written July 2011, edited April 2014
Court reporting test-taking sessions send me over the edge. I do NOT like to take these tests! It sends me back to my days of court reporting school. “Remember when you were a failure, Michelle?
Remember that critical time period in your life when you couldn’t get that last 225 to graduate? Let’s go back and revisit that. ”
I found myself again in quite the critical state going to the Colorado Realtime Task Force seminars
starting in January of 2011. I was a wreck! I went to all three sessions that were offered in the
winter/spring, starting with the one in Boulder in January, and I am SO glad I did! It gave me the
kickstart that I so desperately needed.
The Realtime Task Force members were great; patient and kind and a wonderful kind of understanding that only another court reporter could be. After the first meeting, I found a quote and decided I was not leaving anything to chance with regard to taking the CRR test and passing it. The quote is: “An amateur works at something until he gets it right. A professional works at it until he can’t get it wrong.” I printed it and put it on the front of a three-ring binder that became my personal realtime bible for the next four months of preparing for the CRR test in May. I lived and breathed this motto daily in preparation for this test.
Dictionary building: I started editing every single transcript that I wrote in the courtroom. I still do it.
But I learned to edit a different way. When I am doing this, I am trying to build my dictionary, NOT edit a transcript. There is a big difference, and it’s quite an adjustment in the editing process at first. If it is a misstroke that is junk, I leave it alone, even though I know what it is and it won’t take much time to change it. No cleaning up the transcript. I scan for dictionary-building untranslates. If it is an
untranslate that I can read at first glance with no context around it, it goes in my dictionary. If it is an
untranslate that I can read only in the context of the surrounding strokes, then I consider group-defining it with a word or words that surround it. I decided to make a couple of job dictionaries, one
called “overlaps” and another called “misstrokes.” If I had any doubt as to whether I should put a
misstroked word or group of stacked strokes into my personal dictionary, I put it in one of these job
dictionaries and started writing realtime with these job dictionaries included. The job dictionaries are much, much smaller than the personal dictionary and can be easily reviewed from time to time in case additional translation problems are being created with these entries. After going through a transcript and defining all of the untranslates that apply to dictionary-building, I sometimes, if I’m not too overwhelmed at that point, go back and spot-check for overlapped strokes that translated but translated incorrectly. For me, that number does not seem to be a small one.
Wow, have I learned a lot about my realtime writing by doing all of this! I simply cannot believe how
many of these same misstroked words I must have replaced over and over and over again all of these years. We adjust the keys on our machine so that we can write more perfectly; so why don’t we have all of these words in our dictionary that can’t be any other word except the one that we’ve misstroked and ones that we find ourselves replacing over and over and over again? Of course, I am also learning my personal habits that I very much need to work on. In addition, I have to admit, I’m learning about things that are changing in my writing style as my brain and my wrists and fingers get OLDER. But my realtime writing will not suffer as a result!! (Note: I realize this is an extremely controversial subject with many reporters, including top-notch realtime writers as well as CART providers and broadcast captioners. You do have to be very careful! However, this article is written regarding my specific style of writing and my own decisions as to how to handle my dictionary and how to improve it that has worked best for me and not meant to be necessarily a guide for all other reporters to follow carte blanche. Follow your own intuition and never be careless or hurried about what you enter into your personal dictionary!)
Briefs. So many common words I had learned in school to write in two or three strokes! Easy strokes,
difficult strokes and everything in between, but definitely too many strokes! One stroke saves time, and it leaves less chance for error. I’m still whittling away at them. Any new brief that I put into my
dictionary, I write it down and put it in my realtime notebook. No new briefs go into my personal
dictionary without first writing it down! It’s a personal pact I’ve made with myself. I don’t want to take
the chance that I will just remember off the top of my head what the brief is. I didn’t realize how smart this was, to err on the side of caution and write ALL of the new ones down, even the ones that seemed to be no-brainers, until I started going back to review the lists. My memory wasn’t as good as I thought, and even the ones I remembered, some of them still caused me to hesitate. The printed lists are good to review and practice from. When in the courtroom and making a brief, the new brief goes on a yellow sticky note . From there, the sticky note goes into the notebook stuck to a blank piece of paper until I have time to work with it into a “writing pattern.” Once I am certain of the briefs, then the sticky is replaced with permanent writing on the page.
All of my new briefs are one stroke ONLY. When I think I have a good brief, I sit down with it when I
have time and make a plan for a “writing pattern” with the new brief. I make sure I can write –ing, -ed, -s, -ment endings of this word in a one-stroke brief also. That is my new “writing pattern” for this word.
Examples: OUBS = obvious. OUBL = obviously, OUBT = obviate, OUBZ = obviates,
OUBD = obviated, OUBG = obviating.
AUB = abuse. AUBZ = abuses, AUBD = abused, AUBG = abusing,
CHAUB = child abuse, DRAUB = drug abuse, TPAUB = physical abuse,
SPWAUB = substance abuse, SHRAUB = sexual abuse.
(Idea from Keith Vincent, kvincent.com, “Steno Tips: Shortcuts for Common
Words and Phrases.” Fantastic!)
I’ve now started thinking in these writing patterns that I’ve established even as I’m writing, so it’s critical that when I think of the briefs ahead of time that I create them in groups. If I didn’t, I would have thought of SWAUB on the fly for sexual abuse, above, which of course is “swab,” and then there’s the misstroke and the hesitation that I’m trying to avoid in the first place. I am amazed at how many potential conflicts I run into when I start thinking in these writing patterns and before I have a plan for the whole group. Sometimes the initial word that I thought was a perfect one-stroke brief gets changed because several (or sometimes even just one) of the offshoots just is not going to work and is going to cause me to either misstroke it, cause the conflict on the fly that I am trying to avoid, or cause me to just hesitate too much because it doesn’t make enough sense to my brain. Get out your machine and write all of the words in the writing pattern before you put it permanently on the list of new words/new phrases and before you put them into your dictionary. This way you can ensure that you absolutely do not have a conflict with any of them before committing to that writing pattern. I have found a few of the misstrokes that I write over and over again, that I have finally put into my personal dictionary, can possibly be conflicts for some of the words in my new writing patterns, so I have found it extremely wise to actually write all of the words in the writing pattern on the machine before committing to them.
I have tabs in my realtime notebook for reference:
• Overlapping stroke pattern problems
• Problem-child conflicts
• Words/phrases for future briefing consideration
• New words that went in my dictionary (I have them typed out in such a way as to be able to
cover up the English word and just practice the steno to see how well I know them)
• A separate tab to jot down the steno ONLY for words that I’ve put in my dictionary and are listed
under my “new words” tab but ones that I just can’t seem to get engrained in my head
• Reference material – suggested briefs and writing ideas from other reporters, inspirational
• A section to keep my printed and graded practice tests!!
Practice. Not only practice but print what you practice. Then grade it. Date it, write the number of
errors at the top, put a percentage on it. File it in your notebook. Make sure to go back and dictionary-build with your realtime practice takes. Practice the same take over and over. Then print and grade one of them again. Date it, put a percentage on it, file it. Dictionary-build.
Practice the same take that you now know by heart and with ease at realtime speed, but now practice it at a higher speed. Wow! I hesitate on simple words that I even know are coming in this take that I have been writing all my adult life! Print it and grade it, be sure to write the speed that you wrote it at the top also. Dictionary-build. If you can! (Note: This was written before the days that such programs as Realtime Coach had been honed to be able to speed up and slow down the same testing material and to analyze transcripts in a pretty comparable way to the old-fashioned printing-and-grading technique.
Still, their analysis doesn’t do you any good if you don’t take note of all it is telling you and then practice that same material again to see what you learned from that analysis! Work your brain – “Practice makes permanent”!
I cannot tell you how practicing from the tapes and getting used to the cadence of the words, the
seemingly nearly disjointed speech patterns from something being read at such an even pace, helped me prepare for the test! Listening over and over again. My brain was fuzzy. My printed practice grades did not reflect STEADY growth. The results seemed to be all over the place most times. That was not surprising to me, actually, because I felt like my brain was all over the place! I could hardly drive and cook and do simple everyday things, let alone make sense of how I might be actually progressing with the realtime. But of course, I was progressing. I finally had more than enough skill under my belt to pass the test. I knew I did. The only thing left was to overcome test jitters. To overcome any possibility of test “failure,” actually. That was the biggest thing of all for me to overcome and the thing that left the biggest doubt in my mind in passing this test.
So finally, I went to the practice session at the Denver Academy of Court Reporting school the week
before the May test and armed myself with the wise words told to me that day by reporter Sylvia Noneff that she had heard from her father as a child: “Mind your own business.” Does it matter why you’re taking the test? Does it matter if you don’t want to be taking the test? Does it matter the thoughts of the people around you as you go to take the test? What mattered is that I minded my own business and went in there and passed the darn thing. That’s the only thing that mattered.
So I went in there and sat in my own little corner, stared at my own little screen, minded my own
business, focused in on the task at hand, and passed it. I had a migraine for three days beforehand, I
cried on the way to the test site, I cried when I put my hands down at the end of the test, when I knew I had passed it. But that’s beside the point. That CRR is now mine. And of course, all the blood, sweat, and tears this year has improved my realtime writing percentage by leaps and bounds. Before I started all of this practice, I really thought that speed was my biggest personal obstacle for writing better. My mistake!
Now that the realtime test-taking is over for me and I have the certification, I have to tell you, having a dramatic increase in my realtime writing percentage on a daily basis is such an incredible bonus. I am so much more prepared now for bigger and better things with my realtime writing. My transcript
production time has been significantly reduced; the number of errors I might possibly overlook when doing my initial edit is, of course, significantly reduced as well; and a rough draft transcript request at the last minute at the end of a hard day is no longer quite the daunting concept to produce readily as it once was for me either.
That test that felt like my enemy, while not exactly now my “friend,” has surprisingly taught me a few
things that really do help me every single day of my writing career. Priceless, really. And no one could be more surprised about that than I am!
As of April 2014, Michelle Kirkpatrick is an official court reporter for the 20th Judicial District in Boulder, Colorado, transitioning back to the familiar world of freelance, where she had been a reporter since 1986. In the two and a half years since passing the CRR, Michelle has also passed the RMR, the RDR, the CBC, the CCP and the federal FCRR using these same techniques, passion, drive and enthusiasm for becoming a better writer.