Terms Defined

Like many professionals, court reporters and captioners are immersed in their own world and often throw around terms, oblivious to the fact that others may be puzzled by the jargon.  Let’s unscramble some of the jargon that might not be perfectly clear on its face.

FREELANCE COURT REPORTER (or “freelancer” or “deposition reporter”)

We use “freelance” to distinguish someone who’s either self-employed or employed in the private sector, as opposed to an Official Reporter (see below).

The principal work of freelancers is depositions; they also cover administrative hearings for state and local governmental bodies.  But – and this is the big distinction – they rarely go into a courtroom.


Ever seen a courtroom drama on TV or in a movie?  Then you’ve seen the camera pan to a man or woman sitting quietly at a steno machine, tapping away at the keys as people talk.  That’s the Official Court Reporter!  Freelancers and Officials have identical skills, but Officials are employed on a salary by a court system and work every day in a courthouse.  All state “courts of record” employ official reporters, as does the federal court system, known as the USDC system (United States District Court).

 CAPTIONER (sometimes “broadcast captioner” or “CART provider”)

A captioner is a highly trained stenographer whose job it is to produce the captions that you see scroll across your television screen when you turn on the captions.  The captioner captures the audio and displays it as text – in real time, as people talk!  And they talk fast, often speaking 225 words per minute or more.  This is a fast-growing field, with excellent job prospects.  Many captioners work from home.  Captioners can be hired to travel to events and provide on-site captioning for classrooms, professional sports events, international conferences, business meetings, etc.  This is among the highest profile work in the business.  Challenging but exciting work.

REALTIME (sometimes “realtime streaming”)

“Realtime” text is the output of the steno machine that the stenographer operates.  Here’s the system:  A steno writer taps keys on the keyboard of his/her steno machine, which is connected to a laptop sitting in front of him/her.  Specialized software on the laptop captures the keystrokes and translates them into English words and instantaneously displays the words on the laptop’s screen.

Court reporters call that “realtime writing.”  But the big deal – and it is a big deal, because our clients want it and our competitors can’t do it – is that the court reporter can simultaneously send the realtime output to any number of other laptops, tablets, iPhones, or screen devices. Which means the lawyers in the room, and/or the judge, or the hard-of-hearing person reading the text, can also have immediate access to the testimony as it is captured live!   With modern technology, court reporters can even access a trial from their home or office, providing an immediate realtime stream of the testimony to the sitting judge.

Realtime is a state-of-the-art service that only highly trained stenographers can provide!  It is our realtime skills that make stenographic reporters the unchallenged gold standard in capturing the spoken word and reducing it to writing.


Some states, but not all, require court reporters to be licensed, and the licensure is usually as a CSR (or LSR, Licensed Shorthand Reporter).  To become a CSR, one must pass a skills test to demonstrate proficiency.  A “CSR state” will have a Board of Shorthand Reporting that oversees the certification and licensing of court reporters, responds to complaints, etc.

NCRA  (National Court Reporters Association)

NCRA, our profession’s national association, is headquartered in Reston, VA.  NCRA administers a certification program that is recognized nationally as the go-to standard for court reporters.  They also offer a credentialing exam for captioners, educators, and videographers.  Many CSR states use NCRA’s tests as their credentialing test.  When a member of NCRA passes one of its tests (the RPR, RMR, CRR, and CRC are four prominent certifications), that member receives a certificate but must accumulate 30 credit hours of continuing education units (CEUs) every three years in order to maintain certification.  NCRA offers a wide array of educational opportunities for its members to achieve CEUs.


Most individual states have their own “state association” for reporters living in that state.  Typically a state association is affiliated with NCRA and adheres to its guidelines, though it has its own leadership and educational programs offered to members.

REPORTER  (stenographer, steno writer, or steno reporter)

“Reporter” is the catchall term for freelancers, official reporters, legislative reporters.  You’ll often hear court reporters refer to themselves simply  as “reporter.”  Court reporters are not newspaper reporters or journalists.

Broadcast captioners and CART captioners typically refer to themselves, respectively, as “captioner” and “CART provider.”  (Click on Careers in Court Reporting for a full description of each job title.)

AGENCY (or firm)

An “agency” or a “firm” is a group of court reporters operating under a company name, such as Windy City Court Reporting.  Agencies can be incorporated entities, LLCs, or simply several individuals doing business under a particular name.  Reporters who work for agencies are usually individual contractors, though some agency reporters are employees of the agency.  Some individual contractors work only for one agency; others are true freelancers, working for many different agencies.  Agency freelancers find most of their employment reporting depositions; they typically never work in a courtroom.

TRANSCRIPT (the “original transcript,” “final transcript,” “certified transcript” or “official transcript”)

This is the finished product which is delivered to the client.  It is a verbatim transcription of legal proceedings, either deposition or courtroom proceedings.  A reporter is required by law to certify each transcript as “a true and accurate transcription of the questions asked and the answers given.”  The “official transcript” is the written record of trial proceedings (in a courtroom) that is the necessary document on which a party may base an appeal.

CAT  (computer-aided transcription)

CAT is a legacy term from the early era when computers were still a novelty.  The idea that computer software could translate our steno code into English text was mind-blowing!  Today in the industry you still see software and hardware products incorporating the letters C-A-T into their names.