The Power of Solid Punctuation Rules
October 4, 2017
I recently attended a Margie Wakeman Wells punctuation seminar class. Admittedly, I was there for the required ethics credits; also admittedly, I would likely not have attended her seminar otherwise. I was pleasantly surprised by my own takeaway from it, however. My bottom-line takeaway wasn't as much to do with any particular punctuation as it was the value and importance of a reporter being armed and committed to solid punctuation rules. You might think as a reporter that you already know all there is to know about punctuation. If you do, that is super! There is not much about punctuation rules that change over the years. There have been a few "in our time," and for those of us that have been reporting 20, 30 years or longer, some of those rules that have changed are sometimes pills that are a bit hard to swallow. Sometimes just knowing that a rule has changed and being sure that that "change" is not just someone else's preference but is indeed a modern-day rule is the hardest part of that process. :-) Sometimes change is difficult; and sometimes, as veteran reporters, just *deciding* to change after all these years is really the most difficult of all!
But back to Margie's style of presenting and what I liked so much about her seminar: Some of the things she says and the way she phrases things are great reminders for why we punctuate certain things certain ways. Those reminders really do help when you're writing realtime and when you need to make quick decisions about outside-the-box sentences. They also can help in making decisions regarding uniformity for quick rough drafts. If you're not "there" yet with realtime and rough drafts, I'm certain there are still some things you can learn from her. Not hesitating when you're editing and knowing what you need to fix as soon as you see it is also time saved and, therefore, more money in your pocket! I've found that the more solid I am in my reasoning on certain punctuation, the easier it is to insert it on the fly; infinitely easier, in fact, right down to semi-colons; a cap or no cap after a colon; comma or no comma inserted before quote marks; when to hyphenate a modifier and when to leave it alone; and how to hear and, therefore, place paired dashes on the fly when there is a separate thought thrown into an otherwise complete sentence. It's also easier to know where to insert those into your transcript in the editing, to not second-guess yourself so often because you are thinking it could be one of two ways, and then debate which way "looks better."
One of the things she routinely points out in her seminars is that there is a right way and a wrong way to do things; that you may not like some of the rules and think it "looks better" or "reads easier" another way. She says, however, and I quote very loosely, "That's fine. You are free to do it however you like, of course. Just know that another way that maybe you think looks better doesn't in and of itself make it right."
I thought that was pretty funny to hear. Knowing what the right way is and having solid rules in your head about what correct punctuation is and is not is incredibly helpful in streamlining your realtime writing processes as well as your rough draft scanning/transcript editing/final proofreading. Having a conviction and not being easily swayed to vary from that when writing or editing is gold.
There is a free Saturday class that Margie periodically holds. I am told that if you register for the class and you end up not being able to make it, you can view it up to 30 days afterward. You have to be registered for it ahead of time. It's free, it's an hour, and there are no CEUs available for it.
I'm not sure when she will have another one, but this is the link to the page to sign up "next time" it is posted:
CLICK HERE. In addition to this periodic Saturday class, there is a membership subscription option available from that link for "Margie Rules." I have heard many who love this and find it extremely beneficial to them. For $10.00 a month, you get:
Access to a private Facebook group, “Margie Rules,” where you can ask Margie questions and interact with fellow subscribers
Early access to monthly FREE courses
FREE monthly Q&A session LIVE online with Margie
10 percent OFF all Margie products (online courses, books, webinars)
Margie also has authored many textbooks, drill books, and reference materials that can be found for purchase on her website Margie Holds Court. On that main page, you will also find blog categories listed down the right side of the page. If there is something that interests you in particular with punctuation that you might have a hard time "hearing" and thus writing on the fly, maybe you will find a helpful blog or two to peruse so that the concept or concepts become solid for you. There are plenty of mainstream punctuation references available out there. The ones tailored toward court reporters seem to be, generally, the most relevant for us, however, because in our line of work, we are not punctuating sentences that are necessarily grammatically correct. The same general mainstream punctuation rules apply, but I think our questions and the ones that stump us the most are usually in those sentences that were not spoken using correct grammar. I grew up with Lillian Morson's Morson's English Guide for Court Reporters as my authority first and foremost. I still have her spiral paper book, complete with inserted highlights and paperclips, albeit currently stored in a packed box. :-) In January of 2016, Margie is quoted on her own website as saying, "I keep seeing comments that Lillian Morson and I are contradictory. This just isn't so. I would say that we agree on about 90 percent of the rules. There are a few 'sticking' points between us, but they are truly few. Those are the ones that so often get brought up. We know each other and have, in years gone by, talked about our differences. If Lillian were still active in the field, we would give seminars together and have a great time discussing our similarities AND differences. There is truly room for both of us in this field. It is actually good for the field that we are both here." If I were to follow my own advice in this blog to strengthen my punctuation skills and convictions, knowing what those differences are that Margie speaks of and parsing them out would, I'm quite sure, be extremely helpful to me in becoming that much stronger of a reporter. Mental note made. It's now on my to-do list. Power punctuation! Make it solid. It's a must for any Power Reporter.