Saturday, September 21, 2013

Learn Plover!

Back in May, I was contacted by Zack Brown, a professional technical writer and open source aficionado, with a life-changing offer. He'd had some RSI issues and was frustrated with the inefficiency of qwerty; Plover, he thought, might be just the thing to make his day job easier. He proposed that I tutor him in steno, and in return, he'd turn our tutoring sessions into documentation that other newbies could use to learn with on their own.

Five months of fantastic dinners from a variety of West Village restaurants, late night sessions full of fevered debate, and a great deal of collaborative pedagogical floundering later, the first volume of Learn Plover! is available online. It's written in Zack's trademark lucid, friendly style, and is a whole lot more accessible to beginners than the Steno 101 lessons it supersedes. It presents a step-by-step method of learning the keyboard, with lots of practice material to help build the all-important muscle memory that lies at the root of steno. Part 2, which is coming soon (we mapped out the scope of it last night over fish and chips), will go into higher level steno concepts such as brief building and avoiding word boundary errors, but Part 1 offers a complete overview of the stenographic system, and anyone who studies it thoroughly should be able to write virtually any word in the language. Eventually we're hoping to release Learn Plover! as a book, in both online and print-on-demand formats. For now, enjoy the lessons, and feel free to send feedback about it either to him ( or to me (

I can't express the extent of my gratitude for the staggering amount of thought and work Zack has put into this project. It's one of the best things anyone has ever done for me. Thanks, Zack. You're the best.


  1. This is fantastic!

    An interesting issue I ran into though is that some of the examples seem to be very specific to American accents. The example with 'tar' and 'not' having the same vowel sound doesn't hold up at all for an Australian accent.

  2. Hi Anonymous!

    That's a very good point. I'm happy to update the tutorials to accommodate the whole range of English accents. But for this I need people from various regions to contact me and help identify problem words, and good alternatives for the text. Anyone interested in doing this should email me and we'll work on it together.

    Be well,

  3. So I'm new to all of this, but you claim Steno with Plover lets you type at 240 wpm. If this were the case then you, mirabai knight should be at the top of the TypeRacer leader board surely?

    And what's your score on the speed test. test? Could you post a screenshot?

  4. Lite: Actually, I'm now certified up to 260 words per minute. (I got the Registered Merit Reporter certification last May.) And as of right now, I'm the top person on the Cargo Crisis leaderboard (well, top legitimate person, anyway; Jordan is a cheaty cheat who wrote a script to get him 360 WPM, ha). It only says 150 WPM, though. So why the 110 WPM discrepancy? A few reasons. First off, I'm trained to take dictation of actual English speech. Trying to zap written words as quickly as I see them on a computer screen is a very different skill from just trying to write a word whenever you hear it, especially if it's in a logical order as part of a sentence, as opposed to just a word on its own. Also, in Cargo Crisis, if you fall just a few second behind, you instantly lose and have to stop playing. In actual steno work, as long as you can keep a 10 or 15-word buffer in your head, you can fall behind quite a bit, because most people pause at the end of every sentence, and that allows you to "dump the buffer" and catch up whenever you need a little bit of extra time. Also, Cargo Crisis requires 100% accuracy to get points for a word. RMR certification just requires you to get enough of each word down so that when you go to edit the test (you get one hour of editing per each five-minute dictation), you're able to figure out what you meant to write. So if you can read through your own typos, you can still pass the test even if you made a ton of errors while writing. So that's my excuse. I'm still gonna keep trying to beat my high score, though. It's good practice to learn to push myself in a visual mode rather than an auditory one.

  5. Oh, and I tried the 10 fast fingers typing test, but for some reason it wasn't working for me. I'd write the word and it would come out perfectly in the text input window, but the game wasn't giving me credit for it. Weird.

  6. <3 plover! I've been typing Colemak for two years but I only do a measly 80 wpm... If plover had been around and if I had known about it...

    Nevertheless, the sidewinder is underway, and I've been arpeggio-ing through the Learn Plover posts. Is it correct that lesson 5 and 6 are not written yet?

    Quick bit of feedback: I think it would be valuable to mention where to find the dictionary, in an early lesson. That way I can actually look up stuff before the lessons reach it if I'm curious. It stimulates learning :)
    (I did figure it out now)

    Oh, can I vote for including an extra two keys in the lasercut keyset? It makes no sense the way it is now... I'll buy a set if you include two extra ;)

  7. Hey, thanks for the comments!

    I'll ask my laser cutter how much it'll add to the price to include two extra keytoppers. I thought that only covering one asterisk column helped people orient their hands at a glance more easily, but perhaps that's not the case.

    You might be right that locating the dictionary should be in an earlier lesson, or perhaps in the "Getting Started" page on the Plover Wiki. I'll definitely consider it!

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  9. There seems to still be a misconception that transcriber is merely a fancy name for an audio typist or even a copy typist, and that anyone with a modicum of office experience can provide a transcription service. useful link