Transcription Practice Reflection

I initially listened to this interview a few weeks ago, and I didn’t have any trouble understanding what either of them said.  I did not hear any great pauses or bad grammar when I listened to Paula interview Susie or Donald Beck.  When I sat down to transcribe a ten-minute clip of Paula and Mr. Beck’s conversation, however, I heard a whole bunch of things that confused me.  For one, both Paula and Mr. Beck tended to trail off in their sentences instead of finishing them conclusively.  They also tended to restart their own sentences and phrases a few times.  I’m using the term ‘sentence’ here pretty loosely, too.  There were several names I did not recognize, which led to awkward guesses on spelling.  There were also times people spoke over each other, or to people in the background.  It was hard to for me to decide how to express the difference between someone trailing off and someone being interrupted.  I went with an ellipsis for trailing off and a dash for being interrupted, but I’m not sure how much this makes sense on paper!  I was unsure about noting all of times the speakers said “um” or “uh” and noting when there was background noise or laughter, etc.  I remembered from reading sample interviews that the ones without too many “ums” or directions read much more smoothly, but when I was transcribing it felt insincere to edit what had been said.  I did my best to put on my paper what I heard, as closely as possible.

I was impressed with how Paula conducted herself in the interview.   All of the “ums” I recorded might make her seem unsure of herself in the transcription, but in the interview it made her seem thoughtful as she considered how to ask a question.  Her questions left plenty of room for open-ended answers rather than yes or no questions.  A lot of them could be answered with yes or no, but her tone asked more than her words.  I wish I had been able to capture this on paper.  Also, Mr. Beck seemed happy to talk and never stiffed her with a one-word answer to a big question. She also was quiet enough to let Mr. Beck completely finish his thought before she asked a new question.  One thing was that there were a couple of times that I thought she moved on to a new, unrelated question even though there were things that Mr. Beck wanted to say about the first topic.  Specifically, after he told the story about the man he had driven home to a family having a party, he seemed to have more thoughts about the status of the American family.  It was less relevant to Paula’s research topic, but he seemed to want to talk.  The story itself was not relevant to Paula’s question, but after I reviewed the audio a number of times while transcribing it, I can tell that he wanted to tell it before she asked the question.  A lesson for when I interview people: they will end up talking about whatever it is that they want to talk about.  Listen!

1 Response to “Transcription Practice Reflection”


  1. 1 dcpratt March 7, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    Interesting reflection on Paula’s interviewing style. You are certainly right that, despite speaking in a style that reads as if it lacks confidence, she made her interviewee comfortable to speak his mind.

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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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