Good proofreaders are hard to find. If you’re a court reporter, you’ve probably had more than a few run-ins with some bad ones — you know, the ones who want to put semicolons, commas, and hyphens everywhere. The ones who don’t seem to catch even the most obvious errors. And the worst: the ones who don’t realize they’re proofreading spoken word and correct a job like it’s an essay or some other type of legal document.
If you’re a proofreader (current or aspiring), you may be reading this post to find out just what reporters expect from proofreaders. You’re in the right spot.
Let me be clear on what this post is not about: this is not an advertisement for my courses. I don’t charge any of the reporters who write to me asking for a referral. I don’t make any money off of court reporters in any way. In fact, I actually spend a lot of time disqualifying the people who are interested in my courses but are not a good fit. I don’t stand to gain anything by crusading to get as many enrollments as possible from whomever possible. What good is my course with a bunch of unqualified students? While our Beginner Basecamp package is a great exploratory option for those who aren’t sure they’ve got what it takes, it’s absolutely critical only the ones who do have what it takes enroll in my full program.
If you don’t have what it takes, I’ll just be blunt: you’re wasting your money. We won’t pass you just to pass you, and you won’t make it in this industry. I tell my students if you rush through the course or skip sections and go on to do a horrible job for a client, everyone loses. You lose because you’ll lose the client, and you probably won’t get paid. The client loses because they just wasted a ton of time on someone who has no business proofreading. And even my company, PA, loses because that reporter may be wary of trying another one of my program grads again … all because of you.
This is serious business, so we take it seriously and teach our students to do the same.
Choosing a Proofreader
When your work’s on the line, you want to make sure your work is in safe hands. But how do you know whose hands are safe? How do you find an excellent proofreader?
Ask your proofreader questions. Excellent proofreaders are educated and should use reference texts, like our favorite, Margie Wakeman Wells’ Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation. When you have a question on a correction, the proofreader should be able to back it up.
Evaluate their mojo. Excellent proofreaders enjoy their jobs and are dedicated to great customer service. They respond quickly to emails and should always have a positive attitude. It’s not a good sign when a proofreader takes an unreasonable amount of time to respond or often “forgets” to confirm receipt of new jobs. You should never have to follow up to ask where your job is; proofreaders should always keep you well informed on their turnaround time.
Test them first. Don’t send a big fat job to a brand new proofreader right off the bat. Before hiring a new proofreader, test them first. Even if they have glowing references, test them first. Proofreaders should be willing to do a short, 15-to-20-page demo of their work at no charge for you to test them out. There is very little risk involved in doing this: if they’re no good, you’ll be able to tell, and you have a totally free opportunity to see if you mesh with their style.
Ask for backup. References are always good. If you meet a new proofreader online who does not yet have references, you don’t have to dismiss them outright — test them first (see the theme here? :-)) to see what they can do. If you run into a new proofreader who claims to have taken Transcript Proofreading: Theory and Practice™, ask to see their certificate. If they can provide it, great! Feel free to (still!) test them first and see how they do. Many reporters have found excellent proofreaders that way. If they cannot provide their certificate, it’s possible they have not actually completed our exams, or worse, they may not have enrolled in our course at all.* A helpful hint about the certificates: the last 2-3 numbers on all of our certificates is a number between 90 to 100. The higher the number, the higher the candidate scored on their exams.
* — in the early days of PA’s existence, we did not offer certificates. A handful of active PA grads genuinely do not have one. You can always feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or doubts about a particular proofreader’s credentials.
Provide constructive feedback. If you’re unhappy with something your proofreader is doing, tell them (and if it’s one who trained under me, tell me!). An excellent proofreader will take even the toughest criticism positively because they know it’s only going to make them better at their jobs. If a proofreader reacts negatively or refuses to own a bonafide mistake, give them the boot.
Feel free to move on. If it’s not working out for whatever reason, don’t be afraid to let them know it’s not working out. Not all proofreaders are created equal. Not all Johns Hopkins doctors graduated with honors, either — some graduated with a C average — but they’re still out there doing the job. Similarly, not all English teachers make good proofreaders, and not all paralegals can catch your errors. Each proofreader is 100% responsible for their individual job performance on each and every job they do for you, and if they’re not cutting it, let them know you’re out, and find someone who can do the job.
Reporters: how did you know your proofreader was a keeper and how did you go about choosing a proofreader?
Proofreaders: what are your thoughts on the test them first advice?
Leave a comment below!