Realtime 101 and the Power of Your Dictionary
On October 1, 2015, in New Orleans, Louisiana, I had the privilege of participating in the first-ever STAR Talks -- a group of short power talks put together by several reporters to present for the Society for the Technological Advancement of Reporting.
While this piece below could certainly be edited to be turned into something more appropriate for a blog, here is my 12-and-a-half-minute speech in its raw note form, as presented:
Good afternoon. I want to thank Mike Miller for inviting me to speak to all of you today. This afternoon I want to talk a bit about Realtime 101 and the power of your dictionary.
I'd like to start off, though, with a question for all of you: Who here in this room is willing to concede they're actually getting better with age?
I think as court reporters, even with all of our aches and pains and moments of lapses in memory, we all would agree that we really are getting better with age!
And the reason for that may seem obvious: The experience we've gained over the years, coupled with the skill we began with, has made us better merely with age.
Aristotle was quoted as saying, "Excellence is *never* an accident." Investing in our career, and investing in our realtime skills in particular, investing in moving forward with an eye toward continuing excellence, does not happen *without a plan*.
People in the world around us who invest themselves in another type of career have a general advantage over us as court reporters in that, if they want further education, they just go get it; there's a higher academic degree for that -- there's a master's program for that; there's a Ph.D. program for that.
Unfortunately, we do not have those opportunities. We have some valuable CEU classes and seminars that we can attend that some of our esteemed colleagues have started creating for us over the years; but it can be hit or miss, and it's certainly not an entire curriculum of advanced learning set out in specific steps. If we want higher learning, we have to not only seek it out ourselves but we have to figure out what it *is* first that we need! We have to invent that wheel for ourselves. There is no road map to get us from A to Z in our higher learning.
We learned in school that memorizing the theory we were given would be extremely critical to our success. We also learned in school that if you want to get out of school, you need to practice writing that theory. We really didn't learn, I don't think, that continued daily practice is essential for our assured success, but I think it goes without saying that if you practiced even 15 minutes daily, it would contribute GREATLY to your success.
The other part we didn't really learn is that practice without analysis is not NEARLY as effective. In order to get the most out of your practice, you really need to analyze what you're writing. There are a great many reasons for that that I won't go into here, but ONE of those reasons is that you need to analyze your writing when you practice for your dictionary.
The area I really want to focus on today is one that I am seeing all over the country and seems to be an extremely critical one: What we didn't learn is how to continue to *build* a dictionary and how to *manage* a dictionary once we were out of school.
I know reporters who learned that a *large* dictionary was a key to their success. I know reporters who learned that a *small* dictionary is a key to their success.
I don't know of *any* court reporter who learned in school that the advantage of a *clean* dictionary would be extremely critical to their success. Moreover, I know of no court reporter who learned in school *how* to continue to build or how to *manage* their dictionary to continue to make sure it is clean and completely functional for their purposes.
When it comes to realtime, I see a great many reporters who are starting to dabble in realtime go straight for their software realtime bells and whistles. And I just shake my head every time, because these are the same reporters who are adamant and anxiety-ridden about getting word lists before they start a realtime assignment.
There has been lots of information out there for us for years on realtime prefixes and suffixes and how to resolve conflicts, and reporters generally know that they should "fix" these things about their writing. But the word doesn't seem to really be out there on the street yet that a CLEAN dictionary is essential for realtime writing. It's ESSENTIAL. And these reporters who are soooo focused on getting word lists and feeling so terribly disadvantaged if they had to walk into a realtime setting without all of that are, I think, missing this bigger piece of this puzzle, and that is realizing the power of their dictionary.
Having an intimate knowledge of your working dictionary will make you a stronger realtime writer; receiving a word list ahead of time will NOT make you a stronger realtime writer. And knowing the difference in what that word list will and won't do for you is HUGE.
No matter how caught up we get in how CAT features can make our lives easier and easier, some of the basic truths of writing realtime really never go away: No matter how hard or how easy the realtime job is, you have to know what is in your dictionary; you have to know how to write it; and AFTER all of that is said and done, THEN being intimately familiar with what your CAT software can or cannot do for you in any given realtime situation can be the icing on your cake if you want to be a GREAT realtime writer.
There are reporters out there who ask questions in small TRAIN groups -- when they write a certain stroke, something funny happens every time and they can't explain what it is even doing. That stroke is in their personal dictionary, but it's not tranning right. Explanation: Most of the time, it's because they've loaded their CAT software's general realtime dictionary, but they don't even know what all is in there or what it all does. Bells and whistles that are working against them!
I know I am speaking to the GITMO StenoOps reporters and a great many other power reporters sitting in this room. If this concept is already very familiar to you, and your dictionary is something you work on and maintain all the time, then I'd ask you to think about what you might be able to do to get the word out there to move novice realtime writers to act, encouraging them to consider this concept more seriously and how to give them some ideas about where to start.
Because if realtime is the future of our profession, then there are a great many reporters out there who are not going to be a part of this future; they aren't even close to ready! Even the ones who might entertain the idea of hooking up, even the ones who might entertain the idea of cleaning up their writing can't get there because they don't know how. And some of them are out there giving it the old college try, and their product, regrettably, isn't even usable.
So can you start small TRAIN groups in your area? Can you get these reporters to create their own informal groups so that they can get together and express their concerns and share their ideas with each other? Can you help your state get a state TRAIN committee started so that they can help get this more organized and get more reporters in your area thinking about realtime and formulating plans as to how to go about it?
Crappy realtimers affect all of us! Sometimes they help us get the work, but how many times have you had to convince an attorney that the realtime will not be as much of a distraction as it has been to them in the past because you are going to be giving them a USEABLE product? That your rough draft that you will send them directly after the proceedings will be something valuable to them and not a wasted added expense?
So where to begin -- it's that point when you go to open your dictionary that you realize that this issue really has no beginning and has no end and that your dictionary is really just one big black hole! You've put things in it over the years, and now sometimes things pop up just like old ghosts, coming back to haunt you in ways you never really imagined. One by one by one . . . unexpectedly and out of the blue.
This statement applies to some of us more than others, but I still maintain -- if you don't know what's in your dictionary, then it is a realtime weakness to be reckoned with at some point. Minimizing those surprising things, these "ghosts" coming up in your realtime is, for most of us, a hit-and-miss proposition.
Opening up your dictionary without a plan could help you get some entries out of there willy-nilly, but it's going to take a lot of time, and it's not as effective as creating a plan to use some of your sort features and go after some of these things "in bulk" first!
Even if you open your dictionary with some sort of "mission" in mind, it can easily become the hit-or-miss session you didn't mean it to be if you don't stay focused. So finding that systematic method to your OWN madness is key.
Whatever plan you develop, make sure the FIRST THING YOU DO is to back up your dictionary. If you put the date in the backup name, it not only is easier to see that it's your last backup, but you will never overwrite it!
There are several sorting features in your dictionary. The very definition of “sort” is: "The arrangement of data in a prescribed sequence."
Does anyone know if CaseCatalyst will let you use your spell-check feature against your dictionary? Anyone?
We need to practice -- just like we did when we were students! We need to work on our evolving realtime theories. We need to work on our strokes and outlines, and we need to keep working on building and strengthening muscle memory -- This includes writing realtime in practice situations and messing around with realtime features.
We've realized the power of dictionary-building -- putting new words in our dictionaries that we're hearing and that just aren't in there yet for whatever reason. We're realizing that writing things shorter, making one-stroke briefs for words and phrases can be extremely helpful, and others of us have realized that writing things OUT with word pieces that have been defined or that tran with the use of phonetic tables can help us fill in the blanks and help us supplement the words that are in our dictionary.
What we haven't realized so much is cleaning up our dictionaries, realizing that adding a few strokes here and there to help resolve conflicts or add words like “err” and “heir” to our dictionaries without writing them down or using those theories on a grander scale.................... some words need to be put into our dictionary piecemeal, and that certainly can be appropriate. But pay attention to any patterns they might be showing you, or patterns that you can create so that those patterns can become a part of your routine on-the-fly realtime writing. Those concepts can be far more important than word lists sometimes!
It also includes knowing what is in our dictionary. Our writing changes over time, and we need to weed it just like a garden bearing fruits, and we need to work on maintaining it --
(Maybe you've gotten aggressive about your punctuation and have changed your commas, periods, and question marks to strokes on both sides of the keyboard. You may have some old -FPLT entries to clean out of your dictionary!)
(Reporter taking sample realtime test with previous conflict between "appear" and something completely different. Eclipse chose the wrong word for her, and it was no longer even a true conflict for her in her writing style! She had resolved the conflict in her mind but had not resolved the conflict in her dictionary.)
(I used to write my paragraph */*. Now I write my paragraph symbol differently and I use two asterisks to take out the last two strokes.
487 entries with my dash.
If you have one-stroke briefs or words that your dictionary sort feature tells you you haven't used in a while, keep in mind that if you free up those entries for your realtime Brief Suggester, then your Brief Suggester won't have to come up with such difficult strokes for you!
"Is this in your dix?"
Realtime notebook with a tab for new entries/briefs -- keep track of the new entries you're putting into your dictionary so that they, too, don't end up going into a "Black Hole" -- and then periodically but routinely practice them!
Power of Your Local TRAIN Community
Practice like you mean it, practice with a purpose, and practice on a *regular* basis. Practice with a goal of dictionary maintenance, dictionary building, and with the goal of your mind becoming one with that dictionary.
Your dictionary is your most valuable key to your realtime success.
You need to know what is in your dictionary and how it works for you (e.g., prefixes and suffixes and how they might affect word boundaries)
Robert Collier is quoted as saying, "Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out."
Making sure that you are building and managing your dictionary on a regular basis is a surefire way to continue to increase your realtime effectiveness and your realtime success.
I know that some of you have been sitting there with gems of your own on the tip of your tongue or great information to add to this concept, so I'd love to hear from some of you -
No matter where you are in your realtime writing, no matter what sort of condition your dictionary is in at the moment, I would encourage all of you to continue to be better than you were yesterday. I would encourage you to help your neighbor to be better than they were yesterday.
And I would encourage all of you today to make sure you
L E A V E H E R E W I T H A P L A N ! ! !