By Darlene Williams
In keeping with the celebration of NCRA’s Court Reporting & Captioning Week, it seemed only fitting that we shine a light on an integral behind-the-scenes component of transcript preparation — proofreading. Jean Hammond is a proofreader living in Groveland, FL, with 20 years in the legal community as a legal secretary/assistant.
Jean, please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little about your background.
Hi, my name’s Jean Hammond. I’m a proofreader of transcripts for court reporters, and I live in Central Florida. My very first job out of high school turned into a 20-year run as a legal admin and assistant. After some wonderful stay-at-home-mom years and then a while as a Pilates instructor and personal assistant, I worked at my church for ten years in the Local Outreach ministry organizing and managing a food pantry, home repair and renovation teams, care packages to U.S. troops overseas and a myriad of other efforts and events all involving multiple moving parts, hundreds of volunteers, details, schedules, precision and personalities. In all of the experiences of my work and life I’ve tried to live by the motto that Excellence is in the details.
Can you please tell us what sparked your interest in becoming a proofreader? How long have you been proofreading for court reporters?
Well, I’ve always been a bit – can I say “anal”? – about words. I love good grammar and proper speech. I think word origins and idioms are interesting. Errors pop off the page at me. I’m the go-to person that people have proof their books and school papers and create their fliers and publicity materials. For several years I helped a friend edit and publish her first several books.
Life had been getting exponentially more stressful with my fulfilling (though increasingly demanding and not especially lucrative) full-time job and trying to stay on top of my family and home and not run out of hours for the “me” time I needed since I’d become a single mom. Until I stumbled across an article online about the niche field of proofreading for court reporters, I’d never imagined there was a way for me to combine my legal experience and years summarizing and proofreading depositions, my random other work experiences and my error-spotting superpower and do it all as my own boss, in my own business, from the comfort of my own home! So after a lot of researching, I found the only structured transcript proofreading training program online (Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice™) and learned how to be the best possible proofreader for court reporters. Eventually I left that full-time job and have recently celebrated my one-year anniversary of working solely for myself, from home, proofreading and enjoying my life in a way that I hadn’t in years.
What qualities should a reporter look for in a proofreader, and what advice do you have for reporters looking to use a proofreader for the first time?
I believe a proofreader’s job is to help a reporter look their best. We are the final eyes, the detail watchers, the difference between a “good” and “great” transcript, so the three main qualities that a (very) good proofreader needs to have boil down to:
- Knowledge. A proofreader needs to know their stuff (meaning the official punctuation rules, spelling, formatting, a great grasp of language, familiarity with idioms, adages, legalese, etc.) and have an extreme attention to detail. I was trained and rely on Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters and the Gregg Reference Manual with Margie Wakeman-Wells’ Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation thrown in the mix for good measure. I’m happy to cite rules, suggest punctuation options, explain word choices or write in punctuation or spelling reminders on transcripts or in e-mails with my reporters.
- Flexibility. Since the spoken word brings proofreading to a whole new level and since reporters and agencies can vary in what they want in their transcript, it can’t always or only be about rules. A good proofer is flexible and can allow for and find a balance that meets somewhere between rules and readability, preferences and consistency. Along with the rules, I proofread for clarity, correctness and consistency within each reporter’s preferences. I’m okay with a reporter who is a comma minimalist, uses or doesn’t use quotation marks, or any other style or preference. I just ensure: (a) it’s consistent throughout the transcript, (b) it allows for the easiest reading within those guidelines, and (c) it changes nothing in the meaning of the testimony.
- Communication. A reporter should look for a proofer with great communication and is realistic and dependable in their turnaround. There’s probably nothing worse than getting the “Yeah, sorry; I didn’t get to it” message at the eleventh hour! We’ve all heard the horror stories. But a proofreader worth anything will want to protect their reporter’s work-product and stress level and will send a quick “I received your job. You’ll get it back by _____!” or “I just received your job. Unfortunately, I’m swamped/sick/moving/having fun in Vegas right now. Can I help you find a backup?”
Of course, there’s no way for a reporter to know if a proofreader has these qualities until it’s tested, so I would encourage reporters to audition proofers until they find one (and a backup!) who meets their needs. Sending a 25-page transcript with a selection of common errors will cost as little as $7-$10 but will show a proofer’s knowledge, communication, turnaround and dependability. Do yourself a favor and do it well before you actually have a job to be proofed (and don’t let on that it’s a test)! Is she reading for content or just skimming through the words? How’s her legalese? Did she catch the missing “an” or the wrong-tense ending in the sentence? The missing end-quotes, or inconsistent commas? How’s her hyphen-no hyphen and semi-colon knowledge? Did she note that the Appearances page doesn’t include the speaker on page 12? Did she see that the attorney’s name was spelled differently on the last page? Did she send it back on time (or even just a bit before)?
Also, reporters should keep in mind that a proofreader is not a scopist. While some (like me) ensure that business and other proper names, medicines and technical/industry-specific words and terms are accurate, proofers are the final eyes that double check the transcript before it’s complete and shouldn’t be relied on to make edits to a transcript.
What are the three most commonly misspelled words you see in transcripts?
For the most part, my reporters (and their scopists) do a really good job of weeding out the errors that a simple spell-check may reveal, but I do find the usual homonym and homophone troublemakers like effect/affect, on to/onto, insure/ensure, perspective/prospective.
By far, though, the most errors I see are errors of wrong tense or wrong-ending — dropping an “s” when it should read plural, “ed” instead of “ing,” “simply” instead of “simple”. This is the very reason proofreaders are needed, and as my friend the writer tells me, “That’s job security, baby!”
What are the three most common punctuation errors you find when proofreading?
This one’s easy:
(1) the comma splice that misuses a comma in joining two independent clauses (It was a dark and stormy night, the roads were wet and slippery. Nope.);
(2) NOT using a comma to join independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (It was a dark and stormy night, and the roads were wet and slippery. Yes!); and
(3) NOT punctuating noncoordinating conjunction independent clauses correctly with a semi-colon (It was a dark and stormy night; the roads were wet and slippery. Yes!)
Can you explain the difference between using dashes and ellipses? Perhaps provide an example of when each one would be correctly used.
Oh, good question!
Okay, the double-hyphen “em dash” (as opposed to the shorter “en dash,” which is a whole ‘nother story) creates a strong break in a sentence. It can be used – and always in pairs – like parentheses or alone to show that a speaker’s thought or sentence was broken or interrupted. (I visualize it as an “aggressive” punctuation option; it forces its way in!) The witness who can’t complete a thought gets an em dash (So the first time – I first knew that the car was gone when I – when my wife told me.) Speakers who interrupt or talk over each other get an em dash:
Q. I’d ask that you let me finish my ques- —
A. Uh-huh. Sure.
Q.– -tion before you start your answer, Mr. Smith, and I’ll —
Q. afford you the same courtesy.
Ellipses are used to denote missing words, but in a different way. Words or phrases omitted from quoted text (Sir, do you see where Paragraph B states, “The parties . . . will hold each other harmless”?), or at the end of a line when a speaker either just trails off or somehow has no more words to finish his sentence (It was so long ago that I don’t . . .).
The difference is really in the speaker’s intonation or the other speaker’s actions, and it’s almost impossible for a proofreader to know whether the speaker just trailed off or the other speaker actually “stepped on his line” (to use an old acting idiom). Generally, the amount of time between speaker 1 and speaker 2 is the deciding factor, and that’s up to the reporter to record. To make things even harder, some people have a habit of using a hard, throw-away “so” to end their sentences (I don’t know how fast I was going, so.), while other people may use it in a more questioning or drawn out/trailing away way (I don’t know how fast I was going, so . . .) and it really is left to the reporter to either differentiate or choose one and be consistent. (Have I said before that a reporter’s job is crazy hard?)
Where do you stand on quotation marks/not quotation marks?
I stand wherever my reporter stands, but I’ll be honest. As a reader, text is just harder without quotation marks. I often have to reread or at the very least slow down and revise on-the-fly my understanding of an awkward sentence when quotation marks aren’t there to give me cues. It’s taken some getting used to, but even the more recent adaption of comma-capping quotations is an easier read and, to me, allows for more clarity although it, too, has its issues. For example, She came over and said, Are you hurt? is quite understandable, but She came over and said, Are you hurt? I just wanted to hit her . . . not so much now, right? (See what I did with the ellipses? Casual, non-legal writing lets me use it as a pause for effect.)
What software do you use to proofread, and what should a reporter expect to receive when you have completed proofreading?
I proofread documents in PDF format using iAnnotate software on an iPad. iAnnotate allows me to make annotations exactly where they’re needed, directly onto the PDF pages, mostly using a yellow highlighter and with corrections, additions and questions typed in red, like this:
Proofing via PDF is so much quicker than an errata sheet! And it ensures my eyes never leave the transcript page. When I’m done, iAnnotate allows me the option of e-mailing back only the annotated pages, saving the reporter from going page-by-page to search for (and potentially miss) my corrections. Comparison and corrections can be made, literally, in minutes.
How many pages do you typically read in a day/week?
My total monthly pages now average at just over 5,100, so that means about 1,175 pages per week. That seems like a lot, but I can read 100 pages of pretty “clean” (not excessively needing corrections) and standard transcripts in about an hour and 75-85 pages per hour for the tougher, not-very-clean (i.e., not ready to be proofread) jobs, or expert or technical transcripts that require me to start and stop a lot, or for word-dense narratives or hearings.
What are your other interests when you’re not reading transcripts?
When I’m not reading transcripts, I enjoy spreading my creative wings and planning parties, fundraisers and other events for friends and acquaintances. I’m also on the board of directors of Unforsaken Ministries, a local nonprofit that provides support to single moms and widows in my area and which fully funds a school of about 100 students in Morriseau, Haiti. In addition to that, I’m the mom of two busy teenagers, and I enjoy meeting friends for coffee dates or lunch and shopping. With my ability to literally proofread anywhere, I’m looking forward this year to a return to a log cabin in Gatlinburg and a visit in the fall with my best friend in Upstate New York.
Are you taking on any new clients at this time? What is the best way for reporters to contact you?
Yes, I am. I look forward to connecting with reporters who need a (or need a new) proofreader. You can check out my website at jeanhammondproofreading.com for more information about my rates and services, as well as a few testimonials of some current reporters. I am also happy to be contacted directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.