The lightweight and portable shorthand machine has only 22 keys. Not all the letters of the alphabet are represented on the keyboard and the missing letters are recorded by pressing a combination of keys. The keyboard requires only a light touch, is completely silent, and is capable of producing shorthand well in excess of 250 words a minute. Words are reproduced as shorthand notes by breaking them into syllables and these are represented by a combinations of letters. The use of abbreviations and phrases increases writing speed.
Machine shorthand has been used since World War I when teenage students, after just a few months’ practice, scooped most of the prizes at the United States shorthand speed championships, and out-performed by far the experienced pen-writing reporters who also competed.
Immediate transcription of the machine shorthand notes is made possible by computer-aided transcription (CAT). Computer software translates the shorthand and displays the text on a computer screen ready for editing before it is printed. CAT provides a printed transcript within minutes of the reporting of court evidence, parliamentary debate, business correspondence or meeting proceedings.
In recent times, developments in technology have further assisted the reporting professions. Realtime reporting permits simultaneous transcription of the spoken word, as the shorthand notes are translated into written text on a computer screen at the moment of writing. Thus, realtime reporting allows participants in courts, parliamentary and business settings to view the transcript instantly.
Realtime writers are also engaged in producing captioning or subtitles for the broadcast industry. Captions allow people to read the spoken word on television, allowing greater access for consumers. Since January 2001 legislation in Australia has required the captioning of television programs across free-to-air and subscription networks.
Shorthand writers also provide CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) or live-event writing services. CART provides a complete translation of all spoken words and environmental sounds for the benefit of an individual or larger group anywhere where communication access is needed, including classrooms, lectures, religious services, conventions and conferences.