Grammatical sleuthing: Best resources for searching in print and online

The JCR recently reached out to NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council for recommendations on references for spelling, grammar, and language. Council members shared their favorite print and online resources as well as their best online research tips. The following members shared their responses:

  • Aimee Suhie, RPR, a freelancer in New Fairfield, Conn.
  • Patricia Miller, CRI, CPE, an instructor in Middletown, Del.
  • Francesca Ivy, RPR, a freelancer in Metairie, La.
  • Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Audubon, N.J.

In addition, Kathy McHugh shared a response from Lisa Inverso, who she uses as a scopist.

  1. Which print books/references do you use or like the most for spelling, grammar, language, etc.?

Aimee Suhie: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? and her Fairly Familiar Phrases.

Pat Miller: Most use in print and for a spectacular saver of time: Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? I add to, correct, update the book as I go. I may also make a note or two, highlight words I need to see in print over and over again, and put some words on the front inside cover just because. It is way faster to use this book than to use the internet, which is full of just plain wrong information a lot when it comes to spelling that includes punctuation. If, after the five seconds it takes to use this print reference, I don’t find my answer, then I go to the internet.

When I really need print book guidance for grammar and usage, I use a few books. My favorite for a couple of years has been one recommended by an English professor. It’s wonderful and has a summary of MLA and APA style manuals in the back: Rules for Writers, Seventh Edition, by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers, published by Bedford/St. Martin’s.

I use Gregg and Morson as appropriate and for inspiration.

Francesca Ivy: Of course, first and foremost would be Morson’s English Guide for Court Reporters. I keep a copy of my English book from school that is also useful from time to time by Mary A. Bogle called Rowe College Business English. As a freelance reporter taking depositions, I find that it helps to have some local phone books to consult for surname spellings. I also keep a few really old phone books to search for spellings of closed-down businesses from pre-internet days. Over the years, my print books have been reduced substantially because of the internet, but the ones that I still keep handy tend to be on specific subjects that I don’t know a lot about or find easier to consult than searching online; for example, an electronics dictionary, a chemical dictionary, a world atlas, a medical dictionary, the Illustrated Dictionary of Building Materials and Techniques by Paul Bianchina, and The Barnhart Abbreviations Dictionary. I have purchased some of these over the years by perusing used book sales in the references section.

  1. Which online references do you use or like the most?

PM: The three I use the most are:

I also have regulars, frequents, reliable specialties, and so on.

FI: I use Merriam-Webster a lot, my state bar association for attorneys’ names and email addresses, and the state board of medical examiners for doctors’ names. I like Walgreens.com for medication names because they have an index in which you can search by the first letter of the drug and have all the names come up and then choose the best match and check for what it is used for to confirm if it is the right one. LinkedIn is great, and Facebook can be helpful, too.

Lisa Inverso: One reference I would add is using Grammarist.com as an online reference source. It gives explanations and the proper usage of many words in the English language that are a sound alike or confusing sometimes.

Also, sometimes I will put the spelling that I think it might be into Google search, which will ask: “Did you mean…” and give me a different spelling of the word. Then I check if Google’s suggestion is the word I want. It saves me time when I don’t know the spelling.

  1. What is your best tip for researching online?

AS: When I Google a drug or proper name, I never take the first spelling but check multiple sources below that first one to be sure I get the correct one. How easy it is today to check spellings at midnight when in “the olden days” I would call the pharmacy (only when open) and the reference desk at the library with a question like, “Can you find the name of a city in Puerto Rico that sounds like x and maybe has a waterfall?” And, of course, that had to be during daytime hours!

PM: Tip 1 is “best” specific: LinkedIn is da bomb for people and companies, with worldwide participants.

Tip 2 is “best” general: Follow a link. Don’t accept the search engine summaries. Check that what appears in the search summary is also in the linked page, article, or reference (or many times not followed through in the link). Check that the source is reliable.

FI: I also do not just trust what comes up first on a Google search page. I check more thoroughly. I definitely don’t trust Wikipedia since what is on there could be written by anyone. I keep a folder in my favorites titled “Research,” and when I stumble upon a good site for researching a particular subject, I add it in that folder so that I can find it again. I also have a binder with A to Z index pages. When I have a hard time finding something online and finally have success, I jot the word down and keep it there for next time so I won’t have to go through the pain again. I also keep frequently occurring words or company names in there that are no longer around; for instance, companies that made asbestos products.

Kathy McHugh: My best search tip online is putting in some context as well as the word I’m specifically looking for. I’ll put the surrounding words that the attorney or witness used and that generally helps me find what I’m looking for.

Commas and hyphens and exclamation points, oh my! A conversation about punctuation

White question marks painted on asphalt in a pattern, alternating between upside down and right-side up

Photo by: Véronique Debord-Lazaro

In honor of National Punctuation Day, which was on Sept. 24, the JCR hosted a discussion with NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council about punctuation marks. Members talked about whether they use the Oxford/serial comma or not, what they call #, what punctuation rules they look up the most, and what their favorite punctuation mark is. The following members shared their responses:

  • Aimee Suhie, RPR, a freelancer in New Fairfield, Conn.
  • Judy Lehman, FAPR, RMR, CRI, an official in Shelbyville, Ill.
  • Janine Ferren, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Fishers, Ind.
  • Patricia Miller, CRI, CPE, an instructor in Middletown, Del.
  • Francesca Ivy, RPR, a freelancer in Metairie, La.
  • Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR, a freelancer in Audubon, N.J.
  1. Do you use the Oxford/serial comma? Why or why not?

Aimee Suhie: I’m sorry to say I despise the Oxford comma and have never used it. I figure if you have an and or an or in the sentence, why do you need a comma before it? If you have a list like book, pencil, desk — bingo, commas! But if you have book, pencil and desk, isn’t that why the and is there? I know even the New York Times uses the Oxford comma, but when I was a newspaper reporter, I never did.

Judy Lehman: I do use the Oxford/serial comma. Although it takes a little more time — and I don’t love it — it clarifies things that may otherwise be ambiguous. Good example found here.

Janine Ferren: Yes, I do use the Oxford comma. [Ed note: Janine referenced the slightly risqué Web comic that involves JFK, Stalin, and two dancing girls that is frequently cited in editing, proofing, and grammar circles.]

Patricia Miller: I do use the Oxford/serial comma. I like to be precise and for sentences to be as clear as possible. If a situation warrants leaving it out, I will do that. Flexibility in punctuation is important in order for the message to say what it intends to say.

I do not understand the intensity of feeling that some have regarding any individual mark of punctuation (nor the dogmatic application, or not, of any one rule or style). It’s a living language, people! We are professionally alive and vital because we can adapt better than the other methods. They all, the marks, exist as tools to help the reader see the words and the message as smoothly as possible. They can be used creatively to misdirect the reader (not in our profession, of course) and can be piled in to make words as precise as math.

Francesca Ivy: I use the Oxford/serial comma. Always have and always will. It is what I learned to do, and I agree that it prevents sentences from being misunderstood.

Kathy McHugh: I don’t always use the Oxford comma — it seemed unnecessary a lot of the times — but I think you ladies have convinced me it serves a purpose.

  1. What is # called?

AS: To show my age, # means number to me, not hashtag!

JL: Yeah, it’s the number symbol for me, too. Hashtag means what, anyway?

JF: I always used to call it the number sign. Then people started calling it pound, such as on the telephone. At first I didn’t know what it was. I figured out that it was the number sign by process of elimination, because it definitely wasn’t the star! Then hashtag started with the social media platforms. I use all three terms now, depending on what I’m referring to.

PM: I use the word that fits the usage. So hashtag if social media. Pound sign or number sign if communication, such as a telephone number. Pound as a measurement.

FI: If I see it standing alone like above, I call it the number sign. If it is connected with social media, I say hashtag.

KM: I would automatically call # the pound sign, but I understand its other meanings.

  1. Which punctuation rule do you double check the most?

AS: I memorized Lillian Morson’s amazing punctuation rules for commas and semicolons in sentences and faithfully followed her rules of “comma, comma, semicolon” and never more than two commas. In recent years, however, I definitely strayed from that rule and used separate sentences more instead of semicolons to allow the attorney who might be reading this aloud to a jury to be more clear on where each sentence was going. I didn’t check the rules because I was so impressed by every word she wrote (and spoke at conventions — I even got to meet her!) that I absorbed them and thought each made perfect sense. I did and do have to check Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated?, however, several times per transcript.

JL: Probably hyphenations and one word/two words are what I check most. I have several copies of Mary Louise Gilman’s One Word, Two Words, Hyphenated? around. It’s an oldie but a goodie. While grading fast-fingered reporter speed tests this past weekend, we had several of those issues arise — housecleaning or house cleaning, for instance.

JF: What punctuation rule do I check the most? Numbers and hyphens.

PM: That’s tricky. It’s not the rule so much as the application in a particular situation. I investigate hyphens the most.

FI: I would probably say quotation rules, especially in the Q&A form when parts of another transcript are read into the record I’m taking. It doesn’t happen too often in depositions.

KM: I check the need to hyphenate words the most.

  1. What is your favorite punctuation mark?

AS: Love the dash! Makes sentences so clear to the attorney reading them.

JL: My fave punctuation mark for transcripts is the reporter dash. That may be obvious from my first two answers. It’s awesome for enhancing readability, which is what transcripts are all about. For other writing I do, likely my favorite is the much maligned and underutilized semicolon! I’ve taught English classes for court reporters, medical transcription students, and accounting students, and I currently teach some professional development classes in adult education. I harp on the correct usage of this jewel.

JF: My favorite! Punctuation! Mark! Is one I never use in a transcript! Can you guess what it is?! I’m Italian, I speak with my hands, and so I use the exclamation point like I use my hands.

PM: I like getting to the end of a long sentence without needing any internal punctuation. I do not have a favorite mark. All the kids get to play on my team.

FI: I would have to go with the exclamation point, probably because I don’t get to use it in transcripts!!!

KM: I guess the exclamation point would be my favorite as well but, yes, never used in a transcript.

PROOFREADING TIPS: A fresh and tasty baker’s dozen

By Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas

Proofreading is the last step in the finalization of your transcript. The proofreader’s eyes are the last ones to review the final product. It’s important to set the stage and do the most thorough job possible in order to produce the best transcript. We offer the following tips to make the task more efficient, more thorough, and more foolproof.

  1. Scoping and proofreading are not the same function. For the best results, scoping should be done by someone else and at a different time than when you proofread.
  2. Create a comfortable environment with good lighting and seating. Minimize distractions and interruptions. Try to ensure you are fed and well rested prior to starting your proofing session.
  3. Determine which method works best for you: in the software on your computer; using an app on a tablet device; printed on paper.
  4. Make sure to allot a sufficient amount of time to do the job thoroughly. Slow and steady wins the race every time over fast and sloppy.
  5. Take breaks – don’t try to read 400 pages all at one go.
  6. All research should be completed prior to commencing proofreading. You will lose the flow necessary for contextual reading if you’re stopping every half page to double-check a spelling or perform an online search for a term.
  7. Choose a reputable primary dictionary to follow (Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford) when making decisions on spellings, hyphenation, and one word/two words rather than stand-alone books that may be outdated or unsupported by references.
  8. If you encounter a word/term with which you are unfamiliar, be wary of accepting the first word that pops up in a Google search that seems to fit your phonetic. Be sure to check the definition in a reputable dictionary, and make sure it fits the context.
  9. While spot-checking the audio can be helpful, listening to continuous audio is not recommended. It is difficult to read for context, pay attention to punctuation, and listen to audio at the same time.
  10. Be aware of your weaknesses. If you habitually misstroke things like “they’re/there/their” or “it’s/its,” pay special attention to occurrences of those words. Also watch for incorrect small words like “as/at,” “it/is,” and missing words like “a” and “the.”
  11. Keep in mind the common words that are often transposed (I did/did I) and words that are only one letter different (formal/former, contact/contract), and pay special attention when they occur.
  12. If you’ve used more than one scopist to get the job done, pay special attention to consistency in capitalization, hyphenation, and other potential differing styles among scopists.
  13. Don’t forget to run a final spell-check in your software after you’ve finished proofreading. Spell-check is very good at catching double words such as “the the” and “that that,” which are easily missed while reading. Consider running the finished document through Word’s spell-check and grammar checker. While Word does have some unusual ideas about grammar (and should never be taken as gospel), it is very helpful in identifying missing prepositions, “form” for “from” and the like, as well as other small things that can otherwise be missed during proofreading.
  14. After you’ve finished your initial proofreading, go back and double-check bylines and speaker identifications as well as consistency with any special terms you’ve become aware of during the job. It’s easy to read right past such errors when you’re focused on reading for context.

    The final proofreading of a transcript is your last chance to ensure you are producing your most complete and accurate product. Don’t shortchange yourself or your clients by glossing over the small details or thinking just a quick pass will be sufficient. As you continue to produce beautiful, error-free transcripts, your reputation among your clients and your peers will flourish. The effort is well worth the reward!

Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas are the primary team members of Perfect Partners Transcript Brigade, which was established in 2014. Learn more at transcriptbrigade.wordpress.com.

A fresh and tasty baker’s dozen

donut_overviewBy Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas

Proofreading is the last step in the finalization of your transcript. The proofreader’s eyes are the last ones to review the final product. It’s important to set the stage and do the most thorough job possible in order to produce the best transcript. We offer the following tips to make the task more efficient, more thorough, and more foolproof.

donut1Scoping and proofreading are not the same function. For the best results, scoping should be done by someone else and at a different time than when you proofread.

 

donut2Create a comfortable environment with good lighting and seating. Minimize distractions and interruptions. Try to ensure you are fed and well rested prior to starting your proofing session.

 

donut3Determine which method works best for you: in the software on your computer; using an app on a tablet device; printed on paper.

 

donut4Allot sufficient time to do the job thoroughly. Slow and steady wins the race every time over fast and sloppy. Take breaks — don’t try to read 400 pages all at one go.

 

donut5Complete all research prior to commencing proofreading. You will lose the flow necessary for contextual reading if you’re stopping every half page to double-check a spelling or perform an online search for a term.

 

donut6Choose a reputable primary dictionary to follow (Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford) when making decisions on spellings, hyphenation, and one word/two words rather than stand-alone books that may be outdated or unsupported by references.

 

donut7If you encounter a word/term with which you are unfamiliar, be wary of accepting the first word that pops up in a Google search that seems to fit your phonetic. Be sure to check the definition in a reputable dictionary, and make sure it fits the context.

 

donut8While spot-checking the audio can be helpful, listening to continuous audio is not recommended. It is difficult to read for context, pay attention to punctuation, and listen to audio at the same time.

 

donut9Be aware of your weaknesses. If you habitually misstroke things like “they’re/there/their” or “it’s/its,” pay special attention to occurrences of those words. Also watch for incorrect small words like “as/at,” “it/is,” and missing words like “a” and “the.”

 

donut10Keep in mind the common words that are often transposed (I did/did I) and words that are only one or two letters different (formal/former, contact/contract), and pay special attention when they occur.

 

donut11If you’ve used more than one scopist to get the job done, pay special attention to consistency in capitalization, hyphenation, and other potential differing styles among scopists.

 

donut12Don’t forget to run a final spellcheck in your software after you’ve finished proofreading. Spell-check is very good at catching double words such as “the the” and “that that,” which are easily missed while reading. Consider running the finished document through Word’s spell-check and grammar checker. While Word does have some unusual ideas about grammar (and should never be taken as gospel), it is very helpful in identifying missing prepositions, “form” for “from” and the like, as well as other small things that can otherwise be missed during proofreading.

 

donut13After you’ve finished your initial proofreading, go back and double check bylines and speaker identifications as well as consistency with any special terms you’ve become aware of during the job. It’s easy to read right past such errors when you’re focused on reading for context.

 

The final proofreading of a transcript is your last chance to ensure you are producing your most complete and accurate product. Don’t shortchange yourself or your clients by glossing over the small details or thinking just a quick pass will be sufficient. As you continue to produce beautiful, error-free transcripts, your reputation among your clients and your peers will flourish. The e­ffort is well worth the reward!

 

Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas are the primary team members of Perfect Partners Transcript Brigade, which was established in 2014. Learn more at transcriptbrigade.wordpress.com.

Proofreading tips and conundrums

Text with red proofreading marks

Image by Volkspider

In honor of National Proofreading Day on March 8, the JCR Weekly team reached out to members of NCRA’s Proofreading Advisory Council to share their most interesting proofreading conundrums and their best proofreading tips.

What is the most interesting proofreading conundrum you’ve had?

We often have witnesses who relate conversations as if they are quoting people and then not quoting. I spend too much time pondering whether to use quotation marks.

Karen Teig, RPR, CRR, CMRS

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The appropriate use of [sic], especially: A) when they are reading from a document and misspeak; and B) with witnesses who use poor grammar.

Janine Ferren, RPR, CRR

Fishers, Ind.

Since in everyday conversation I don’t like using the word like as in “I was like yeah” or go as in “He said, ‘Yeah,’ and then I go okay,” I decided I would never use quote marks in a transcript after a witness said go or like since they did not say the word said or replied or whatever. I have always felt I was being very daring since perhaps that was not correct since young people today use those words in place of said.

Aimee Suhie, RPR

New Fairfield, Conn.

How to impart the flavor and tenor of the words through punctuation. If words can convey the spirit of the delivery, and to do so most accurately requires relaxing strict grammatical punctuation, is there a gray area to accomplish this without temerity?

Maellen Pittman, RDR, CRI, CLVS

Baltimore, Md.

I miss the forest for the trees. I get so focused on one question or answer, I miss the big picture. Proofreading is not just about correct punctuation and spelling, it’s about continuity.

Tara Hudson, RPR, CRR

Indianapolis, Ind.

What is your best proofreading tip?

If you’re stumped or have hit a roadblock, reach out to other reporters via social media. There are some great resources out there!

Karen Teig, RPR, CRR, CMRS

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

If I come to a section that doesn’t seem to flow properly, I look away from the page for a minute, then come back and read the entire Q or A, not just the few words in the section, to see how it flows.

Janine Ferren, RPR, CRR

Fishers, Ind.

Leave the transcript if you’re concerned about punctuation in a passage, and come back fresh and see how it flows. To me it is more important that the attorney reading it be able to understand the answer rather than have it be grammatically perfect. Obviously I tried to do both, but clarity is key.

Aimee Suhie, RPR

New Fairfield, Conn.

Number one, a second set of eyes. Failing that, reading backwards or out loud.

Maellen Pittman, RDR, CRI, CLVS

Baltimore, Md.

Always proofread in a different font than I see when I’m doing realtime or scoping.

I agree with others regarding punctuating the spoken word. Clarity is key. If a question or answer is a puzzle, I will go back and listen to the audio. It helps me understand not just what was said but also how it was said, and then I can punctuate accordingly.

Tara Hudson, RPR, CRR

Indianapolis, Ind.

I personally think you shouldn’t scope and proof your work. It’s best to have two eyes on the transcript.

Kathy McHugh, RPR, CRR

Audubon, N.J.

Go behind the scenes with a proofreader

jcr-publications_high-resOn Feb. 16, JD Supra Business Advisor posted a blog by Darlene Williams from Planet Depos in honor of Court Reporting & Captioning Week that showcases proofreader Jean Hammond.

Read more.