I hope you are putting in punctuation as you write. If you train yourself to do so, it will become automatic and you won’t even give it a second thought. If you hear the end of a sentence, put in your period. If the witness is mentioning items in a series, you know that calls for commas, so put them in. You may think you will be able to write faster by omitting the punctuation, but it really is counterproductive. You will be spending valuable time after the fact, especially in a testing situation, figuring out where the proper punctuation should go. Further, you may not think it is important, but sometimes it can prove to be critical.
Consider the following excerpt from NCRA President’s July 2018 message. I removed the punctuation. How would you punctuate this passage?
“Approximately one year ago when the lights went out during the premier session in Las Vegas I quietly wondered if it was some sort of sign I had no idea what the ensuing year would hold I’ll be honest it’s been a bit of a roller coaster thankfully I have always enjoyed the thrill of a good roller-coaster ride throughout the year my President’s columns have addressed giving back gratitude adapting to change vision celebrating success moving our industry forward and living in the reality of our profession as it has evolved I am proud of our accomplishments this year they have been significant I would like to provide you some highlights.”
If you don’t punctuate as you write, you will be faced with long run-on sentences that will be hard to decipher. More importantly, there is the danger that you will punctuate incorrectly, thus changing the meaning of what was intended to be said.
The above passage may not have been so difficult to punctuate, but there will be a time when you are faced with a technical witness who speaks his own language of which you haven’t a clue. I found the following abstract from the September 2018 issue of the Insurance: Mathematics and Economics journal, an article titled, “Minimizing the probability of ruin: Optimal per-loss reinsurance” by Liang and Young. It sounds like testimony from witnesses I’ve had at the Division of Insurance. It’s a huge challenge just getting the words down; punctuating it correctly is another story. I’ve removed the punctuation. Try punctuating this:
“We compute the optimal investment and reinsurance strategy for an insurance company that wishes to minimize its probability of ruin when the risk process follows a compound Poisson process (CPP) and reinsurance is priced via the expected-value premium principle we consider per-loss optimal reinsurance for the CPP after first determining optimal reinsurance for the diffusion that approximates this CPP for both the CPP claim process and its diffusion approximation the financial market in which the insurer invests follows the Black–Scholes model namely a single riskless asset that earns interest at a constant rate and a single risky asset whose price process follows a geometric Brownian motion under minimal assumptions about admissible forms of reinsurance we show that optimal per-loss reinsurance is excess-of-loss therefore our result extends the work of the optimality of excess-of-loss reinsurance to the problem of minimizing the probability of ruin.”
Have your eyes glazed over yet?
Testimony like this can go on for a full day, so it is very possible you could end up with 200 pages of wall-to-wall testimony to transcribe. Imagine having 200 pages of run-on sentences to deal with. Even ten pages is too much! It is almost guaranteed that in this instance you will fail to correctly punctuate, and the testimony will prove to be nonsensical and therefore useless, causing major problems for the parties involved and YOU.
As a reporter, you are tasked with creating a readable and accurate record. Punctuation marks are the tools you need to do so. If you write the punctuation as you hear it, using the inflection of the tone or pitch of the speaker’s voice as a helpful guide, you at least have a shot at correctly capturing what the witness said and meant. Sometimes, if you don’t, as in the example above, you don’t stand a chance.