who to get the feel for it. Along this line, she suggests also using the brief suggestions from your software. As an example, after recently fingerspelling the word tonsillectomy, she immediately requested a brief for it so if it was said again, it would be much simpler and ready for her to use instantly.

Another writing tip I received includes being sure to use the number conversion feature that is now found in virtually all of our software programs. This may take some time to go through your dictionary and remove all entries with numbers attached to them, such as in ’97 or $1500 or two or three. But if you are willing to expend a little bit of effort to work on your personal dictionary ahead of time and then tweak the settings within your CAT software to correspond with your number-writing style, you will find that your numbers will translate almost always correctly — and that will save you precious editing/scoping time from now on.

Word boundary issues are the dreaded area that I think realtimers always have to be prepared for. A couple of examples that I have personally encountered were how to figure outweighs to do new things and keep your ion the situation. While I have changed my writing to correct these two particular mistranslates, I now rarely define homophones as I did here, but try to actually write and define homophones differently to eliminate them altogether.

Finally, there are several sources of briefs according to the subject matter and case you are going to be working with, such as legal, medical, asbestos, financial, and so on. Take advantage of your JCR articles and learn and use the briefs others ahead of us have found to be helpful. Join Facebook pages and network with other reporters also for writing tips. A favorite part of our state association’s annual convention is the steno swap session, where people ask for and others assist with shorthand briefs for those pesky phrases and long words that invariably try to trip up even the best realtime writer.

If you really want to accept the challenge to improve your writing and become the best, most professional realtime reporter that you can be, stretch yourself and begin to implement small changes to your dictionary and your writing one step at a time. Perhaps the final and best word of advice is this: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

Cathy Busa, RPR, is an official court reporter from Plantersville, Texas. She can be reached at