(Appearing in court reporting program textbook, Alfred State College)
A scopist is a person who is trained in transcript production and who aids the court reporter in editing court, deposition, and other hearing transcripts. Not all court reporters use the services of a scopist, but those who do find that they can spend more time writing on their steno machine, thus using his or her time more efficiently.
Scopists receive training in a variety of ways: through reporting school, scoping school, personal training from a reporter or another scopist. Scoping courses teach CAT software, punctuation, transcript formatting, research skills, and rudimentary steno.
A typical scoping scenario begins with the court reporter reporting a legal proceeding. The translated but not-yet-edited document, along with any job information such as title page and attorney names, is then delivered electronically to the scopist, who uses his or her own copy of the same CAT software to edit the document. The scopist will then do a word-by-word, page-by-page edit of the document, usually while simultaneously listening to audio of the proceedings.
Among the duties of the scopist is editing the document for proper spelling, punctuation, formatting, and researching (or confirming) industry-specific terms, place names, and proper names. Scopists must have a good command of the English language, excellent research skills, have an understanding of proper formatting rules, and be proficient in computers and their CAT programs. The scopist will global good steno outlines, aiding the court reporter with dictionary building. Once a document is completed, the scopist will either return the file to the reporter or send it on to a proofreader.
The duties of the proofreader are to reread the entire file, correcting any errors that were not caught by the scopist. The proofreader will ensure that spellings are consistent throughout the transcript (Green/Greene), read for context (ilium/ileum), and note any inconsistencies in punctuation or formatting. Proofreaders do not listen to the entire audio file, but it is useful for them to have it available to double-check any trouble spots.
Scopists and proofreaders are generally paid by the page. These rates can vary from provider to provider and are set by the scopist or proofreader providing the service. Reporters are also well advised to pay service providers within a set time period clearly defined before the job is given to the provider. Page rates increase depending upon page formatting, density of material, or length of turnaround time (the shorter the turnaround time, the higher the page rate). In some cases, there may be an upcharge for material which requires very heavy editing.
The reporter’s eyes should always be the last eyes on a transcript, either by fully proofreading it or by going back and scanning for notes from the scopist and/or proofreader for places to be reviewed by the reporter. It is generally the reporter’s job to complete title and appearance pages, create an index, and append certifications.
A good reporter-scopist and/or reporter-proofreader relationship is based on mutual respect, solid communication, and a clear understanding of expectations from all parties. Not every scopist/proofreader will be the right fit for every reporter. Like any other close business relationship, it can take some time to find the right match, but it’s well worth the time spent.
Scoping services is a luxury, not a requirement, for reporters. Factors such as page rate and amount of workload should be taken into consideration when deciding to use a scopist. Newer reporters should avoid using a scopist for at least six months to a year of being out in the field in order to build his or her dictionary and learn where they need to improve their writing. Sending all transcripts to a seasoned proofreader, however, is recommended for fresh eyes on the transcript and advice to the new reporter.
Q Please describe a typical job you might do.
A While the vast majority of scoping and proofreading is done after the court reporter has written the job, we use Eclipse software, which allows us to work in real time as the reporter is writing. We work on depositions, hearings, arbitrations, trials, meetings, and just about anything else that a stenographic reporter might report. We serve a niche market and only work on immediate-turn transcripts that are always finished and returned to the reporter by the end of the working day.
Q Do you work for a specific company or are you an independent contractor?
A We are a partnership of independent contractors who work in teams of two scopists and one proofreader for each job.
Q How long does it take to complete a particular job?
A We are at our desks and ready to begin working 30 minutes prior to the scheduled start of each day. As soon as the reporter starts writing, we start scoping and proofreading behind him or her. We typically finish the job within two hours after the parties go off the record. This can sometimes make for some very early starts or late days, but the advantage of realtime scoping is that once the day is over, the job is done.
Q Is there anything else that you would like to add about the field of scoping that you feel is important for someone to know?
A Before beginning any relationship, it is critical that both parties perform their due diligence. There are many groups on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other online forums where parties can ask for references and check the posting style and reputation of potential work partners. It is important to remember, as mentioned above, that not every relationship will be a good fit. Remain professional and courteous at all times, acknowledge that sometimes you’re just not the right fit, and end the relationship on a cordial note. Like any other service profession, your long-term reputation is far more important than any minor disagreement you might have with a work partner. You can expect to have a handful of unsatisfactory experiences in your working life, but that is no reason to give up on the idea of either using the services of a scopist/proofreader or pursuing a career as a scopist/proofreader.
Brenda Rogers-Fiscus, Deborah Smolinske, and Beverly Thomas
Founding Partners, Perfect Partners Transcript Brigade