THE FIVE MAJOR TYPES OF MISTAKES MADE IN TRANSCRIPTS

The following are five areas where mistakes can occur in your transcripts.  A court reporter must be cognizant of every area to be successful.  It is not enough to write down every word on your machine.  Putting a verbatim transcript together takes careful thought and attention and at times can be very challenging.  You only get one chance to get it right.  Let your transcripts reflect the very best your professional self has to offer!

Spelling errors

There is really no excuse for this type of embarrassing error.  Utmost care must be taken to ensure that the correct spellings are inputted into your dictionary at the outset so that misspellings do not automatically appear in every transcript going forward.  Take the time to look up spellings if you have the slightest doubt.  Even if a witness spells a name or word for you, do a little research to confirm the spelling, especially medical or technical terminology.

Tip to improve:  For starters, input the list of commonly misspelled words into your dictionary.  Here is the link:  http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/spelling-and-word-lists/misspelled.html

Misused words

There are so many words that can trip you up:  affect/effect, accept/except, compliment/complement, to name a few.  You not only need to know the differences in meaning between these words in each pairing but also how to write them differently.  Beware of spell-checking software!  It wouldn’t flag any of the misused words in this sentence:  Ewe due knot no how two sow close.

Tip to improve:  Study the 50 most commonly confused homophones in the following link and input them into your dictionary; and at the very least, read a daily newspaper and look up words you are unfamiliar with. http://www.spelling-words-well.com/support-files/50-homophone-sets.pdf

Improper punctuation

Punctuation helps make sense of the words in a transcript.  Attorneys should not have to read and reread your transcript to decipher the meaning of what was said due to poor or incorrect punctuation.  When reading your transcript, they should be able to concentrate on content alone.  Improper punctuation interrupts reading flow, is distracting, and, in the worst case, can change the meaning of what was intended.  My favorite example:  “Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma.”

Tip to improve:  Reviewing the types of punctuation on a regular basis and their usage is always time well spent.

Factual errors

These errors will mostly appear on title pages where critical information resides:   the caption, civil action number, witness name, day and date, start time, appearances, etc.   It only takes one incorrect digit in a ZIP code or phone number or one incorrect letter in an e-mail address to render the information useless.  Examples of factual errors in the body of a transcript include misidentifying speakers and incorrectly marking and identifying exhibits.

Tip to improve:  When you start working on your transcript, work on the title page first.  This will help you remember the assignment and who the participants were.  Do not rush when creating this important first page.  Then proofread it at least twice.  You may also use a checklist to make sure you have covered all the details.

Incorrect capturing of testimony

A mumbled answer can sound like either “I think so” or “could be so.”  Which is it?   “September” and “December” are often hard to distinguish.  I’ve run across attorneys who swallow the first word of a question; for example, did he say “did you” or “do you”?  Even the little words, “a” or “the,” can be a huge problem.  Do you know the difference between the two?  Hint:  One is an indefinite article and the other is a definite article.

Tip to improve:  While on the job, you should pay attention to the story line and be alert to things that may not make sense.  If you are following the testimony, you will be more apt to know when it is appropriate to interrupt and ask for clarification.

Putting together a perfect transcript takes enormous care, even for seasoned reporters.  This is not the time to be lazy or complacent.  Do the necessary work.  Make a commitment to continually educate yourself.  Enlist the help of an experienced proofreader who can catch your mistakes before the transcript goes to final print.  After all, it is your name and reputation that is on the line.

What Money Can’t Buy

Court reporters spend a lot of money before they can even begin working.  They need a reliable machine for starters plus a laptop, software licenses, service contracts, and various ancillary supplies such as business cards, exhibit stickers, batteries, and extension cords.

All these items can be replaced almost immediately should disaster strike, but there is ONE item than cannot be purchased anywhere, in a store or through a vendor.  Without it you are back at square one.  Aside from your skill, it is your most valuable asset as a working court reporter.  What is it?  Your personal dictionary.

There are horror stories out there about court reporters who have lost all their equipment through car accidents or other natural disasters and, along with it, their personal dictionaries which resided only on their laptops.  This has rendered them essentially dead in the water, unable to immediately resume their daily duties and earn the income they are accustomed to.  Sadly, this situation could have easily been prevented if only they had backed up their dictionaries.

The conventional wisdom is to back up your personal dictionaries as often as possible, at least once a month, more often if you are just starting out.  Think of all the entries you make on just one assignment, especially if you are at the beginning of your career.  All that labor needs to be preserved and protected.  For even greater insurance, it would be wise to back up your dictionary in multiple ways, such as in the cloud or on a couple of thumb drives.  Then you can store one of the thumb drives in a location other than your office or home, such as a relative’s house, for safekeeping.  The more times you back up and the more places you can store your backups, the safer you will be.

This advice also applies to backing up your jobs.  I not only back up my jobs before I even leave an assignment, but I also back up after each editing session in case my laptop ever decides not to start up again.  The thought of being unable to retrieve a deposition or hearing for an attorney is frightening, so that alone is worth going the extra mile to protect my files at all costs.

Learn from those who have lost it all.  Save yourself the pain and avoid any serious repercussions and damage to your reputation.  Consider it a vital investment in your professional career.  Stop what you are doing and back up your dictionary right now.  Back up, back up often, and back up in multiple places!

OH, CHUTE!

I thought you would enjoy this story that happened to an esteemed colleague of mine, Ralph Simpson, when he competed in his third Massachusetts Speed Contest.

As a bit of background, the Massachusetts speed contests were instituted for the first time in 1975 and ran through 1979.  Ed Varallo prepared all five contests and dictated all of them.  The requirement for entering was that you had to have your Certificate of Merit.  The three legs were Literary at 210 wpm, Legal Opinion at 220 wpm, and Q&A at 270 wpm.  Back in those days, contestants had to manually type their takes, and there was a time limit for typing each leg.

Ralph still vividly remembers the tension he felt in anticipation of the start of the contests.  “I had the feeling that words were being fired at me like a machine gun and any hesitation could be fatal.  It required all the concentration I could bring.  Each five-minute take seemed to go on forever, and you just had to hang on.”

Ralph won the contest in 1975 with an average overall score of 99.59 and won again in 1976 with an average overall score of 98.15.  Incidentally, in 1976 he was the only reporter who qualified on the Q&A; in other words, he was the only reporter to score with 95% accuracy or better on that leg.  Two trophies in two years!

In his third contest in 1977, Ralph came in first on the Literary leg with a 99.52 score.  He also came in first on the Legal Opinion leg with a 99.27 score.  Although he came in with a fantastic score of 99.33 on the Q&A leg, with an overall test score average of 99.37, he came in second overall.  The trophy went to Jonathan Young that year, another Boston great.

So what tripped Ralph up on the Q&A leg that year?   He transcribed “chute” when it should have been “shoot.”  He only made nine total errors on the Q&A leg, but he made this particular error six times, which cost him his third trophy.  In retrospect, he said that “chute” didn’t even jump out at him as being an error during his transcription.

Being the good sport that he is, Ralph still finds it “amusing” that this happened to him, and he has taken some ribbing for his blunder over the years.  Nevertheless, it doesn’t take away from his great accomplishments as a speed contest champion or as a reporter of over four decades.

Ralph went on to compete in the remaining two contests, in 1978 and 1979, and had an honorable third-place showing in each.  He remains a wealth of information and a sought-after resource when we need advice and wisdom, which is just about every day.  Ralph has been with this firm for 46 years!

Thank you, Ralph, for this walk down memory lane!

Google With Care

Back in the day, long before computers became a part of a reporter’s everyday life, whenever I had a tough question, such as a spelling or a word I could not quite decipher from my notes, I would seek the help of my local library reference assistant.  This aide had access to medical dictionaries, technical journals, encyclopedias, and a host of other resources that I did not.  She saved the day for me on more than one occasion.

Today is a different story, especially for the Millennials, Gen Y, born roughly in the late 1970s to the mid-1990s, and the Centennials, Gen Z, born roughly from the mid-1990s to 2012.  Each new generation grows up with even more technology at its fingertips, specifically the Internet and social media; and with such easy access at any time of the day or night, getting instantaneous answers to one’s questions is not only desired but expected.

Court reporters have a constant need for information, and for most reporters Google is their go-to resource.  With Google, you really have the world at your fingertips.  It’s wonderful:  so helpful, convenient, and fast!  There is a danger, however, to blindly relying on what you find on Google.  Doing a search and choosing the first thing that comes up may give you a false sense of security.  You may think that you’ve done your research and found your answer when, in reality, the correct answer is really farther down on Page 2.

So how do you know if the answer you’ve found is the correct one?  It comes down to definition and context.  For example, your doctor witness says what you hear as “abduct.”  You perform a simple Google search and, sure enough, it’s a word!  If you fail to dig a little deeper, however, and look into the word’s meaning, you may not realize that the doctor actually said “adduct,” which has the opposite meaning of “abduct.”  Huge difference!

  • abduct, v.t., to draw away from a position parallel to the median axis. Think of abduction, which means a taking away.
  • adduct, v.t., to draw toward a position near or parallel to the median axis.

Chances are the doctor will be using both terms throughout his testimony.  These words are extremely difficult to distinguish auditorily under the best of circumstances.  If the doctor is a fast speaker or has even the slightest accent, it will be impossible.  This means that you will have to choose the right word each time, relying on definition and context to make the correct choice.  Imagine the implications if you fail to choose the correct word.  Imagine the fallout if you didn’t even know the other word existed!  Ouch.

Abduct/adduct is just one example.  The medical field is replete with similar illustrations.  Consider the following:

  • anuresis, n., A condition of inability to urinate. Total lack of urine.
  • enuresis, n., bedwetting.
  • apophysis, n., a projecting part of a bone.
  • epiphysis, n., the end of a long bone,, usually wider than the long portion of the bone, either composed of cartilage or separated from the shaft by a disk of cartilage.
  • claustrum – the thin layer of gray matter between the white matter of the external capsule and the extreme capsule of the brain.
  • colostrum, n., the thin, milky fluid which is secreted by the mammary glands around the time of parturition.

The lesson here is to Google with care.  Do a complete and thorough search before you decide on what to include in your transcript.  Just because you find your answer quickly doesn’t mean it is the right one.  If you are ever in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask someone for help!

Lastly, here is a useful link you should review from which the above examples were obtained:   http://www.meditec.com/resourcestools/medical-words/sound-alike-words/

P.S.  Google searches helped to make this blog possible.