Is Your Dictionary Getting in the Way of Realtime?


Is Your Dictionary Getting in the Way of Realtime?

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By Anissa R. Nierenberger

When the National Court Reporters Association launched the Writing our Future initiative, it set for members a lofty goal: get everyone to write realtime. Anyone who attended last year’s NCRA annual convention in Las Vegas got that message again — big time.

The realtime goal is its number one priority. Right now, though, only 37% of reporters are realtime writers. That’s a 63% deficit NCRA needs to overcome. Impossible? No. It’s just going to take time and some persuasion; but, one by one, it shouldn’t take long for everyone to come on board. At least not once everyone understands realtime’s benefits and how logical it is to get realtime ready.

Real Knowledge

Realtime has a 96%-plus translation rate and an infinitely expandable dictionary.  I’m lucky. A wonderful woman, Janet Cassidy Burr, turned me on to that fact a long time ago when she trained me to realtime.  Over and over, she said to me, “You are your dictionary.  Every word you have learned in your entire life should be able to translate through your CAT software.” Her
words became my mantra and are now a very important aspect of my career.

With realtime, my goal is to have everything I need in my dictionary before I write. My prep is front-end. My edit time is practically nil, which not only makes my life easier, it makes me much more productive. My reward?  Time.

I’m not the only one who’s experienced the benefits of realtime. Dona Fisher, a sixteen-year court reporter, recently told me, “My editing time has decreased greatly. It is a combination of dictionary entries and the confidence I have when I’m writing. There’s always room for improvement.”

Real Story

My first two years as a captioner were spent at a TV station. Like any newbie, I was thankful for my job, but inexperience hurt my self-confidence. I felt inept.  My vocabulary knowledge wasn’t very broad. My dictionary needed a lot of work.

After school, I changed my writing. My speed dropped. That development didn’t exactly help sustain, let alone build, confidence. Every night, I would pray my boss, Larry Driver, didn’t call to fire me. Larry was patient, though, and he saw a couple things in me that I didn’t at the time. He saw I had both a good theory and a lot of determination.

On the weekends, I would sit for hours at my kitchen table to enter words into my writer.  I didn’t own a computer back then, so come Monday morning, I’d go into the office, “dump” my writer, and then watch red un-translates pepper the screen like a pox.


I knew what I had to do, though. I had to define not only all those words, but also multi-syllabic words’ parts. Those word-part definitions and new vocabulary were the key to bumping up my dictionary’s quality, because those made up the un-translate pox.

It took about a week, and a lot of patience, to define the previous weekend’s work. Only after I entered those definitions could I select all strokes to define those words. “Defenestration” is a good example. I write this as “TKE/TPEPB/STRAEUGS.” However, I mis-stroked this as “TKE/TPEP/STRAEUGS.”  I had to ask myself, then, “Is ‘fep’ a word?” No.  I made the decision to define the un-translate as the word “fen.” Then, I could select all three strokes and define defenestration.

The perfect solution was to think past what I was writing at the time.  The key was to ask, “What would this be otherwise?”

The result? After that move, I could build words like crazy. My new foundation allowed me to rebuild my dictionary myself from the ground up. My confidence grew right along with my dictionary. Following that, whatever was said, I knew I had it covered. The scope of my dictionary was more complete and growing every day, and I had myself to thank, both for what was already in my dictionary as well as everything I added.

I still add a lot to my dictionary. The more I add, the greater my self-confidence, and that translates into an increasingly better work product.

Your Story

I’m often asked, “How can I clean up my dictionary?” That’s actually a very broad question. Conflicts can be solved with a dictionary search. All anyone needs to do is print them out and pick a few to resolve each week.

CAT software should already be set to flag conflicts to help you quickly decide what stays and what goes.  Its artificial intelligence can also help give you a jump on solving conflicts.  In realtime, after it recognizes consistently repeated words, it can recommend a brief. When editing, upon defining a word, it can create a possible word list for you so you don’t have to spend time typing them.

As for redoing your entire theory? Forget about it. Focus on tweaking the problem areas.

It’s called streamlining.  Like anything, it’s a process: resolve, add, clean; resolve, add, clean. The
more streamlined you are, the more confident you’ll feel about your realtime translation tool.

Remember, the idea behind realtime is to have the deepest dictionary you can before you sit down to write. Enhance your dictionary with all types of vocabulary because you never know when you may need it.  Besides that, though it may seem nonsensical, increasing your vocabulary is actually the most efficient way to clean out your dictionary.

Students’ Story

Most students now leave school with dictionaries that accompany their realtime theories.  It’s a great head start, but they, like us, still need to know their dictionaries like the backs of their hands to be consistently effective in realtime writing.

They, like us, must continuously work to keep our dictionaries realtime ready.  Once they know their theories, they should not make a habit of checking their theory dictionaries to see “how” they write. Once they’ve made it through theory, they should know how to write a word. Any word.  Word not in the dictionary? Define it and move on.

The dictionary will need a vast variety of given names, surnames, male and female names, auto makes and models, medications, and every other category of words under the sun.  Once they make the connection between the dictionary and realtime skills, they, too, will build the type of confidence that will make them feel more valuable.

Your Challenge

Steel your nerves. This challenge is guaranteed to upgrade your skills for your most important client: you. Just remain calm — breathe — and, above all, be patient with yourself. Writing realtime is a reachable skill.

Reporters: On your next job, ask the agency for the notice of deposition, previous work products, transcripts, and other documents.

Officials: Look through the court file, get the witness list, and whatever else you can get your hands on.

Everyone: Before you write, enter all that information, along with proper names, into your main dictionary. Job-specific things like attorney designations and oddly spelled names can go into a job dictionary.

Now, when your fingers finally hover over your keys, poised for the first words to come, see if you don’t feel more prepared, more confident and put-together, more like the professional,
realtime writer you always knew yourself to be. It won’t be long before you can break out your Braveness Badge and start sharing your skills to help others achieve your same level of competence — and confidence.

Your Take-away

Fewer red un-translates means less editing time, which makes you more productive, which, in turn, makes you more self-confident.

Your Tasks

  • Keep your dictionary clean: Get low-tech with sticky notes. Write five words to add,resolve, or define, and slap a note on your machine.
  • Keep your dictionary flexible: Multiple pronunciations require multiple entries. One word might be said differently in different regions. Plan for that possibility.
  • Keep your kitty current: Software is a tax write-off. Always have current CAT software with an updated support contract.
  • Keep your skills current: Invest in training so that you can do your job more efficiently.
    You’ll work smarter, and you’ll end up with more time to do what you want to do.
  • Keep your skills sharp: A little practice never hurt anyone. Put in some training time on your CAT software to learn how to increase your flush delay so you can see and perfect your realtime before it goes out.

Recommended Reading

Go to the NCRA online bookstore to buy “Realtime Writing” and “Writing Naked.” Both books share great ways to solve conflicts and other issues.  There are also online realtime courses that will help speed your progress and provide accountability.

About the Author

Anissa R. Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CBC, has spent 20 years in the industry as a broadcast captioner. Based in Lowell, Michigan, she is the founder of Dictionary Jumpstart, president of MAPCR (Michigan Association of Professional Court Reporters), and a frequent speaker at schools, associations, and a variety of conferences.

Anissa R. Nierenberger, RPR, CRR, CBC, CCP, CRI, Dictionary Jumpstart, Inc., 517-410-2209

This article was first published in the NCRA Journal of Court Reporting.

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