Court Reporters v. Transcribers - Is there a difference in the transcription?

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In our business, we often give court reporters – who report the proceedings and prepare the transcript – and transcriptionists – who type recordings – opportunities to provide services on a “look-see” basis. In other words, while a resume may read very well, we want to ensure the services they can produce an excellent record to the best of their ability; and in the case of a transcriptionist, that they can produce a quality product with the quality of the audio always top of mind.

Through this experience, what have we found? Here are a common list of differences I have noticed over many, many transcripts from both camps.

Court reporters who listen to the trial/discovery/hearing in person bring to the table a sensibility of the spoken word. That sensibility is created through appropriate punctuation, paragraph style, proper dashing of misspoken words and bringing to bear an intelligence to the language. For example, remember the book “Eats Shoots and Leaves”? Depending on where you place the punctuation, everything can change. For example, if it’s “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” (think of a gun hold-up in a restaurant) is quite different from “Eats Shoots and Leaves” (think of a panda bear eating his dinner).

Many transcribers, on the other hand, simply go into autopilot mode and type the words they hear, without really “listening” to what is being said. I recently reviewed a 150 page transcription where I must have made at least 300 changes to punctuation, paragraphing and dashing so that the sentences made sense when read.

This is not to say that all transcriptionists are created equally. I have worked with some amazing people who, once they have typed the document, carefully read over their work to ensure the correct nuances are reflected. In the review phase, they can listen to the audio again in a more relaxed mode, having already typed the document, to ensure it makes sense and reflects what really happened.

This brings me to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Authorized Court Transcriptionist (ACT) list. For those needing to have transcripts prepared of court proceedings, it is of the utmost importance that you carefully vet any person you are going to use from that list; you want to find ACTs that are the “court reporter” model as opposed to the “transcriber” model. Don’t be afraid to ask the ACT what their prior experience is, and to ask for a sample of their previous work. Your client’s liberty, reputation or monetary interests are at stake!

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