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What is a Stenographer?

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Making a Long Career Out of Shorthand

You can shoot off a long text or an email in seconds, so could you translate those fast-finger skills into a career? Maybe, if you become a stenographer. These professionals are a critical part of the legal system and play an important role in other industries, too. By typing more than 200 words per minute, stenographers keep vital records and are prized for their accuracy. Joining the field requires a few years of study, but most programs are flexible enough for even busy moms to complete.

Job Description

Stenographers use shorthand to create word-for-word transcripts of what people say. Before recording devices and computers became common, stenographers were employed in offices to take notes and dictations. While those jobs have largely become obsolete, there's still a need for stenographers in a few industries, most notably in law. Court reporters are stenographers who specialize in creating transcripts of courtroom proceedings. Stenographers are also employed to create closed captions of live and recorded programs for viewers with hearing loss.

In the past, stenographers jotted down handwritten notes to capture the messages they were transcribing. Today they use machines called stenograph or stenotype machines, which have fewer keys than a standard keyboard computer. Stenographers are trained to memorize combinations of letters so that they can press a few keys to capture entire words. Typically the machine connects to a program that translates the shorthand into standard text so the stenographer herself doesn't have to do it.

Education Requirements

Most employers expect you to have an associate degree or to be certified by the National Court Reporters Association. Some states require court reporters to pass a state licensing exam too. Court reporting programs typically take at least two years to complete. Programs are generally open to applicants who have a high school diploma or GED. Some employers require a bachelor's degree or master's degree in a certain field, but those degrees aren't necessary for all stenography jobs.

About the Industry

Stenographers work all over the country, primarily in courthouses. Some work in a freelance capacity for multiple clients. While it's rare for businesses to require the services of a stenographer, some still use these professionals to create transcripts of meetings and other proceedings.

Years of Experience

As soon as you complete your training and get any certifications necessary in your state, you're ready to start work as a stenographer. Pay varies by state and by position, so it's difficult to estimate how your salary will grow as your career progresses.

The median salary for court reporters is $49,120, which means that half of court reporters earn more than that amount and half earn less. Court reporters with less than five years of experience earn average salaries of around $38,000. That number jumps to $46,000 once court reporters have five to 10 years of experience, or $57,000 for court reporters with 10 to 20 years of experience. It's rare for court reporters to earn more than $100,000 per year.

Job Growth Trend

Unfortunately, the future of stenography and court reporting is up in the air. Some courts are experimenting with using digital systems to record audio, making court reporters obsolete. Concerns about accuracy and reliability of those systems could turn the tide back toward using human stenographers, however. In the meantime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates slower than average growth for the industry's immediate future.


Kathryn has been a lifestyle writer for more than a decade. Her work has appeared on and

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