Stenographers take dictation and then transcribe their notes on a typewriter or word processor. They may be asked to record speeches, conversations, legal proceedings, meetings, or a person's business correspondence. They may either take shorthand manually or use a stenotype machine.

In addition to transcription tasks, general stenographers may also have a variety of other office duties, such as typing, operating photocopy and other office machines, answering telephones, and performing general receptionist duties. They may sit in on staff meetings and later transcribe a summary report of the proceedings for use by management. In some situations, stenographers may be responsible for answering routine office mail.

Experienced and highly skilled stenographers take on more difficult dictation assignments. They may take dictation in foreign languages or at very busy proceedings. Some work as public stenographers, who are hired out to serve traveling business people and unique meetings and events.

Steno pool supervisors supervise and coordinate the work of stenographers by assigning them to people who have documents to dictate or by giving stenographers manuscripts or recordings to transcribe. They also check final typed copy for accuracy.

Skilled stenographers who receive additional training may learn to operate computer-aided transcription (CAT) systems—stenotype machines that are linked directly to a computer. Specialized computer software instantly translates stenographic symbols into words. This technology is most frequently used by real-time captioners or others doing computer-aided real-time translation in courtrooms, classrooms, or meetings. The use of this technology requires a more sophisticated knowledge of computer systems and English grammar, along with enhanced technical skills. Other areas of specialization for stenographers include the following:

Transcribing-machine operators listen to recordings (often through earphones or earplugs) and transcribe the material. They can control the speed of the recording so that they can type every word they hear at a comfortable speed. Transcribing-machine operators may also have various clerical duties, such as answering the telephones and filing correspondence.

Technical stenographers may specialize in medical, legal, engineering, or other technical areas. They should be familiar with the terminology and the practice of the appropriate subject. For example, a medical transcriptionist must be a medical language expert and be familiar with the processes of patient assessment, therapeutic procedures, diagnoses, and prognoses.

Court reporters specialize in taking notes for and transcribing legal and court proceedings. Real-time captioners operate CAT stenotype systems to create closed captions for live television broadcasts. It should be noted that the body of knowledge required to perform the tasks of a court reporter or real-time captioner is greater than that which a stenographer needs to know. While a court reporter or captioner could readily perform the tasks of an office stenographer, the stenographer would be unable to perform either job without additional training.

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