Transcription Whirlwind

The main problem I encountered while trying to transcribe my excerpt was evident in my first ten minutes of effort. As soon as I started to get comfortable using the voice editing software, specifically the repeat function (which was a godsend; I am very bad at multi-tasking so closing a window to replay a file would have possibly doubled the time it took to transcribe), I noticed that I kept getting muddled when dealing with the structure of my interview: mainly, that there were two interviewee’s present. As soon as I could focus my attention on the stream of consciousness of one of the subjects, the other would jump in with a completely different thought. It completely distracted my typing and then I would lose control of the narrative and have to start the segment over.

I did not have too much trouble with accents or dialect—it was easy enough to just type everything in standard English unless it was clearly regional. I would get kind of hung-up on documenting pauses or stuttering, but near the end of the transcription I would just rely on the use of brackets and a [Pause] to indicate disruptions. Really the only times either of these fairly manageable issues were highlighted was when many voices would enter into the conversation and I would strive to document them all. Thus, I would end up spending like ten minutes on two sections of monologue, but then spend the next half-hour on thirty seconds of rambled conversation. I think I need to focus on perhaps getting down the basic idea or a summary of what every subject is contributing and how the interviewer is shaping the questions and directing the dialogue, and then go back and fill in the intricacies. If I didn’t do that, again, I would just lose track of any semblance of narrative structure and then go for more coffee.

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As for the actually content of the interview, I was fairly impressed with how the interviewer crafted the interaction. I was especially fond of the responses she would give to her subjects. They were always very positive feedback and encouraged more discussion; however, she never interrupted someone and limit their expression of a certain story. She mentioned her personal tie (the Bradshaw’s son) several times and reminded the couple why exactly she was there. She did seem, though, to perhaps get wrapped up in tangential comments at points. I cannot be certain of this however because I am not quite sure of the scope or the intent of the interview.

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I think one ambiguity that I did encounter quite frequently was the issue on how to render inaudible segments of the interview. I never omitted any sounds that I heard, but I did take some license and used contextual evidence to make a best guess of certain phrases. Specifically, A.G would sometimes trail off into somewhat incoherent descriptions where only certain words were possible to make out on the tape, so I would just embellish with what I thought were the proper prepositions. I never inserted a word that wasn’t indicated at somehow, but I would like to know when it is appropriate to just gloss over something and call it mumbling. I also frequently used the bracket [Interrupting]. I am not sure if this is common practice at all and would like that clarified. It seemed important to fill in those inaudible blanks and indicate that someone cut someone off mid-sentence considering the confusing structure of the multiple-subject interview which I have previously discussed.

1 Response to “Transcription Whirlwind”


  1. 1 sgglos February 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Yes, How to transcribe inaudible, or partially intelligible phrase is an important and tricky issue. We want to make transcriptions useful, but don’t want to misrepresent the narrator. We’ll be discussing this in class… It sounds like you came up with a good way of dealing with the challenge of transcribing multiple narrators!

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The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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