Another Installment of “If Missy Ran Things…”

Caveat: I know there have been discussions on this topic on blogs and the relevant lists lately and I’ll admit I haven’t had the opportunity to read many any of these. What follows is my knee-jerk reaction to a recent restating of the rules.

Lately, there has been discussion about what can and cannot be submitted as part of one’s portfolio when seeking certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

I can understand that having the input of other genealogists on one’s work can certainly have too great of an impact and make it impossible for the board to get a clear picture on one’s own skill. I take no issue with the rule that the portfolio not be critiqued by others for this reason.


… part of the same rule forbids the proofreading of the portfolio. As a trained writer and editor, this goes against, well everything.

Firstly, the types of work contained within the portfolio are the same that would be produced in a professional setting for a client. In an ideal world, such reporting should not be passed on to the client without a set of fresh eyes giving it the once over for errors. This is because everyone makes mistakes and after reviewing one’s own work multiple times, it becomes impossible for one’s brain to catch errors. For the same reason, it’s considered a best practice in all industries for work to be proofread before it’s published or otherwise disseminated.

I liken the certification process to that of a graduate student submitting his or her thesis for review before graduation. Any serious graduate student is going to have their work proofread before they submit it. I would expect any serious genealogist would do the same, but here, we are pinioned from doing so and, well, that’s just silly.

I’m sure that the reasoning is that the board wants to weed out those who don’t have a good grasp on proper grammar, spelling and the basics of writing. Maybe there are genealogists out there who are seeking certification, but lack those skills. I have yet to meet one though.

Personally, I’d rather weed out the genealogists who don’t take the extra step of having their work reviewed for errors. I think it would be more efficient and more instructive to state that proper proofreading is an essential step in producing quality genealogical work (and I seem to recall that this is stated in Professional Genealogy and other resources). If we need to stipulate that, for the purposes of certification, such proofreading of the portfolio shall not be done by a genealogist, so as not to affect the quality of genealogical research versus the presentation thereof, then fine.


8 thoughts on “Another Installment of “If Missy Ran Things…”

  1. Kerry Scott says:

    I could not agree more. I get what the intention was, but I don’t think this rule is the best way to acheive the desired end result.

  2. Dee Dee King says:

    I can tell you how it worked for me. It is very hard to find legal clients who will OK submission of their reports in certification portfolios. When I finally got one to agree, I knew I could not have my trusted friend genealogist proofread because the report was going on to BCG. Sure enough, 20 rewrites later and umpteen proofs, my eyes did not catch a couple of mistakes my brain just knew couldn’t be there. The report to the court was flawed with a couple of typos and so was my submission to BCG. Not at all the best business practice I would have otherwise employed.

    best regards,
    Dee Dee King CG (sm)

  3. I appreciate your comments and objections.

    Let’s make a comparison to the submission process: when one is taking the GRE or MCAT, SAT or ACT, one does so entirely on one’s own.

    A student may choose to be tutored in advance by paying a test-preparation firm for its services. One may engage in a pre-test refresher with others. A student might even try some practice essays that are evaluated by others.

    The writing evaluations in the college admissions testing process are by the applicant’s own hand–no one gets a proofreader or editor in those cases. The same is true with the policy adopted by BCG. An applicant’s work stands on its own.

    Using a proofer or editor in one’s professional work is certainly suitable. Using a proofer or editor in a testing setting, however, is not.

    A portfolio is a test, as well as a sample of the applicant’s work, done to best practices. By making the evaluation explicitly and strictly the applicant’s own, the Board can evaluate her or his work and not be concerned about editorial shaping by others’ hands.

    The Board for Certification of Genealogists does not expect perfection. It *does* expect competence. The Board’s role and purpose is to evaluate an applicant’s ability to produce quality work that meets standards established by the Board and widely accepted in the genealogical community.

    One should be able to do that–produce quality work that meets standards–without an editor or proofreader, even if the product has some minor “sepellling erirs” or typos.

  4. On the other hand, they have stated that nobody fails for grammar and spelling alone. The judges may comment on it and mark it as an area for improvement, but we as applicants learn from that (and probably already know that about ourselves if it applies). Even a non-genealogist might inadvertently offer critiques that could potentially affect the final research product (the research, not the presentation), and sometimes they are actually better at this because they read the work with a fresh perspective.

    I guess I look at it it as less of a thesis or final finished product, and more as an open-book test of our own work — spelling errors and all.

  5. baysideresearch says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments!

    David, the comparison to entrance exams is an interesting one. I guess I see achieving certification as a bit more… prestigious? And therefore, deserving of the opportunity to have the portfolio proofread. And again, the editor in me just cringes at the thought of turning something in without having it proofed. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts!

  6. I totally understand why you would cringe, Missy. At the same time, I know that I can easily drift from proofreading into copy and content editing. It’s hard for me to resist the temptation to go a little further when I see something in writing that could be improved upon.

    I can also imagine scenarios in which editorial comments might inspire a BCG applicant to strengthen the proof arguments he/she makes in the case study and kinship determination project. The editor may not come right out and suggest such substantial changes, but it would be difficult to determine just how much influence the editor had on the applicant’s writing.

    I also think it would be difficult to determine what sort of editor would be qualified to proofread a BCG applicant’s portfolio, if not a genealogist. He/she would certainly have to be intimately familiar with the various styles of genealogical writing and the associated style guides, and if he/she possessed the expertise and interest in editing genealogical writing . . . at what point does he/she become a genealogist rather than an editor of genealogical materials? This is murky territory for me.

    I still understand why you would cringe, though. Totally.

  7. I disagree with David McDonald, BCG president, that a portfolio is comparable to an admissions test.

    Portfolios are generally considered to be capstone projects that are produced in lieu of a thesis. I’ve completed portfolios in both undergraduate and graduate school. None of my professors ever suggested that the portfolio should not be proofread by another person; in fact, they would have been appalled by the very idea.

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