Golden Rule #1: Write Cleanly, Drop, Repeat

Are you able to transcribe your steno notes and read back easily?

No? Read on.

Frank Hutchinson, co-owner of Oakland College of Court Reporting, had this advice for advanced students in high-speed dictation classes:

          “Bite the bullet, sweat blood, slap something down.”

I adored Frank and his good-natured, helpful attitude, but my notes were a hot mess. I could barely read what I wrote, which frustrated me no end. I stumbled during read-back, red-faced, and it took a long time to transcribe my notes.

On the other hand, my favorite teacher, David Heranney, advised:

          “Avoid shattering your notes. Write cleanly.

           Drop when you can’t write cleanly anymore.

           Pick it up as quickly as you can.

           Write cleanly. Repeat.”

None of us wants to drop. But David’s advice was practical and logical.

What was the point of “slapping” something down that I could not read later? When I wrote cleanly and dropped, my writing improved. And being able to read back without hesitation was exhilarating! Most importantly, I felt more confident.

It has been said by many that the key to writing well is practice, practice, practice. There is no way around it. Becoming a court reporter requires thousands of hours of practice on your steno writer.

But how you practice is important.

“If you ignore your mistakes when you practice, you are actually practicing your mistakes!

Of course that sounds ridiculous. Who would want to practice their mistakes?

But that’s exactly what many people do. You will perform exactly like you practice.

If you ignore mistakes in your practice sessions and think that you can make it up later, think again.

Ignoring mistakes is actually practicing mistakes.” 4

In other words, if you cannot easily read what you write during practice or in class, what do you think will happen during an exam, when you feel nervous and insecure?

Under the strict transcription deadlines of qualifiers, the CSR, RPR or any other exam, your ability to read your writing can mean the difference between passing and failing. Transcribing and editing will take a very long time and create additional stress when you cannot read your notes during an exam or as a working reporter. You do not want to spend hours deciphering or “cleaning up” your transcripts.




One of my court reporting student interns wrote this after working with me at a mock trial:

“From the very beginning of my court reporting school, I was taught to write something for every word, which frustrated me during read-back because I couldn’t read my sloppy notes. After interning with Ana, I have learned to write cleanly and drop, and I have seen a huge improvement. Now reading back and transcribing are a breeze.”          ~ Tobiya Abhaya, Court Reporting Student

As a CSR, writing cleanly is especially important when working with scopists. You want to be able turn a transcript in as quickly as you can, particularly if the client wants it expedited. The cleaner you write, the faster you and your scopist(s) will finish the job. The faster you turn in work, the more jobs you can take.

As a broadcast captioner, CART reporter or realtime deposition reporter, the instantaneous English translation will be indecipherable to clients and viewers if your shorthand is sloppy, especially when you write at speeds beyond your ability or you are feeling stressed.

This bears repeating:

Write cleanly until you cannot hang on anymore. Drop.

Start writing again as soon as you can. Repeat.

Trusting your writing is essential to feeling confident and doing well on exams and as a working reporter. If you are not writing cleanly now and decide to commit to doing so, it may slow you down at first, but when you experience the benefits – reading back and transcribing easily – you will reap the rewards of your diligence.

If you only follow one of my Five Golden Rules, this one is the most important! It is never too early or too late to start writing cleanly. Start TODAY.


Golden Rule #1:  Write Cleanly, Drop, Repeat is an excerpt from Part 2 of my e-book, 0-225:  Your Guide to Writing Mastery (October 2015).

Are you ready to develop shorthand mastery and self-confidence?



4 David Sprunger, Top 10 Piano Practice Mistakes and How to Fix Them, #2 (Practicing Mistakes Instead of Practicing Music). Permission granted to modify the quote.

The above graphic, Rookie Mistake, is the creation of my former court reporting apprentice and talented artist Sarah Maksim, California CSR 14053.

Copyright and Intellectual Property of Ana Fatima Costa. All rights reserved.