The Stenographer’s Conundrum: How to Avoid the “Write Perfect and Drop” Trap

When you’re learning stenography, it’s important to avoid dropping words because it can lead to inaccuracies in your transcripts and ultimately affect your grades. In official settings, like legal proceedings, even a small mistake can cause big problems. It’s essential to pay attention to detail and strive for accuracy in your writing. In this blog article, we’ll be exploring the “write perfect and drop” syndrome in the school setting to help you avoid these mistakes and achieve your best results.

Don’t worry if you find yourself hesitating while writing – it’s a common challenge for many steno students (and even professionals)! The real issue arises when hesitation leads to drops in your writing. Even if you hesitate, remember to keep going and write something for what was said, even if it’s not perfect, that way you can stay on the speaker  and be ready to tackle the next word with confidence

It’s better to write more words with some errors than to write fewer words with no mistakes.

While striving for perfection can be a positive trait in many areas of life, it can actually hold a stenographer (whether student or professional) back in their work. The pursuit of the perfect stroke can create a mindset where any errors are seen as failures, which can be discouraging and hinder progress. Additionally, the focus on achieving the perfect stroke can lead to a hesitancy to write and a fear of making mistakes. This hesitancy can slow down a stenographer’s writing speed and make it difficult to keep up with the spoken words.

To achieve success in steno, it’s important to strike a balance between aiming for accuracy and efficiency while also allowing for a degree of flexibility and recognizing that mistakes are a natural part of the learning process.

What is a “write perfect and drop” reporter?

A “write perfect and drop” reporter is a stenographer who strives for absolute perfection in their writing, to the point where they hesitate or drop words if they are unsure of the correct stroke or spelling. They may become fixated on achieving the perfect stroke or outline, which can slow down their writing speed and cause them to fall behind the speaker. In some cases, the “write perfect and drop” mindset can lead to a fear of making mistakes, which can further hinder a stenographer’s performance.

Getting a Stroke for Everything

The opposite of this syndrome can be phrased as “get a stroke for everything” or “write something for everything that is said.”

  • In the best-case scenario, “something” is a perfectly clean and accurate stroke.
  • Other times that “something” might be a misstroke or a portion of the correct word.
  • And in the worst-case scenario that “something” is undecipherable.

Ideally, the “something” you write is either correct or something you can figure out so you can transcribe the correct word. Getting a stroke for everything is a technique used by stenographers to ensure they capture as much of the spoken content as possible, even if they may not be able to write out every single word in full.  It is better to stay on the speaker and write something that later can be transcribed. You can always clean up your incorrect translations when you are transcribing. You cannot make up and fill in words that you have dropped.

It’s great to aim for perfection in writing and staying on the speaker! While we may not always achieve it, we can definitely work towards getting as close to that goal as possible.

Here are some tips to help you minimize drops:

Focus On Writing For Speed

This can be achieved by incorporating finger drills that target your weak spots, and gradually increasing your speed over time using a metronome. The key is to challenge yourself just enough to reach the next level without overwhelming yourself. By practicing finger drills with a metronome, you’ll not only increase your reaction time, but also build speed and confidence in writing complex outlines that require more dexterity.

You can also practice speed the traditional way by writing dictation files 10-35% faster than your immediate goal speed.

By completing each file three times and adjusting their speed for each attempt based on their performance, StenoKey students are able to challenge themselves and achieve rapid progress in their steno skills.  This tailored approach to practice ensures that students are working at a pace that maximizes their learning potential while maintaining engagement with the material.

Develop Great Writing Habits

Dedicate some of your practice time to developing great writing habits. This entails addressing weak spots in your writing theories and practicing words that cause you to hesitate, until they no longer pose a challenge to you. As you get stronger as a writer, you’ll find that you hesitate less and less when writing at your goal speed. Whenever you grade your work, keep an eye out for those pesky weak spots and tricky words that cause hesitation. By deliberately practicing these concepts and words, you’ll be able to write them automatically and confidently, so you can stay on top of the speaker during future dictations.

It’s important to understand that there are times to focus on speed and times to focus on accuracy, and those times don’t always line up. Before starting any dictation, take a moment to ask yourself what your goal is for that particular session. Are you practicing to learn a new concept? Or maybe you’re working on increasing your general speed? Whatever your goal may be, it’s important to have a clear understanding of it before starting, so that you can focus your energy and practice effectively.

As a steno student, your objective is to be able to transcribe your work with as few drops as possible. Many students become trapped at certain speeds for longer than necessary, not because they don’t know how to write the 95%+ words on the test at their goal speed, but because they drop too much. Excessive dropping is a serious hindrance to steno progress. By focusing on minimizing your drops and mastering your theory, you’ll be well on your way to increasing your speed and accuracy.

You will learn to trust your writing the more often you transcribe. You will also learn to decipher your misstrokes the more you transcribe.  Taking the approach of getting a stroke for everything, is not simply a change in mindset, but it requires modifications to how you approach your daily steno practice.

Drop Words Strategically

Remember, it’s normal to encounter challenges and have difficulty getting a stroke for everything, no matter how hard you try. You know those times when you find yourself struggling to keep up with the speaker, feeling like your accuracy and confidence are slipping away? It’s a frustrating experience that can quickly lead to dropping words or even giving up altogether. But before you reach that point, there’s a strategy you can use to regain control: strategic dropping. By making intentional decisions about which words to drop, you can stay in sync with the speaker and maintain your focus and accuracy.

In steno school, errors are counted on a per-word basis, meaning that a five-syllable word and a one-syllable word both count as a single error if dropped. When faced with a challenging word, it’s often better to simply drop it and focus on capturing the following words to stay on pace with the speaker. Unfortunately, some students may become fixated on a single difficult word, causing them to lose focus and drop multiple words as a result. Once you grade your file, you can identify which words were dropped and focus on mastering them in future practice sessions.

Avoid Looking At Screens

Looking at your realtime screen, machine screen, or hands while writing steno can be tempting (I mean, how could it not – it’s like so cool!), but it’s important for students to avoid this habit. Doing so can negatively impact your writing speed and disrupt your concentration.

There are a few reasons why looking at your screens can affect your performance, but the most significant one is the distraction it creates. If you happen to notice an error on the screen, the temptation to immediately fix it or mistakenly believe that you can recall the correct word can divert your attention and cause you to fall behind the speaker and lose overall momentum.

To avoid this, try strategies such as closing your eyes, focusing on a spot on the ground or wall, or zoning out by staring into space.

Practicing Writing In A Foreign Language

One effective way to break free from the “write perfect and drop” syndrome is to practice writing in various accents and dialects. This exercise can help you prepare for real-world scenarios where speakers may not use perfect English or speak in the same style as your typical practice material.

For stenographers severely struggling with the “write perfect and drop” syndrome, here’s a technique that can take your practice to the next level: writing in a foreign language. This exercise can help you develop a more acute sense of sound and improve your reaction time when writing challenging speech patterns.

Writing in a foreign language also requires you to forego the use of your CAT system’s translation capabilities, as these foreign words are not defined or familiar to you. Instead, you’ll need to rely on your ability to write what you hear, no matter how unfamiliar the words may be. Strive to capture the sound as accurately as possible, rather than worrying about the output on your realtime screen. While this approach may seem daunting at first, it can be a valuable tool for overcoming the “write perfect and drop” syndrome and achieving greater proficiency in stenography This exercise will help you develop the fundamental skill of writing what is said, enabling you to produce accurate transcriptions with minimal drops.

Stay Relaxed

Stress and anxiety can cause you to tense up, which can slow down your writing speed and make it harder to keep up with the spoken word. Many steno students will notice they hold their breath when the speed or content becomes a bit overwhelming. Holding your breath is a natural response to stress and anxiety, but it can actually make the situation worse. When you hold your breath, your body tenses up, which can slow down your writing speed and make it harder to keep up with the spoken word. Additionally, when you hold your breath, your brain may not be getting enough oxygen, which can impair your cognitive function and make it more difficult to think clearly and accurately write the dictation.

It’s important for steno students to practice relaxation techniques and focus on their breathing to reduce stress and tension and improve their writing speed and accuracy. If you catch yourself holding your breath, simply think “breathe” and take a breath in and out. Similarly, if you notice your shoulders creeping up towards your ears, consciously relax them and let them drop down while thinking “relax.” These small adjustments can help you stay relaxed and focused, even in high-pressure situations. Stress doesn’t have to control your writing; with practice and dedication, you can learn to manage it and excel.


Don’t get discouraged if there are times when you can’t get a stroke for everything — it’s a natural part of the learning process! The key is to keep practicing and building your skills, even if it means making mistakes along the way.

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