on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

By G.D. Warner

The Art of the Forum

Forums for Newbies


What a great resource the web is for court reporters and court reporting students! You can use search engines like Yahoo, Google, or Ixquick to look up all sorts of things about court reporting: Schools, steno machines, books -- you name it, you can find on the web in seconds.

Even better, you can ask questions of your fellow court reporters, court reporting students, or even the developers of your CAT software of choice (well ... some of them, anyway) on numerous court reporting-related forums!

Like any good thing, there is a right way, and a wrong way to use these forums ... and this article will (hopefully) teach you to use these resources effectively to get what you need -- and who knows? You might even make a new friend along the way!

Alas, forums can also be used incorrectly ... and if you're going to work in this field (or any other field, for that matter), wouldn't it be best not to write something inappropriate in a public forum, where numerous potential future bosses can read something that you wrote that tells him or her that you aren't the kind of person s/he wants working at his/her firm?

Hopefully, the tips in this article will help you avoid that from happening to you!


It Happens Once, Maybe Twice a Year.

What happens, you ask? Each year, The Assignment is handed down.

This is where court reporting schools tell their students to go online, log onto one of the CR forums, and introduce themselves.

Fortunately, not all schools give this assignment on the same day (though it does seem like it sometimes ....!).

Shortly after this assignment is handed down, the forums are briefly inundated with people who create an account, log in, introduce themselves or ask a question, and disappear ... never to be heard from again!

It took me a while, but eventually I stopped answering such questions, as it simply turned out to be a waste of my time, seeing as how the person the (usually lengthy) answer was written for most likely would never read it, and most definitely would never respond.

A couple years ago, after I had made my vow to avoid answering "The Assignment"-type questions, a student logged on, introduced herself ... and asked a Question.

Specifically, she wanted to know how one should conduct one's self in an online forum.

As I may have mentioned, I generally don't answer these questions when it's obvious there's an assignment in progress ... but this time, I did sit down and write a rather lengthy explanation about forums, and this article is the result ... stemming from a few things that I have learned in my years of hanging out on BBSes, Usenet Newsgroups, and the internet forums of today.

Nickname or Real Name?

On most forums, I am known by my first two initials and last name: gdwarner, or a variation thereof (gdwaynewarner on the CRF ... and the NCRA forum requires you to use your real name, so it's Glen Warner there!).

Besides not having to remember how to log in on the various forums because of name differences, it also helps to identify me to anyone who reads my posts.

Well, that, my customary avatar and .sig:

"For a Good (steno) Time ...."

Another advantage to using your real name on forums is some people simply do not respond to posts from people who identify themselves by a nickname ... so when you are creating your account, pick a good screen name -- preferably your real name (or a variation thereof), so you can avoid having to remember your name for that particular forum, and to avoid not having your questions answered.

"Lurking is Good."

When you hear (or read) the word "lurking," it probably brings to mind all sorts of unseemly things -- hanging out in dark alleys, with creepy characters and lowlifes of all types!

However, when it comes to forums, "lurking" simply means reading the forums, without saying -- er, writing -- anything.

The purpose of this exercise is to get "the lay of the land," so to speak -- you know, get a feel for how the forum operates, who's who, etc.

A few months before I answered that question about online forums, a student logged into the Depoman forum with a question.

Alas, I do not recall what the question was ... but one of the Depoman denizens, Greg Adelson, answered her question, along with a few others (who now also are wary of answering "The Assignment" questions) ... and this student insulted Greg Adelson.

For those of you who don't know, Greg Adelson has been a court reporter since I was 8 years old. He's worked as a freelancer, an official, and a firm owner ... so any advice he shares is born out of experience that few can match.

Greg Adelson and Friends

Greg Adelson and Friends

Simply lurking and reading the comments of the forum would have disclosed this fact to this student ... but she didn't lurk; she logged on, and started posting ... and insulted someone who would have been a great source of information, for every phase of her career.

As you might guess, the rest of the Depoman clan jumped to Greg's defense, and soundly berated this poor student to the point where she has not logged in since.

See? Lurking is Good.

"Sense and Civility"

Another rule of thumb for posting on internet forums is simple:

If what you're about to write is something that you would feel uncomfortable saying face to face to the person you're responding to, think twice about hitting that Submit button.

By the same token, something written on one of these forums will make you angry ... so angry that you dash something off, and hit Send ... then you suffer the pangs of regret (well ... hopefully) later on.

Another rule of thumb I learned from my days on Usenet is this:

If a post or e-mail makes you angry, wait for 24 hours before you respond.

Sure, the 24 hours might be a long time, but it should allow you to clear your head, and write a response that, at best, won't lose you a (potential) friend or two ... or at worst, get you banned from the forum.

You might open a text editor of some kind (WordPad or NotePad for those of you on Windows, TextEdit for the Mac-folk), etc., and write down what you want to say ... and let that sit for 24 hours.

At that point, you would re-read your intended post, take out all the words that violate the next rule of thumb, and see if it still makes sense. If it does, do some copying and pasting, and post your response, safe in the knowledge that you won't insult anybody, or get banned from the forum ... not to mention adding something useful to the discussion.

"Thou Shalt Not Initiate CAT Wars!"

I haven't done any scientific studies or anything, but it's a safe bet that most of your forum denizens will be on either Case Catalyst or Eclipse.

In an effort to save you some time and cut down on internet bandwidth, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: These forum denizens are very protective of their CAT of choice, and anytime someone logs on and innocently asks that often asked question, "Which is better -- Eclipse or Case Catalyst?" that person is liable to start a CAT war that will last for -- literally -- weeks!

What, don't believe me? Feast your squinties on the image below:

Long, Long CAT Wars Thread

Long, Long CAT Wars Thread

What? Still not impressed? Click the picture.

For those of you who didn't click the picture, if you had, you would see THREE PAGES worth of ... discussion.

As you might guess, it's best to avoid asking this question.

It's also a good idea to learn from the mistakes of others who have foolishly asked this question ... and the best way to do that is to use the Search feature of the forum you're visiting.

Trust me; it'll save you a lot of time and frustration weeding through the posts that start out informative enough ... then often quickly descend into mudslinging battles where the combatants may compare their fellow forum denizen with a pile of ... well, let's just say the combatants can get pretty mean, and any good info you expected to get out of posting such a question will quickly get lost in the noise ... so don't ask that question, okay?

Are You Ready ...?

Now, the question is, are you ready to join your future co-workers, friends, and bosses online in the forums?

Of course you are -- and as long as you remember the rules I have laid out here, you'll be fine.

"So, Where are These Forums You're Talking About?!?"

Good question! I only frequent a few:

•  Depoman

This forum has a special attraction for Case Catalyst users: Hap's Catalyst Corner. If you want advanced Case techniques from a master user, this is the place to go! It is also full of very informative discussions. If you only have time for one forum, this should be high on your list.

•  The Phoenix Theory Forum

Well, okay, so Phoenix Theory may not be your theory ... but for you Case Catalyst users, the woman that runs this site has written THE training manual for Case: "Learn to Use Case CATalyst," by Kathy Dittmier ... and at the top of the forum, she has several tips just for Case Catalyst users -- including a link to a StenoKeys dictionary that you might find interesting (and a .pdf non-CC-folk might find of use as well!).

•  The NCRA Forum

This forum is full of useful tidbits, and the older version of the forum is the source of that CAT Wars screenshot I posted earlier. Definitely a place to visit from time to time.

•  The Compuserve Court Reporters Forum

This is one of the oldest CR forums around ... and one where I am the SysOp of the Student section. There are sections for both Case and Eclipse users. Stop by! Play with the Search section! Lurk and learn!

•  The Eclipse Forum

Eclipse users have the CR Net Forum. Lots of info for Eclipse users, but you can pick up some good tips here as well from the working professionals that frequent this particular forum.

•  The Stenovations Forum

Not to be outdone, Stenovations has a support forum for digitalCAT users. Want a new feature in digitalCAT? Post your suggestion in the Wish List thread. Questions about providing realtime to attorneys? Check the Realtime thread. Lots of info in this forum.

•  Court Reporter Assistance

Another forum I visit, albeit not that often. Traffic is rather light. I really shoud stop by more often!

•  Readback.org

This site is a place where you can ask (and answer!) questions from reporters and soon-to-be reporters. There is a point system: Pints for posting a question, points for posting answers, and pints for posting comments.There's even a Facebook link, so you can post comments from your FB account on the Readback.org Facebook page. Unfortunately, I have seen a few of the FB comments get cut off mid-word, so there's a few bugs to be worked out.

•  LightSpeed Forum

This new forum has only recently gotten started, so there aren't a lot of posts as yet. Once it does, this will be THE place for LightSpeed users to hang out ...!

"Great! What do I do Now?"

Why, that's easy! Click on one of those links up there and go do some quality lurking!

Just remember the rules:

•  Lurking is Good!

•  "Sense and Civility"

•  "Thou Shalt Not Initiate CAT Wars!"

If you keep the rules I laid out in this article in mind, your forum experience will be a good one.

See you on the forums!