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Assignment 3- Transcript Review

Doing a transcription is a much longer, and much more tedious process than I thought it would be. I figured it was going to be a piece of cake just writing down what someone was talking about, considering I do that in class all the time. However I didn’t realize that when you must write down verbatim what the person is saying, how many times you have to go back and forth on the recording. Another thing I had difficulty with was when there was background noise, or laughter, whether to include it in the transcription or not. In the end I did include it, as well as writing that things were indecipherable when I was unable to tell what was said, no matter how many times I listened to it. When adding in punctuation, I thought about it how when I’m writing a paper. I think out the words, and when natural pauses come I write in the punctuation.

I believe Professor Knight did a great job interviewing. All of the questions he asked during this portion of the interview were answered with stories from Clay Riley, even if the answer to the question was no. Professor Knight was also very engaged with Clay Riley when they were talking. Riley obviously was comfortable speaking to Professor Knight and was even making little jokes. I know when we’re interviewing strangers from around Williamsburg we won’t immediately be able to talk to them like this, but I think it will really help the quality of the oral history if we develop a report with them.

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.

Transcription Reflection

I have some experience pulling quotes from audio recordings, but I’ve never done a full transcription before. The biggest struggle was in simply keeping up with the speed of speech. Toward the end of my clip, I got into a better rhythm, and became more used to where my pause and rewind keys were. I was still frustrated with my own slow typing. I found it easier to try to get through the recording once with typing errors, and then go back on a second listen while making corrections. By the third listen, I was still catching little words that were missed in transcribing.

The transcribing process required me to make a lot of stylistic choices. The speaker used “um” or “uh” frequently, but I felt that including all of these would make him seem less eloquent or competent. I included them in the transcription a few times when I felt that they were used to indicate contemplative thought, more than just filler speech, but that was only an opinion on my part.  Additionally, Professor Knight often used “mhm” during the interview. I felt that this was a means of moving the conversation forward, showing that he was listening, and did not warrant being included on the transcript.

This oral history also presented some challenges that I was not expecting. There were a few instances when I had trouble hearing exactly what was said, especially if it was the name of a person or place. I marked these places with “[difficult to understand].” There were also a lot of references to proper nouns (movies, publications, people) that require formatting in written form. I had to think about capitalization, spelling, and italics. I had the most trouble with the transcribing when there was an overlap in speech between the two people. The first time, they spoke in unison, so I marked the dialogue as “both.” For the other times, though, it was much less clear, I tried to include both speakers’ words in approximately the correct order. Doing this transcription showed me firsthand the many ways that separate written transcriptions from an oral history.

Assignment 3 Reflection

The biggest challenge I had in completing the transcription was when the interviewer and interviewee would talk over each other and make parts of the discussion inaudible. I noted where I simply could not tell what was being said. It didn’t happen but a couple of time I couldn’t make out what was said.  At other times, I was able to understand the discussion and had to decide how to translate it so that it would be understood that they were both speaking. I did this by entering and leaving continuing conversations with dashes, in order to show their connection, generally interrupted by an exchange in between.  I used dots, ellipses, to show pauses in thought or a sort of “trailing off” by the speaker. In one case I actually noted the pause, due to the length.

The interviewing style was conversational and seemed to assist in putting the interviewee at ease and make him more conversational himself. It was done very relaxed in almost an “over coffee” kind of exchange and was easy to listen to, like storytelling. I think that worked well in this instance because it allowed the interviewee to elaborate on little things he remembered. Mostly, the interviewer guided the conversation but let the person just talk. Like we talked about in class, Prof. Knight was able to be in the moment and analyze when to add dialogue and when to simply listen to the silence.

Assignment 3 Transcription Reflection

No matter how many times I have transcribed interviews, it is always challenging.  Not only is typing what the interviewer and interviewee say word-for-word tedious and frustrating, the decisions regarding punctuation, pauses, and “uhs” and “ums” are headache inducing.  Throughout my experiences transcribing interviews, I have always struggled with typing out exactly what the person says in one try.  By this I mean I cannot keep up with the person speaking or think I hear him or her say a word he or she does not.  That is why it is important to go through the recording with one’s transcript multiple times to be sure the transcript matches the recording.  While typing the words out is not difficult as long as the person transcribing listens to the clip multiple times, determining a standard for punctuation as well as whether to include pauses and “uhs” or “ums” is challenging.

For assignment three, my standard for punctuation was as follows: if it sounded like there was a natural break in what was being said, I used a period. Interviews oftentimes do not have complete sentences (fragments), or the interviewee’s statements are run-on sentences because he or she is typically thinking aloud.  As a result, I would use commas when there seemed to be an audible slight break in a run-on sentence (or really long fragment).  If there was a significant break (more than a second or two) in a run-on sentence or long fragment, I would use a period.  No matter how much of a standard I create for myself for a transcription project, it always depends on how it sounds that ultimately leads to the decision of how to punctuate a particular sentence.  Also, there were a few instances in the clip when a word or phrase was garbled. I denoted this in the transcript as [inaudible].

My opinion of whether to include “ums” and “uhs” or any other utterances along those lines is probably not popular.   Based on my experience in the news industry, I do not include “uhs” or “ums” in transcriptions unless necessary.  When I say “necessary,” I mean that it indicates an interruption in a response due to the other person (interview or interviewee) speaking over the other person.  You’ll notice that my transcription for assignment three includes “uhs” or “ums” oftentimes alone (the sole utterance of a person) when he is being interrupted. I then drop to the next line and include the statement of the person interrupting.  The dash I include ( – ) indicates an overlap in dialogue (because both people are speaking).

The reason I do not include “uhs” and “ums” or similar sounds is because most of the news transcriptions I have dealt with or done do not include them.  News organizations either use a video or audio clip.  If neither is made public but a transcript of an important event is available, “uhs” and “ums” are rarely used.  The few times I have seen “uhs” or “ums” included in transcripts or full screens (when a quote appears on the television screen) have been when the story dealt with a scandal or trial, and the story had an agenda (i.e. tried to make one person seem incompetent, unsure or a liar).

I think pauses and utterances like “uhs” and “ums” can provide insight into the speaker’s mindset and response.  However, I am a big proponent of using the actual interview (voice recording or video recording) when conducting research.  Transcripts are great for doing initial research but no matter how many “uhs” or “ums” are included, grasping the full essence of the voice recording is still not possible.  Hearing someone’s response can give insight that reading a transcript cannot.  This is also why I did not include pauses in the transcript.  Since I believe the transcript is an initial research tool that can help someone determine whether listening to the actual recording is worth it, I do not think including pauses is necessary.  A person will ultimately listen to an interview if he or she deems the content of the discussion important to his or her work because a voice recording is much richer than a transcript.  Pauses can be valuable in determining someone’s attitude, tone or overall belief in what he or she says, but the topic and content of the interview is what is most important.  The pause adds an extra layer, which, as I have stated, should be heard (not read) to have the best understanding of the person’s point of view.

Assignment 3 transcription reflection

I really liked the transcription process. I was nervous at first, but I found it to be rewarding. I think that’s because I just listened to the conversation and it didn’t feel like an assignment for school. It also helps that this is the kind of work I want to do after graduating.

I think that accents and word choice are important for the transcription process. However, I think you have to be careful not to overemphasize an accent because you don’t want to patronize or distort the narration. I think the “umms” and “uhhs” can reveal aspects of a person’s nature and of the interview itself. Professor Knight says “umm” a lot. This is a noticeable trademark of his. The “umms” from Mr. Riley demonstrate that he was really thinking about his answers, and you can tell it wasn’t a rehearsed conversation. So I put the majority of them into the transcription.

I think that recognizing the importance of these pauses or quirks demonstrates the point of this project. The WDP is about capturing the essence of the town of Williamsburg, and that is found not by merely listening to people’s stories, but also capturing how they speak; you are documenting lives as well as place. It’s tough to nail down accents in written word, but phrases and habits can reveal a lot about a person. Documenting dialect adds to the legitimacy of the oral history, as well. If people speak a certain way that was influenced by their culture it makes it easier to determine where someone is from. It’s just another clue that connects cultures together; it’s a signifier. I like the honesty of keeping the “kinda’s” in the transcription.

It think this was especially obvious to me when I listened to the peer interview after the listening to the Riley interview. Some people speak fast and others take a while to get their point across. Jake for instance, speaks at a rapid clip and I speak much slower. Jake is from the west coast and I’m from the south. It was almost comical because I had to slow the recording down to a speed of about 67 % in order to catch everything he said. However, I noticed that both of us say “like” fairly often, a habit I thought I had broken a long time ago. However, prolific use of this word reveals the age of a person. So you have to consider using it when you transcribe an interview. “Like” is part of the vernacular of the last few generations. You won’t hear that in Mr. Riley’s interview.

The index process is the part I like the least. I’m not sure what to write down, and I think I might write too much or I’ll focus on the wrong subject. I don’t like the pressure and I’m afraid I will miss important bits of information. I think that’s why I like the transcription process more because I can slow it down to a speed that’s comfortable for me. Overall, I’m not sure if I transcribed and indexed the interview correctly, but I actually enjoyed the slow process of transcription.

Transcription Practice

I think the biggest challenge I encountered while transcribing my bit of Professor Knight’s interview with Clay Riley was figuring out when sentences started and stopped. It’s natural when people talk for them to speak in run-on sentences, especially when they are trying to formulate an answer to a question they were just asked. Often, Clay would kind of ramble when answering a question because he would be addressing a lot of different points. I had to make decisions about where I thought sentences ended or where I would use another form of punctuation. I often used an ellipsis to denote a pause in a fairly continuous thought. I also used dashes to denote an interjectory thought in the middle of a sentence.

Other than that, I typed all of the “um’s” and “uh’s” both interviewer and interviewee used. I don’t know if that was the proper thing to do, but I found that it accurately portrayed the tone and cadence of both their voices. As for words I could not completely decipher, I simply typed out whatever word it sounded like most that fit with what they were saying. Lastly, whenever there was a slight interjection by Professor Knight that was indecipherable, I just ignored it. I did not think it would add to the transcription to include them.

Lewitz Assignment 3, Part 3 – Reflection

A challenge I faced in transcribing this interview was capturing the interviewee’s accent and slow speech. I wanted to capture Mr. Riley’s Southern drawl, but it was challenging to do so. I found it difficult to translate his accent to a written text. In order to address this issue, I did my best to capture the fragmented words Riley used, such as ‘cause and goin’. Hopefully this would help readers of the transcript understand his accent. I also did not know how to adjust the script to reflect the many pauses Riley used throughout his interview. I think next time I will add more parenthetical indicate the pauses my interviewee uses.


Another challenge I faced was transcribing the interviewee’s constant use of um’s and uh’s. I found it very frustrating to transcribe all of these interjections. In my view, they did not contribute to the value of the transcription. Instead they clutter my transcription and decrease the document’s readability. I think the next time I transcribe an interview, I will not include the um’s and uh’s. I would make a note of it at the beginning of the transcription. The only time um’s and uh’s are necessary are if the interviewee is thinking hard about something. In the interview I transcribed, this was not the case. Riley used um’s and uh’s too frequently for this to be the case.


When I first read a transcription, I was taken aback by the interviewee’s long monologue. As I transcribed this document, I found that those blocks of text contain incredibly valuable information. If Prof. Knight were to cut off Riley, he may not have been able to fully develop or communication a certain idea. I think that Prof. Knight’s silence is valuable because it provided Riley with the freedom to completely explore certain ideas. The only problem with interviewer silence is that the interviewee may think you are not paying attention to him or her. Prof. Knight addressed this problem by interjecting yes’s and hm’s throughout the interview. I decided not to transcribe these because I felt like they were irrelevant to the content of the interview.

McLane Short Assignment Three Reflection

Prior to this assignment I had never done a transcription. However, I now realize the importance, as well as the flaws, of the art of transcription, and I am looking forward to improving my skills in this area. I approached this assignment in a very methodical way.  After listening to the recording at full speed for the index, I slowed it down a tiny bit and began to type as many words as I could decipher. I tried to refrain from stopping or rewinding the recording because, at first, I only wanted to create a skeleton of the transcript from which to work.  Next, I slowed down the recording to about 75 percent of its original speed. This allowed me to understand and type more words, but I realized that it distorted the sound, timing, and inflection of the interview. This made it difficult to determine what exactly was being said and how it was pronounced. Therefore, once I fleshed out the transcript, I brought the recording back up to its full speed. This time, I started and stopped the recording every once and a while so that I could more accurately record details such as length of pauses and inflection of words.

Throughout this process, I encountered things that I did not know how to translate from spoken to written word.  First, I struggled with figuring out how to represent stutters, pauses, and muffled sounds that I could not hear clearly. I decided to create a set of guidelines that I would follow throughout the transcription—at least if the notation was wrong it would be uniform. I italicized words that were emphasized by either the narrator or interviewer.  Then, I used ellipsis whenever I heard a long pause. However, I ran into the problem of figuring out where to draw the line between pauses long enough to deserve ellipsis and those short enough to be notated by a comma instead. I decided to use dashes to indicate an interrupted thought or a correction to a formerly stated thought or word.  For example, the narrator began to say the word “Carmike,” but then started over and said the entire word.  I indicated this by notating the phrase as Car–Carmike.  In the same vein, I had a hard time deciding how to represent words, such as mhm or okay, spoken in the middle of the other person’s statement.  In the end, I decided to place a dash at the end of the last word the narrator spoke and a dash at the beginning of the first word the narrator spoke after the interjection.  I placed the word spoken by the interviewer on a line separating the statement of the narrator.

I am not satisfied by the way my misunderstandings of the recording were translated to the transcription. I was puzzled as to how to handle words that I could not hear clearly or those that I did not know how to spell.  I represented these words to the best of my ability, but I am not sure if I actually did them justice in the transcript.  I tried to search the names and words that I could not spell on the Internet, but to no avail.  Therefore, I just did the best that I could and made an educated guess as to how I thought the word was spelled.  I listened to the recording at various speeds many times, so hopefully, in the end, my transcript is as accurate as possible.

Transcription Reflection

Before I began the transcribing assignment I figured it would be easy because: 1) I had done transcribing work before; 2) I can type fast, and 3) I assumed that transcribing was just typing word for word.  These beliefs about transcribing mostly stem from when I worked as legal secretary for a short time a few years ago. The attorney I worked for was a successful older attorney who relied almost completely on transcription to correspond with clients, write emails, make telephone calls and so forth. However, he also provided a transcription device that made the whole process a lot less painful. This device he used was connected to a foot pedal that would slow down or speed up, stop or play whatever had been recorded.  Also, his thoughts were always organized and flowed, without any back and forth conversation to confuse the issues.

So, I was actually amazed at how hard the process was in comparison to my previous experience.  The transcription device truly made a difference. First,  a generic laptop with media player does not have any special features to aid in this assignment—at least that I could find.  In addition, understanding a fluid conversation and how to symbolize vague utterances was not something I anticipated.  Basically, I was spoiled by my experience as a legal secretary where the attorney used precise words with which I was also familiar.

Doing the transcribing also revealed to me the difficulty of interpreting conversations.  Tone is virtually impossible to convey in a meaningful way, and there are so many vague words (or utterances) that accompany a conversation.  To me, these utterances and fillers are important because they could convey meaning, such as uncertainty. When someone says “um” they could be deciding what to say or what not to say. Thus, I think that it is safer to keep the “ums” and pauses in because it takes my interpretation out.

To sum things up, like all beginnings, I believe transcribing will get easier with practice.  There is definitely an art to understanding conversations and symbolizing them as accurately as possible. For now, that means some frustration with the process as I figure things out.

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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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