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Ed's Starter Guide

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While Plover Wiki's Getting Started, Quick References and Practice pages try to serve as objective guides to the various resources available to help you learn steno, sometimes you want a more opinionated guide to tell you what's good and what's not. That's the idea about this guide: I want to give some opinions about what you should try first, and what you should try later. (Disclaimer: I'm not a steno expert, so these opinions are from someone who has basically learned the layout and now is attempting to increase accuracy, speed and vocabulary.)

Before you begin...

Unfortunately, as of 2015, it is still necessary to make an upfront investment on order of $50 to start learning steno. This probably remains one of the biggest barriers to entry.

One way to dip your toe is to just buy an NKRO keyboard, with the intent to resell it if you decide that steno is not for you. However, if you keep at it for a week, you should get the keytoppers, as you will have serious problems practicing chords without them. As for choice of keyboard, the standard is the Microsoft Sidewinder (Update Feb 2015: The Sidewinder has gone out of production so it may be a lot more difficult to acquire at $40.); a lot of newcomers often want to try experimenting with a cheaper keyboard, but if you just want to learn steno you should go with a known working configuration.

Eventually, you'll want to upgrade to a "real" steno machine (such as the StenoBoard or the upcoming Stenosaurus) in order to reduce the activation force necessary to hit a key and get something more portable, but an NKRO keyboard with keytoppers will take you a long way... long enough to decide if you're going to stick out learning steno.

The very beginning: Learn Plover!

With hardware and software working, the very first thing you should do is Learn Plover!, the definitive Plover textbook. You should tackle this textbook up to Section 3E however you best like, but be sure to do the exercises. Before moving on, you definitely should be able to do the exercises without looking up the strokes in question, and I think you should also build up a little speed too. Go back and work on previous lessons if you feel like you need to. (There is one exception: the strokes in "Steno Order" are unusually difficult, so don't fret too much about speed on those.)

You can drill the Learn Plover wordlists on Stenomatic, which supports a number of really useful features when you're starting off. If it's too hard stroking the entire word, try just stroking left hand keys, or right hand keys. Don't feel bad about not doing randomized exercises at first: it's quite a difficulty jump.

It's pretty boring, but you might also want to work on single key stroke accuracy. Stenomatic can also help here: check the Tedley Left Hand, Tedley-style Right Hand, Tedley Upper Keys and Tedley Lower Keys exercises.

I took the most notes when I was working on muscle memory, you can see some observations on the first page of this forum thread:

Goals: Muscle memory for single keys, basic understanding of steno theory

Writing sentences

By the time you get to section 3E, you'll know a lot about keys, but you won't actually be able to write any sentences. There are two primary things you need to develop to get there:

  1. (Basic) punctuation
  2. Briefs

For punctuation, I think Learn Plover is not great, because a lot of the punctuation strokes are spatially mnemonic'd (that is to say, the letters don't mean anything, they were just selected because of WHERE the keys are). This graphical cheatsheet contains some of the punctuation you might care about. The best way I know to practice punctuation is to be typing sentences, with Plover, into a text buffer.

For briefs, the way that worked best for me is to have a selection of sentences which exercises all of the briefs you are interested in learning, and repeatedly drill those sentences. (One cannot emphasize enough the importance of repeated practice.) My personal favorite is the "Magic Drill" (available on Stenomatic, also dictation is available on Court Reporting Help although 60 WPM will probably be too fast for you at this point. Briefs for the most common English words go a LONG WAY in your ability to steno.

You have some other choices for practicing briefs, mostly in the "get a random stream of words and stroke them":

  • QWERTY Steno. A plus is that they have sets all the way up to the top 700 words. However, I never found this interface useful because it just randomly gives you words: there's no way to methodically practice (when you drill sentences, you are sure to practice EVERY brief in question).
  • StenoTutor trains you in briefs, incrementally adding words (many of which will be briefed) as you type faster. I haven't used this much because, similarly, it's not clear what kind of practice regiment to set up.

Goals: Internalize briefs for common punctuation and top 100 words.

Vocabulary Building

This is sort of the big kahuna, and I'm still figuring it out myself. You should definitely set up StenoTray; it's not perfect but it helps. Consider contributing to the StenoWiki. Start working on your dictionary; add entries that make sense.