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Steno Key Layout

Here is the meaning of each key on a shorthand machine:

Court Stenographer Keyboard

You will note that some letters of the alphabet are repeated twice and many other letters are not there at all. Combinations of keys are used to represent the remaining letters. These keys are often struck in groups, and it takes no longer to strike four keys together than it takes to strike one. Thus the keyboard is kept very compact with little hand motion required from side to side.

All shorthand methods are phonetic to some degree. Although it is possible to spell words out with this machine, the stenographer is taught to listen to the sounds of the words and break them up into syllables. There is generally one “stroke” (downward motion of the hands) for each syllable in the word or phrase. Many of the key combinations stand more for sounds than they do a specific letter of the alphabet.

Each key prints in a fixed location on the paper tape, in this order:

S  T  K  P  W  H  R  A  O  *  E  U  F  R  P  B  L  G  T  S  D  (S or Z)

Compare this to the picture of the keyboard and you will see that all of the consonants on the “initial” side of the keyboard print before any of the vowels, and that all of the consonants on the “final” side print after the vowels. As a consequence, the stenographer thinks from left to right (from initial side to final side) when selecting keys on the keyboard.

The asterisk keys are used primarily to mark the correction of an error. When the reporter makes a mistake while keying, he strikes the asterisk key once, then rewrites the section again. Later on, when reading his notes, the asterisk warns the reporter to ignore the section preceding the asterisk.

A period is denoted by striking the four-key combination FPLT on the upper right bank. A comma is signaled by RBGS on the lower right bank, just below the keys used to make the period.

Many abbreviations are used, both for single words and phrases. Any reporter builds up quite a stock of these over the years, just as you would taking notes by hand in a lecture. Some of the more common are:

Meaning Stroke
you U
he E
it T (on the initial side)
the T (on the final side)

Numbers can be printed by using the number bar. When the number bar is struck at the same time as the “H” key, the numeral “4” is printed. See the diagram above for the placement of the other number combinations.

The items mentioned here are just a small sample of all there is to know about machine shorthand. Hopefully, this will at least give you some idea what the reporter is doing with, “that little machine.”