Stenograph paper is paper that is specially designed to fit into and feed through stenotype transcription machines. When stenographers transcribe court, medical, or other proceedings, they use transcription machines to rapidly type every word that is spoken. It is usually too difficult to type full words and phrases as they are said, and stenographers account for this by using a professional shorthand. Transcription machines often have text display screens, but will print the contents of those screens periodically onto stenograph paper stored in the machine’s chambers below. The stenographer or stenotype reporter can usually recall statements just made by reading through the transcription machine’s printouts.
Most of the time, transcription machines can be optimized to the specifics of a particular stenographer’s short hand. Nevertheless, the notes that are printed out usually record the exact keystrokes, not the meaning behind those keystrokes. The printouts are used to translate the stenographer’s notes into a comprehensible transcript of the proceedings. In legal proceedings, the original stenograph paper is typically made part of the court record in its original form.
Stenograph paper is also used in stenomask machines, a common transcription machine alternative. A stenomask machine allows a stenographer to orally relay dialogue and unspoken happenings into a sound-proof mask connected to a machine. That machine, using voice-recognition technology, creates a transcript of what was said. In some cases, that transcript is also printed on stenograph paper.
Because stenograph paper is used to record words, letters, and coded sentence fragments, it is typically narrow, usually at most 6 inches (about 15 cm) wide. The sheets are connected to each other with perforation. When the transcription machine makes its recording, it does so on a seemingly endless stream of paper that is only later detached into individual sheets.
The technical elements of court transcriptionist and other stenographer work have slowly changed as technology has advanced. A stenographer today is more likely to have a transcription or stenomask machine that records and stores digital files than a machine with a paper output. Digital files contain the same data as notes printed on stenograph paper, but they are stored on flash drives or internal hard drives and uploaded to websites, not printed directly from the machine.
Several academic and professional notepaper companies sell a product known as a steno book or steno pad. These products are typically spiral-bound, and divided down the middle of the page into two columns. In this way, notes can be jotted down in one or both columns in a way that mimics the short notes transcribed by court reporters. These products are not usually affiliated with stenography, however, and are not known to be used by stenographers for any professional purpose. Steno pads are most popular amongst journalists, who often use shorthand when taking manual notes on speeches or conducting interviews.