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A Court Reporter’s Guide to Choosing a Proofreader

Choosing a Proofreader A Court Reporter's Guide

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 General Proofreading Lite 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.

Your Turn!

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!

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  1. Cool! I found out my exam grade! 🙂

    I like the test them first advice, although my reporters haven’t done it that way. They’ve given me a nonrush job at first so they aren’t in a hurry to turn it in and can look over it closely. Either way works. I don’t advertise that I’ll work for free, but if someone asked me to proof 20 pages to “test,” I would be willing to do so.

  2. I don’t agree with the test for free. You can give me a small section to proof, but I should be paid for it. It also establishes the relationship the other way. The reporter wants to know if the proofer can do the job, and the proofer wants to know that the reporter will pay. This establishes trust between both parties.

  3. Wow, 15-20 pages for free? I do other types of proofreading, am interested in court reporting so I follow the blog but am not terribly familiar with it yet. 15-20 pages sounds like a lot to do for free!

    1. It might seem like more because you’re used to other types of proofing. 15-20 pages goes much faster in transcript proofreading than in, for example, a book, due to the format of legal transcripts :).

  4. Hi, Caitlin: In regards to your reply to Kaylin Tristano, “If it earned you a loyal client, though, wouldn’t it be worth it?” I agree 100%. However, I noticed that even though a few proofreaders agree with your “Test them first!” advice, as I do, their main issue is being tested–for free! Just maybe, this suggestion might work for both the CR and the proofreader: The proofreaders get paid “only” if they do excellent work on their tests. Otherwise, if they don’t, which means that their work was not “up to par,” thus, “proving” they “really don’t know what the hell they’re doing,” and therefore, not really “cut out” to be transcript proofreaders in the first place, then they don’t get paid at all. Rather than the “three strikes you’re out!” rule in baseball, they are given the “One strike you’re out!” deal. Fair and square! Plus, those who do pass the test “with flying colors” will know that they truly deserve the compensation, although the compensation might not be a huge amount, providing proof of their expertise in proofreading. Just my humble opinion from a non-PA student.

  5. I think that’s a great plan, Roger! I think reporters have a right to refuse to pay for crappy work. The first job should be a test with the knowledge the proofreader won’t get hired or paid if it’s crap 🙂 Totally fair in my opinion. That will ensure only people who really know what they’re doing ever get hired. I know there are some folks who read my site and think, “Hey, I could do that!” then immediately try to get work without ever being trained or even knowing what to look for because they’ve never seen a transcript before. The “test first” thing protects the reporter.

  6. Very enlightening post!
    To answer your question not directed at me, I would be willing to offer 10-20 pages of free (and excellent) work if it meant getting my foot in the door.
    Many graduates have stated that their investment was earned back within 2 or so months.
    I think if someone is truly qualified, took this seriously, and continued to proofread for even a few months, they would see that free assignment as an investment that only costed some time.
    And really, how much of our time is already spent on things that don’t have a return?

    1. Fantastic attitude, Betsy! I think if you got a loyal client from a free 15-20 page trial, it’d be absolutely worth it.

  7. I can only imagine that searching around for a good proofreader is frustrating enough for a court reporter. Having to pay someone for poor work only adds to the frustration. As a proofreader myself, I think offering the first 15 pages for free is a good long-term investment.

  8. I absolutely agree the opportunity to prove yourself with an excellent performance in completing a test transcript is a fantastic idea, especially as a new proofreader. It’s an opportunity for BOTH the proofreader and the court reporter to build a rapport and agree on expectations without having the cloud of — Hmm, will I get paid? or Should I pay her? — looming in the background. If you want to be able to rely on the court reporter to send you work regularly and to communicate effectively, you need to provide excellent service and show the same. Not only is it an opportunity to show off your skills, but also to show your desire to build a positive relationship with the court reporters you work with. I could, of course, be in the minority here, but it’s not ALL about the money for me.

  9. I think when anyone is first starting out and has no experience, doing some work for free is part of building a client base, reputation, and experience. The attorney I worked for gave free consults when she first started and, as time went on, she began to charge a consult fee (which increased as her experience, certifications, and expert skills increased). I think the same model can be applied to proofreading. As one gains experience, a consult fee isn’t out of the question. It shows that the client values your time and skills but also allows the client to see what type of work they’ll get. I’d be wary if an attorney would only speak with me after I paid a huge retainer and, if I was a court reporter, I’d be wary of a proofreader who demanded the entire job before I had a chance to see their work. I think the only time these types of consults go away is when you have enough of a reputation, the person already knows what level of work they’ll get (like someone at Caitlyn”s level).

    1. That’s a great way to build trust between clients and proofreaders, which can definitely pay off in the long run! 🙂

  10. My husband has done lawn care, I have done house cleaning. In both professions we gained clients by offering a small service either free or greatly reduced. This was to prove our integrity. Most businesses hire unproved employees on a 90-day trial basis. After that time, full benefits kick in. Or in some cases, full benefits kick in at at a year. After reading the 192-page “dirty” transcript in Module 1–which took me 2-3hrs and I did note numerous errors; mostly read for interest in the ending! –it seems to me that quibbling over a few pgs is counterproductive. Having been both a business owner and an employee, I can guarantee I might ask a potential employee to test but would be sure to pay for a job well done.

  11. Oh, okay. I'm sure this article would inspire my friend to hire a professional so the eventual court document from his side will be in good shape. I think this is my first time hearing about the need for any court report to be proofread so there won't be any technical error which may delegitimize its credibility. Oh ya BTW, he has a case to be presented next week and he needs someone to check on his paperwork.

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