Ask the techie: What brief forms to use in Federal Court

Dear Techie:

I just accepted a position in federal court, after having been a freelancer for several years. What briefs can the Tech Committee recommend to help the transition go smoother for me when I’m offering realtime to my judge?


Judicial Briefer

Dear Judicial,

Congratulations on your new position and best wishes on your judicial officialship! Nancy Bistany, RPR, has these great briefs for words and phrases that come up frequently for you to incorporate into your personal dictionary for federal court:

35* – 3553 

35*/A – 3553(a)

A*K – amended complaint


BIF – benefit

BAIFL – basically

SDOFR – discover

SDOEFR – discovery

BAF – on behalf of

STEN – sentence

STENG – sentencing

SMEMT – settlement

S-J – summary judgment

J* – and then first initial of Judge’s last name or a letter; e.g. J*G – Judge Gettleman, J*K – Judge Castillo, J*D – Judge Wood, J*UD – Judge Dow)

Happy briefing!

How to start your own Facebook practice group

Daily practice can make a big difference. That’s not new information to any court reporter or captioner. The hard part isn’t knowing you need to practice; it’s making the time to do it.

Some reporters have found that joining a Facebook practice group helps them make it happen. A recent story in the JCR about a group led to others expressing interest in starting groups of their own. Rich Germosen, RMR, CRR, a  freelance court reporter from New Brunswick, N.J., who leads a practice group, has some ideas for people who are starting their own group. Germosen’s group is a 100-day group. Members make a commitment to practice 100 days in a row, although some members have gone on longer.

“I’m not sure what made me pick 100 days, but it’s a nice round number,” he said. “It’s more than 50 days. It seems like it won’t be easy to do, and it’s not. It’s a challenge.”

Kathryn A. Thomas, RDR, CRR, CRC, a captioner from Caseyville, Ill., joined Germosen’s group to help her practice. “I joined after the [2017] Vegas convention, and I’m on my 536th day as we speak,” Thomas said. “I joined because I need increased accountability to keep up my skills. About a month after I joined, I was installed as president of the Illinois Court Reporters Association, and this is a way to ensure my skills don’t degrade amidst all the goings-on of my two-year term. I’m the type that if I go a day without writing something, I can feel it the next day, and my captioning consumers don’t deserve that.”

Start off with a public Facebook group while you attract members. When you have the right number, you can make the group secret. Too many members will make the group unmanageable.

“If I have 200 or 300 folks participating, it would be a full-time job,” Germosen said. “So if you’re looking to build it up, make it public and they will come.”

Germosen says 100 is a good number of members for the group. That’s a small enough number that the moderator can recognize all of the members, and they can be a close-knit group. He was the only moderator for his group for a long time, but he has recently added another person.

Members of the group are promising to practice every day and post about it when they do. The moderators are paying attention to who is practicing and who isn’t.

“We are on the honor system,” Germosen says. “I take their word for it that they say they are on day X. I do audit folks from time to time just to make sure their days are adding up if I notice unusual numbers in their posts. Some folks drop off at day 3. I’ll keep an eye on them and hope they jump into it by week 6 or so before removing them. There is a way to sort the members list by join date. You can scroll that list and see if a member has been silent or hasn’t been posting because it’ll show ‘three recent posts’ or ‘five recent posts.’ This will show next to the member’s name. I look at this and check on folks with no activity to see if they’ve been posting. Then I may remove them if it’s been several weeks.”

Thomas said seeing the practice posts definitely motivates her. “I thought it would be harder to remember to do daily practice, especially over the holidays,” she said. “But when I see group members post their practice on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, etc., it reminds me.”

Moderators might also want to recognize milestones such as one week, two weeks, 100 days, etc. “I’ll reply with a picture of a funny cartoon on day seven,” Germosen said. “If you’re on day 14, I’ll reply with a pic that says ‘Week 2,’ and same for week three. For day 27, I’ll reply with a Yankees 27 banner. For day 50, you get one of a series of ‘half’ pics; then once you’re on day 90 I’ll post a link to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ song, and then day 100 I’ll post any series of ‘100 Day Club’ pics or banners and put them on ‘the finishers’ list,’ which is a list I have of all finishers going back to 2014 and the date they finished.” 

Germosen said one rule is that everyone needs to be supportive of everyone else in the group. As admin, he likes everyone’s Facebook practice posts and keeps the page free of drama. He said it’s also important for the admin to set the example with practicing. No slacking.

Thomas agrees about the supportive nature of the group, “It’s brought me closer to the individuals in the group itself, and it’s wonderful to celebrate together as they win or qualify for contests around the nation,” she said. “Occasionally someone will recommend a TED talk to the group to practice, and I’ve learned some things through practicing those.”

“What the page does is you see others posting, and you think to yourself that you should be practicing too,” Germosen said. “It’s nice to have a community around you of others doing the same thing you’re doing … trying to improve.”

To brief or not to brief, that is the question: A satirical Shakespearian perspective

Friends, students, and reporters, lend me your ears. Shakespeare, legendary man of words, measured and used wisely what he wrote. As steno writers today know all too well, we must stroke wisely and waste not. A brief may be brief, but it may also take too long to recall or be too taxing to create quickly and/or too difficult to write accurately. To quote the Bard: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” If it is not brief within one’s mind and hand connection, then it is not a brief; it becomes a misnomer. Alas, what is inferred with a “brief” may lead us also to lengths from which we cannot recover. It is our quandary. To brief or not to brief, that is the question.

It is true, “Nothing can come from nothing.” This is why we are left with three perspectives. Real speed gains, while in school, necessitate the use of briefs in higher speed levels. Nonetheless, while reporting, to lighten our day’s load, briefs become most essential. Through my years of interaction with other reporters around the country, I learned to embrace new ways to write, especially while at the dawn of the computer-aided transcription era. Reporters with their new Baron stenowriters would cry out, “A brief, a brief, my kingdom for a brief!”Our theories went right out the proverbial window. Thereafter, as a teacher of the very first realtime steno theory, proving to the new generation that one must stick to this or else . . . credibility was flying out that same window. It behooves a teacher to stabilize the information, ingrain the process.

Having been a student, reporter, and teacher, I came to realize there are different ideologies in the machinations to achieve goals. I wrestle with setting in stone another’s journey. There is constant vacillation between the role of cheerleader of every brief form and that of the devil’s advocate to minimize extra mental efforts and maximize nimble and accurate fingers. In order that “something can come of something,” we must get used to practicing briefs early on. Sticking to one’s theory is crucial for students, but they need to keep aware and be wary of “a feast of languages” that exists out in the field. Ultimately, the reporter’s mindset takes over that of a student or a teacher; a veteran’s advice and the real world will outweigh all else.

Here we are in the time when CAT is all a student knows. When theories have adjusted to the changing times, why change what we trailblazers have afforded you? Because there is always something new on the horizon, a new generation’s lexicon. Technology constantly adds new words and abbreviations in our daily lives. We cannot allow disruption of flow, so we adapt. We must seamlessly learn to incorporate new verbiage and lingo while it is at its inception, and that mindset must begin in the school setting. The ability to change for survival in our dynamic environment is at the core of every great student and reporter. While it is true that “all that glitters is not gold,” one must make sure to sift through every short form that comes his or her way, being open-minded to embrace a better way of getting the job done. Rigidity in principle does not promote flexibility in one’s present or future.

Our dictionaries are crucial to the future we build. A good dictionary is one that expands with time and experience. A great dictionary incorporates the notion that there are different ways of writing early on, allowing for both the expected and the unexpected scenarios. All reporters should be proud of their dictionaries. Doesn’t everyone want to make it better, and thus, life easier? We should never cease in our desire to make our dictionaries the best they can be – the inherent quality of a true professional. “Clutter” is a negative term used by some to reference a vast dictionary. Without growing, your career will stunt and go stale. As our profession thrives, “The world is [our] oyster.” Benefit from years of schooling, continuing education, wisdom of instructors, interactions with reporters – these combine to build great dictionaries.

What is meant by “the play is the thing” as it relates to reporters? We must write down all that is said without missing a word, as legibly as possible, to provide accurate steno for ourselves or our scopists to transcribe. That is all that truly matters. We must do a little of everything at all times, be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of one. It is of the utmost importance to stay up to the beat, have the ability to catch up, and be ahead of what is next. If a brief cannot be stroked within a blink of an eye, then it is a hindrance. If a brief is not within your dexterity, then it is worthless. If you expend resentment writing out, then you should have the courage to wrest free. Yes, remember, “The play is the thing.” We must invite creativity along with what we are taught in order to accomplish our roles.

At the end of the day, those of our ilk have a need to rise above and strive for betterment. Shakespeare’s quote of this quest: “Be not afraid of greatness.” The distinguished merit writers of our time, those more notable in the new millennium, have chosen wisely when, what, and how to brief. They are our eminent forefathers and mothers, our scholars. Learn from their mistakes; learn from their achievements. A student and a reporter spend their lives listening; this may promote a dearth or a harvest of briefs. “There is a method in the madness” with incorporation and practice of briefs. Each must judge his or her own situation, capabilities, strengths, and assess weaknesses. “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie.” So without further ado, heed admonishment, whether student, teacher, or reporter: “Let every eye negotiate for itself.”

E-seminar review: Brief addiction, part 2

Brief Addiction Part 2: Unbox Your Brain

Presented by Kathy Zebert, RPR


Freelance court reporter and Stenedge owner, Kathy Zebert, RPR, shares great briefing tips in her follow-up e-seminar, Brief Addiction Part 2: Unbox Your Brain. In Brief Addiction, Part 1, Zebert discusses how creating briefs can save time and money, as well as how it can benefit a court reporter’s health. In Part 2, Zebert shares how court reporters can come up with their own briefs and how to break away from the theory learned in school.  For Zebert, a brief is one stroke. But she states court reporters need to work with what they have: “If [the strokes] start at eight and you get it down to two or three strokes, then that’s still a brief.” In her e-seminar, Zebert also talks about working in blocks of words and phrases and how court reporters don’t need to use vowels when making briefs. She offers memorization tips and says developing briefs becomes second nature once immersed in creating them. Join Zebert as she offers great examples and gets court reporters to think outside the box in the world of briefing. This e-seminar is now available in NCRA’s online collection of e-seminar.

E-seminar review: Brief Addiction, part 1

Brief Addiction Part 1: Turning Key Strokes Into Dollars

Presented by Kathy Zebert, RPR


Kathy Zebert, RPR, freelance court reporter and owner of Stenedge, is a strong believer that creating briefs is essential in the court reporting profession. In her recent e-seminar, Brief Addiction, Zebert talks about how creating briefs can not only save a court reporter time and money, but also stay healthy. Zebert discusses how creating briefs means court reporters move their hands less. This may cut down on the chances of developing carpal tunnel or other physical ailments. The bottom line: the less you have to write, the better you are physically.

Zebert shares ways to develop briefs and gave examples of how certain briefs can help formulate even more briefs. She also provides tips on how to cut down from six strokes to one and  how important brief families are when creating these shortcuts. Zebert says there’s no need to struggle with a long word when it is possible to create a brief for it.

A writer’s software also plays an important role, and Zebert says court reporters should get their software to work for them. “Sometimes it will recommend a brief for a particular word. And sometimes it will remind you that you have a brief, so make sure that you know your software! You pay a lot of money for it and tech support, so take advantage of it.” In the end, some briefs will come naturally and some will take more practice. No matter how you get there, creating briefs is a great advantage to a court reporter’s success.

This e-seminar, as well as Brief Addiction, part 2, is now available in NCRA’s online collection.

Captioning corner: Lessons learned from a captioning fail

In this age of social media, it doesn’t take long for a captioning blooper to be tweeted, Facebooked, or turned into a viral video, much to the chagrin of the individual reporter and broadcast captioner community at large. We’ve all been there, done that, wished we could crawl into the ground and disappear.

However, if we do not think about our bloopers as learning experiences, we are all at risk of them happening again. We, as a community, should take the necessary steps to avoid making mistakes and, when they do happen, know what to do to mitigate the errors as much as possible.

As a new captioner, I misstroked a brief during a basketball game and a celebrity name popped up instead of a player. I was mortified. But because of that experience, I can count on one hand how many times it happened again. I worked really hard to keep my briefs organized and took great care and put much thought into creating safe briefs and figuring out ways to write names out whenever possible, saving briefs for times when I really needed them.

Yes, captioning is a hard job sometimes. The speakers can go fast, and you can’t slow them down as you would if you were working with them in person. Yes, too many people don’t understand that captions are created by real people, not computers, much less the process that every single word must go through to get from the speaker’s mouth through our ears, brain, and fingers, and then to our computers, the modem, and back onto the television broadcast stream.

But before we educate the public, we need to first put our money where our mouths are. I’m not just speaking to individual captioners. I also direct this to every captioning company: How many of us have the CBC? How many of us have the RMR? And what about the RPR?

To cite one example that is outside of our industry, let’s look at news reporting. During the Boston marathon bombings in April, news reporters were trying to get information out fast (just like we do). But when one of CNN’s reporters covering the marathon incident said someone had been arrested and identified the suspect as a dark-skinned male, he made a mistake. And guess what? His mistake became news. Why? Because we expect CNN to get it right, and they have a responsibility to get it right. I’m sure he and everyone else behind the mistake were mortified. I’m sure his colleagues all said, “Been there, done that.” But I’d bet you any amount of money the higher-ups at CNN didn’t care about the circumstances surrounding that mistake. I’m sure they didn’t coddle the reporter and tell him not to worry about it.

So please, I beg of you, don’t miss this wake-up call. Comb through your dictionaries for old briefs, and create job-specific dictionaries if you haven’t already. Analyze how you brief, and seek help if you need a better system. Captioning companies, even the little guys, should demand certifications, and they should test captioners, not only before hiring them, but periodically throughout their employment to ensure high quality.

If you’re at a loss as to where to start, here are three places I suggest you begin: Your prefixes, suffixes, and word roots; your briefs and phrases; and your dictionary as a whole.

Use prefixes, suffixes, and word roots

The goal of every captioner should be to strive for clean, accurate captions and to be secure in the knowledge that your dictionary and writing style will back you up. To achieve 99 percent accuracy or better, a good place to start is to examine your steno theory and modify it so that each and every stroke is uniquely defined. In other words, avoid using a single stroke in multiple circumstances. For example, if the stroke PWAOEU is defined as BUY, then avoid using that stroke as a prefix or suffix. Create a unique stroke to use in those situations. Likewise, the stroke OR should never be used as anything but the word OR. Adopting this philosophy will greatly reduce the risk for word-boundary issues. Note: You may use a stroke as a prefix as long as the next stroke is a clear suffix but do not define the first stroke as a prefix.

Prefixes and suffixes play an enormous role in captioning. One of the first steps of transitioning from court reporter to realtime writer and/or captioner is distinguishing between prefixes and suffixes. Although you may encounter a few word boundary problems while court reporting, they seem to be ever-present in captioning unless the necessary changes are made to your writing. One of the first word-boundary problems I encountered while on the air, unfortunately, was POP ICONS, which translated as POPEYE CONS. I used AOEU for both prefixes and suffixes and thought if I globaled the stroke with another stroke, all would be fine. Obviously, that is one of the great misconceptions of realtime writing. You can’t simply global your way out of any situation. Captioning (and realtime in general) is really about writing your way out of any situation, using prefixes, root words, suffixes, and special characters like the delete space and space functions as well as fingerspelling.

Limit briefs and phrases

Achieving the necessary accuracy rate can also mean limiting the use of briefs and phrases. For example, instead of SERT for CERTIFICATE, either write it out or insert an asterisk into the original stroke or modify the stroke to something safer, like SOEURT. The asterisk, while foreign to many court reporters, can be a valuable tool in realtime. If you find it awkward to stroke the asterisk within another stroke, use the “half tap” method. To use the same example, stroke SERT and, while holding down the keys, simply reach over with your index finger to the asterisk key and press it down. After some practice, it will come more naturally, but for some strokes, the index finger just isn’t available and the half tap comes in handy. The primary reason to write out briefs and phrases is to avoid them appearing in a multi-stroke word if that word is either not in your dictionary or one of the strokes is misstroked. TETRACYCLINE could translate as AT THE TIME RA PSYCH LEAN. A much cleaner mistake would be TETRA PSYCHLINE (because I used my RA suffix and LINE suffix).

There is much controversy swirling around in the field about briefs. Some believe briefing as much as possible will increase your speed. While I will not dispute that general premise on its face, I would argue that briefing as much as possible will not increase your accuracy as a captioner. If you strive to write at an accuracy of 99 percent or better every day on any type of programming, it is my opinion (and the opinion of those who trained me) that a solid realtime theory devised of prefixes, suffixes, and root words is the best approach to consistent, accurate captions. I strongly believe you must first be capable of writing anything and everything without relying on briefs, artificial intelligence, or any other shortcut that may be invented in the next century. Once that happens, then briefs and some basic intelligence can be used as a tool, not as a crutch. The question is — and this has happened to me — what happens if you load the wrong job dictionary for a show? You write the brief that contains the show’s title in quotes. It does not translate. Before you can load the dictionary at the first commercial break, you must get through the first segment; i.e., writing out the title surrounded by quotation marks as well as any other show-related briefs. If you never mastered doing that, simply creating a brief every time at the first sign of difficulty, then you will surely run into trouble.

Here’s another example of something that has actually happened to me. I was captioning a dog competition, and a dog jumped off the dock at 21 feet 9 inches, which should appear as 21’ 9”. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to me, my CAT software’s intelligence was only designed for single digits in the “feet” portion of the figure. So what translated was 2’ 19”. I quickly had to improvise and chose to write 21 feet 9 inches the next several times. If I had been really slick, I would have written 21, my stroke for single apostrophe, 9, end quote. Now, that’s the work of a truly talented captioner. If it happens again, I’ll be ready for it.

Know your dictionary

Changing your writing is only half the battle. It is imperative that you remember how you changed your writing. Make use of sticky notes or cheat sheets anywhere and everywhere until you have memorized the new theory. Review transcripts and steno notes often for errors, and keep lists of problem areas. Purge your dictionary of word-global entries. For example, if you have the word-global entry MARTIAL ARTS with the steno PHAR/SHA*UL, which you have defined alone as MARSHALL, create a new and unique way to write MARTIAL, like PHAR/SH*EUL, and delete the word-global (crutch) entry. Practice writing sentences with the different versions of MARSHALL in them, including MARSHAL (which I write PHAR/SHA*L). Before you know it, you will “hear” MARTIAL instead of MARSHALL. It helps to visualize it. One of the ways I remember MARSHAL is having seen it on the back of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in The Fugitive. Jones played a “U.S. MARSHAL.” Whenever I hear FIRE MARSHAL, U.S. MARSHAL, and so forth, I see that actor running to some big emergency.