Transcription Review

I found the process of transcription somewhat difficult to do without any specific guidelines to follow, but it certainly allowed me to reflect on the process and have an internal debate on what seemed important to add and what did not. I found myself being inclined to delete a lot of non-words and clean up some of the misspoken words or phrases. I did not include the “ums” when I did not think they added anything to the content. Sometimes we say “um” when we are slightly nervous without thinking about it. But, I did keep them when they were longer and more representative of when someone was thinking especially hard about a topic or slightly uncertain about what they are going to say because that adds to the true meaning of the conversation. Other non-word sounds such as laughter, I did try to mention. It is difficult to transcribe emotion or subtleties such as sarcasm, but I thought that if I inserted that a speaker laughed, I would be noting to a potential reader that they should take a closer look, or perhaps listen, to the section as the meaning could differ depending on the cause for laughter. Clearly, these actions taken by me are still judgement calls and nowhere near objective.

When one of the speakers misspoke and corrected himself, I did not include the misspoken words. I wanted to clean up the sentences because I think of a transcript as a potentially quotable document in articles or papers. I was also thinking about how the speaker would probably not like to be quoted as misspeaking and be read of as bumbling or unsure. I found myself deleting these mistakes as I would like mine deleted in any oral history I would be involved with in the future. Most are just verbal or gramatical mistakes and not representative of the idea or statement they are trying to express. If someone is doing research working with this interview and would like to fully understand the speaker’s dialect or speaking style, they should simply listen to the record. I did, however, include contractions that the speakers used as a way to stay accurate to speech patterns. In general, the transcript’s purpose is more for content. It is clearly biased to the transcriber, therefore, a thorough academic would listen to the recording anyway. This does not justify sloppiness by the transcriber, but as a transcriber, one should stick to a style as consistently as possible and be as thorough and accurate as they see fit. I am clearly not an expert, but I am happy to have this practice. I think overtime I will get more confident with transcribing and learn the best techniques to portray speech in writing. Maybe these exercises will train me to be a clearer speaker in everyday life and stop saying “um” so much.

1 Response to “Transcription Review”


  1. 1 sgglos March 11, 2013 at 9:32 am

    Very thoughtful and insightful reflections. That “internal debate” was certainly what we hoped you would undertake with this assignment. You make a good point when you observe that the transcription should be thought of as a document used for the purposes of quoting in a paper, and therefore the “ums” get in the way of the real topic and tone. Portelli would give you a thumbs up.

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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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