Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Scopists are generally employed by court reporters to read and edit computer-generated machine shorthand notes taken by court reporters. Using a computer program called computer-aided transcription software (CAT), scopist edit written text for transcript production. The scopist reviews a rough copy of the proceeding -- whether it is on disk, has been sent as an e-mail file or is simultaneously displayed on a computer connected to the court reporter's machine. The scopist carefully reads the stenograph-to-English translation to check for any "mistranslates" such as homonyms ("here" instead of "hear")and correct words such as proper names or technical terms that were not in the court reporter's computer dictionary. The scopist reads the reporter's notes and takes responsibility for transforming them into transcripts of proper written English. The scopist rereads the CAT versions of each document, edits and punctuates the material, researches or double-checks the spelling of technical terminology, medical words, and people's names, and proofreads the document. If the scopist cannot understand a computer-translated portion of the text, he or she must also know how to read the raw stenotyped notes that are contained on the court reporter's disk.

Scopists make any necessary edits, ensure the transcript is in the requested format and send the it back to the court reporter. When the scopist is working on a simultaneously displayed transcript, he or she make corrections or highlights questionable items as the transcripts scrolls by on the computer screen. Inherent in this definition are two basic skills: Good English/punctuation, and the ability to read machine shorthand. People who make successful scopists have an aptitude for and enjoy working with words, are good spellers and have a good vocabulary. They must be highly motivated self-starters, capable of meeting deadlines, researching elusive spellings, dedicated to spending long hours in front of a computer and producing meticulous and accurate transcripts.

As independent contractors, scopists must also be able to handle their own billing and accounts receivable, preparatory tax paperwork, and withhold and pay applicable state and federal taxes. A successful scopist will always be seeking ways to improve his skills and his mastery of the ever-changing English language. He must also possess keyboarding and computer skills, learn to troubleshoot software and hardware problems, and keep up with the rapid-pace advancements in the computer industry and in court reporting software.

Scoping provides flexibility in choosing how many hours you want to work. You can work out of your home, in a Scoping freelance firm or in a Court Reporting firm. Scoping is an ideal career for a person who prefers to work at home. All the work is completed by computer software that can easily be transferred via online services. Freelance scopists are usually hired directly by self-employed court reporters or by agencies that supply freelance court reporters. They hire scopists because the reporter only gets paid while he or she is taking notes in the courtroom or at a deposition, so it's preferable for them to utilize their time by taking notes, not transcribing and editing them. Whereas the court reporter must go to the deposition or courtroom, scopists can usually work from home unless they need to go into an agency to have access to the same software used by the court reporter they're working with.

As CAT software becomes more proficient at automatic translation of court reporters' notes, the nature of scoping may change. For the moment, however, freelance scoping can provide a good living, and thanks to the Internet, entry into this field is no longer limited to metropolitan areas. Since most work in this field is or can be transmitted electronically or via tape or disk sent by priority mail, scopists can work with clients from any part of the country. Scopists are paid by the page and receive between fifty and seventy-five cents per page. Depending on the density of the material and the clarity of the court reporter’s shorthand notes, Scopists can edit between 15 and 30 pages an hour. Scopists earn an average of $7.50 to $22.50 an hour for an average salary of $15,600 to $46,800 a year. A beginning scopist is much slower at editing than his experienced peers and must establish a clientele to provide him with the desired amount of pages. In his first year a scopist may only earn $8,000 to $12,000, but as he builds his client roster and establishes himself with better writers, an income of $30,000 to $40,000 is possible. A realistic figure for a scopist working full-time, with a fairly steady inflow of work, is probably in the $30,000 to $35,000 range and increasing.

What equipment/supplies should home-based scopists purchase? What are approximate costs?

The rule of computer equipment is "get the most bang for your buck": A Pentium computer with the largest hard drive, the fastest processor, and the most RAM you can afford (minimum 128 preferred). For more specifics on equipment needed to run CATalyst software, click here or call at 800-323-4247. If you can get/afford a cable modem or DSL line, so much the better; meanwhile, a 56K modem will work - Cost: $700-2000
Scopist training course - Cost: $1500-2500, more if taken at court reporting school
Reference books, CDs, etc. - Cost: $200-500
Internet provider - Cost: $10-45 per month. You will need a high-speed Internet connection once you’re ready to go to work. A dial-up connection will suffice while you’re taking the training.
CAT software key (edit version) - **Cost: $1000-1500

Professional fees (NCRA/state association membership) - Cost: $125-200 per year
Forum subscriptions to scopist sites - usually free
Attendance at user group meetings, conventions - varies

(The following poll is brought to you by:

Normal turnaround time is 3 to 7 days for freelance work, 30 to 50 days for trials.

What do you charge for no tapes, normal turnaround time? $0.75 $1.00 $1.25
What do you charge for taped work, normal turnaround time? $1.00 $1.10 $1.45
What do you charge for videotaped work, normal turnaround time? $1.00 $1.25 $1.50

What is your EXPEDITED turnaround time?
Expedited turnaround time is anything less than three days. Most call "expedited" turnaround two days.

What do you charge for no tapes, expedited turnaround time? $1.45 $1.50 $1.60
What do you charge for taped work, expedited turnaround time? $1.45 $1.60 $2.00
What do you charge for videotaped work, expedited turnaround time? $1.55 $1.85 $2.50

What is your DAILY turnaround time?
Daily turnaround is anything less than 24 hours for most scopists. Poll Question Low Rate Average Rate Highest Rate
What do you charge for no tapes, daily turnaround time? $1.85 $2.00 $2.20
What do you charge for taped work, daily turnaround time? $2.00 $2.20 $2.50
What do you charge for videotaped work, daily turnaround time? $2.00 $2.50 $2.75

Most scopist charge more for technical and or medical jobs. The rates were as low as .10 more a page to a high rate of .65 more a page.

Only a handful of scopists discount their rates for excellent writers. The average discount was .10 a page, although a couple scopists gave a bigger discount.

Most scopists either charge more or simply refused to work with a writer who was either a terrible writer or one that refused to update his/her dictionary. Rates varied from .25 more per page up to double the normal page rate.

Part-time scopists had an income goal of $500 on the low end, $750 average, $800 high end. Full-time scopists had a low income rate of $800, average rate of $2000, high rate of $5000.

Attention proofreaders! You have not been forgotten. Although many of the questions posted here were not applicable to you, the following reflects rates you charge.

Poll Question Average Rate
What do you charge for proofreading, normal turnaround time? $0.20 - $0.30
What do you charge for proofreading, expedited turnaround time? $0.40 - $0.50
What do you charge for proofreading, daily turnaround time? $0.45 - $0.65

I checked the DETC website (Distance Education and Training Council)and found that the only company available is Penn Foster (formerly Education Direct). With this program, I will not only be able to be a scopist, but a court reporter or captionist, as well.

Anyway, here are some other resources that I have found, if you're interested.

Best Scoping Techniques
National Court Reporters Association
Scoping Central
National Professions
Scoping Careers
Best Future
Reporter Support
Verbatim Reporters
Scopist Support Group
Court Reporters Forum

Other Reference Material that you may find helpful:

Morson's English Guide to Court Reporters
The Gregg Reference Manual
The Complete Court Reporter's Handbook
Reverse Dictionary for Stenotypists
A Court Reporter's Guide to Medical Terminology


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