Archive for the 'Assignment 3-Transcript Review' Category

Brief transcript review

I have to say that, unlike Will, I am not a fan of transcribing. Moreover, I discovered that it’s important to conduct the process in a private, secluded space; attempting to transcribe on the first floor of Swem or any public place where you might see someone you know (which is almost everywhere in Williamsburg) is a bad idea.  I can’t tell you how many times I was interrupted, which is a reason why it took me a bit longer than most to complete the assignment. Regardless of the interruptions, I found the recording to be of good quality with most of the words and ideas discernible and clear. I didn’t familiarize myself with the technology to help with the transcription for this interview since it was fairly short (approximately 11 minutes), but I definitely intend on using it for the upcoming peer interview and for the project.  I imagine the software would have made the process less time-consuming as I had to continually start and restart segments where the narrator spoke too quickly, or when I was debating on whether or not to include a comma or ellipsis. There was a time in the interview where I didn’t feel it necessary to include parts, like at the end of the interview when the narrator gave a full back and forth dialogue that almost said the same thing over and over again. Still, I included the full dialogue.  The only time that I was unable to transcribe the words was at the end of the interview when a phone call cut off the narrator’s dialogue and the voice of the interviewee was masked by the sound of the ringing phone.

Transcribing…in all its glory

I have transcribed before when I worked for my high school newspaper, but it was just quotations that were a few lines at most. Tone and retaining the voice of the narrator didn’t matter as much as recording the words that came out of his or her mouth. Not surprisingly, transcribing an oral history is much different.  It took about two hours over two days with an extra day for checking my work and making brief changes, which is not bad. However, I’m not excited for transcribing my real interviews, especially since I’m starting to learn that my love of asking questions is going to make them quite long!

The hardest part of the transcribing was anything requiring a judgement call. I was not sure where is was necessary to put “ums” and “uhs”, especially since Paula used them a lot. It was also difficult to transcribe some of Mr. Beck’s thoughts since he had a tendency to start a sentence, pause, and then start it over again, or repeat words as he tried to gather his thoughts. It was a learning experience though, because I never realized how many run-on sentences and “ums” people put into their speech. It made me start listening to and analyzing my own speech and realizing that I am the same way. In the end though, I put “ums” in for Paula because I felt it was important to show her nerves for some reason. I included Mr. Beck’s “ums” only when it seemed like he was struggling to think of something (like Fredericksburg, for example). I included some of both his and Paula’s sentences restarts and repeated words and used ellipses to mark where they started a sentence over since that was the only technique that made sense in my head. I also used ellipses to mark small pauses and where the person trailed off. I’m going to have to come up with some new techniques, but hopefully my readers can understand them for this particular transcription.

For names that I did not know (there were three of them), I googled them first and then bolded them in the transcript. I’m pretty sure all my name spellings are correct, but the bolding will show the reader that I’m not completely sure they were correct since I did not have the opportunity to ask Mr. Beck to clarify. I added a few bracketed words of my own to make the sentences grammatically correct. I marked anything that I could not make out as [indistinguishable] and with any overlap, I put the first person’s full comment first and then the second person’s full comment. I consider myself fortunate to have only two people really talking on my part of tape, especially after reading transcription reviews of people in the past class who have had to deal with six people talking over each other.

My biggest problem with transcribing an oral conversation was retaining any aspects of tone. I feel like it’s impossible to show on the transcribe where Mr. Beck emphasized certain words or where his voice got softer. It also made it harder to punctuate sentences since I want to try and preserve these meanings as much as I can. You also really can’t show any trace of his Boston accent without really making a parody out of what he says. I tried to put things like “gonna” since that would be understandable, but any of the nuances were too difficult to be recorded. After thinking about this idea, I’m starting to really value what Portelli said about how important the spoken word really is. Writing words down eliminates the real meaning behind what was said. It seems like the human behind the speech is gone and was replaced by a machine typing words. I  definitely suggest that, if possible, future researchers both listen to the recording and read the transcript so they can see the words and hear all the emphases, accents, and emotion behind the words that I can’t make evident on the page.

With the indexing, I think that I had an unfair advantage, because I made the stupid mistake of not fully reading the assignment sheet before starting. As a result, I did the transcription before the indexing. When doing the index, I felt like I didn’t have to listen to the interview fully, because the second he started talking about a topic, I thought, “I know what’s coming. He’s going to talk about hitchhiking to Boston” or whatever. This process is completely different from the experiences in class, because there, I actually had to listen to the interview and make a judgement call about what was important enough to write down, instead of already knowing.

I could tell this interview was Paula’s first, because she sounded nervous and like she did not know exactly how to ask her questions. There were a few instances where she jumped on Mr. Beck with another question after he finished a story and didn’t appreciate the silence or the chance to let him follow up with whatever he was saying. There were also points where the silence seemed awkward and it was evident that Paula was trying to figure out what to ask next. Other than that, she was very understandable and asked interesting questions that she connected to each other relatively well. Hopefully, further experience helped her not be so nervous!

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!

Transcription Thoughts

I began my transcription process at home in Richmond. I had no internet for some reason or another (I believe my brother had screwed up the internet while trying to connect his Playstation) and was not able to download the software recommended to us. Before I began I thought I was doomed. Luckily, I found the process rather relaxing. At first I had trouble pausing and switching back and forth between iTunes and word but quickly found that my Macbook offered tons of time saving innovations for the project; I won’t get into them as I will start to sound like an Apple spokesperson. Needless to say, I think previous experience doing data entry really helped me keep up with the recording for the most part. Occasionally I would find that I wasn’t sure how to punctuate certain phrases; there were lots of repeated phrases and “ums.” For these, I decided the best course of action was to leave the transcript as close to a literary dialogue as possible. I realize this removes some of the meaning behind the words but we lose that anyway shifting from spoken word to written. I feel the transcript is here more as a means of quoting for easy use in paper; anyone actually attempting to understand what is being said in the interview should probably listen to actual interview. I did have trouble understanding some of the phrases in the dialogue and for these instances I made it clear I did not understand the word or words, while leaving a suggestion as to what I thought was being said. I also left out ambient noise, such as a clock that went off in the middle of the interview. This would have merely distracted the reader instead of adding anything worthwhile to the readers understanding.

I legitimately enjoyed transcribing the interviews. It offered a nice change of pace from the regular reading analysis I have to do for most classes but still was engaging enough to be interesting.

A Turtle’s Pace

I found my first foray into transcription challenging.  If it weren’t for Digital Editor it would have been a nightmarish process.  I found the speed controls helpful, but was aware that not all words translate well at slower speeds.  I discovered that with time I became a better listener and had to review less often as I typed.  There is also something to be said for establishing a familiarity with the patterns of speech used by the narrator and the interviewer.

I separated my transcription over several days and sat at short intervals to do the work.  I would review each of the prior transcriptions to check for accuracy; playing back the interview at normal speed and reading along with my draft.  I added the initals as a last step once I was satisfied with the accuracy of my transcription.

I enjoyed the process very well and was surprised at how much easier it became after multiple short sessions of listening.  I used noise cancelling headphones which helped me hear the speakers very clearly.

I decided to include most utterances and tried to capture the emotional affect of the speaker in the way he used his words.  For example, I noticed that Mr. Beck would repeat the first couple of words in his sentences if the subject was either difficult for him to share, or if he was particularly excited to make a point.  His Northern accent proved to be a little challenging on some parts of the interview, but I did not attempt to capture it in my transcription.  I did have to replay sections at various speeds and consider context in order the “translate” the words he used.

I wasn’t sure how to treat “side” conversations, like when Mrs. Beck spoke to her husband during his interview as she was leaving the house.  I decided to indicate that she spoke, but put a note that she was asking a question in the background and her voice/or his was softer than in the interview portion.

I think that Paula and Grace conducted the interview well overall, but I would have preferred fewer “ums” and “self interruptions”.  These interruptions occurred when they would start a question or statement and then interject another question or comment in the middle of making the first statement.  This happened when they were unsure of the question they were trying to formulate or information they were trying to convey to the narrator.

I hope I will be much improved in both my interviewing and listening skills by the time of my “real” interviews.  Thank goodness for the Digital Editor software – it made transcription much easier!


I hadn’t expected the transcription assignment to be as tedious as it was going in. Although I did not expect it to be over with quickly, I hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to pick up on individual statements when two people were talking at the same time. I suppose this was partially because of the lack of visual cues to differentiate between statements, however whenever two people would talk at the same time I found myself having to listen to the tape five or six times slowed down to copy down their statements correctly. I went into the assignment with the intention of copying down everything that was said, syllable for syllable, however after realizing how annoying the constant “like, um, and like” statements were to transcribe, I reasoned that they would be just as frustrating to read. I solved my dilemma over the order to write concurrent statements by simply writing entire statements from each person during overlap, except in the cases of direct interruption, wherein I would use a dash to mark the interruption. I was upset at my occasional need to use brackets to mark words [incomprehensible] however there were a few phrases that were simply beyond my powers as a listener to understand. The interviewers I transcribed seemed to be very inexperienced, in my opinion, as they had trouble organizing their questions, and obviously did not go into the interview with a clear cut idea of what they were going to ask, although the interviewees seemed eager to answer their questions, and they were helped immensely by Edith (the third interviewer/indexer) as well.

Thoughts on Transcription

If anything, the transcription assignment helped me realize that I don’t type anywhere near as fast as I thought I did.I found myself stopping the audio every few seconds even when slowed down to a speed which was almost unintelligible. This experience was a moving one, and I now have a profound respect for anyone who can discipline themselves long enough to accurately transcribe a piece longer than ten minutes. I found myself very personally involved with the process of the interview. Whenever people began to talk over each-other I was frustrated at how difficult it became to understand what was being said. There were unnamed people who talked on the recording which made it difficult to decide how to include their statements. I regularly found myself on the edge of my seat hoping the interviewer would reign in the conversation as it frequently went off on rather obscure tangents. After transcribing about half of the recording, It became painfully aware that I needed to streamline my process considerably. I began eliminating unnatural pauses such as “umm” and “uh huh”. Eventually I achieved a pace which I could reasonably keep up with the slow-motion voices on the recording. I then, for the first time, saw myself as an interpreter of the story being told rather than merely a monkey punching keys.

My Transcribing Experience

After hearing Alice say she transcribed her interview in a mere 30 minutes, I was confident the transcription process would be a breeze and go by quickly.  However, I encountered difficulties more than once, and the project took considerably longer than half an hour.  I downloaded the Sony software and tested it out, but found it did not help me particularly much in the area where I ended up having the most trouble.  I encountered several moments in which either Lloyd or Shirley Wallace would say something I simply could not understand.  This was largely due to their pronounced accents.  Although I could understand most of what they said, and the index created by the previous researcher helped to clarify points of which I was unsure, there were nevertheless a handful of occasions in which individual words or short phrases remained unintelligible to me.  I listened to these bits slowed down with the software, but the only result was that I heard the same unintelligible sounds more slowly.  Rather than attempting to write down what I imagined I heard, I wrote “[unintelligible]” at these moments in my transcript, usually offering a possible interpretation in parentheses next to these brackets.  I felt bad each time I had to do this, feeling I had somehow failed my past researchers for being unable to adequately transcribe their work, and that I had let down future researchers who may look to my inaccurate transcript in the future.  Therefore, I hope my compromise to offer parenthetical possibilities for what these garbled words might be may allow other researchers to understand the speaker as best they can.

Overall, the actual information conveyed in my segment of the interview was fairly interesting.  It recounted how the residents of a town called Magruder had been ousted from their homes by land developers.  Many moved north, but many also remained in the area, moving to the town of Grove, where the Wallaces went.  The Wallaces also talk about the gradual process of the integration of schools, stating that, for years, most black students chose to continue attending Bruton Heights, both because they took pride in the institution, and because, in many respects, Bruton Heights’ facilities were newer and nicer than that of the white / later integrated school, James Blair.  The Wallaces also recounted how students from Matthew Whaley had visited their school on occasion, and how students from William and Mary had used their science lab facilities when the College lab was damaged in a fire.

Transcription in Review

This assignment proved quite difficult because several people were speaking at the same time throughout the majority of my ten minute section.  In order to record everything that was said, I had to play the same section of tape three or four times, each time focusing my ears to hear only one of the voices.  Then I faced another problem: if three people are speaking at once, which comments do you place first in the order of the transcript?  I solved this problem by first writing the full comment of whichever speaker started speaking first.  Then I would include the full comment of whoever started speaking second and so on.  If I had simply written all the words exactly in the order that they were spoken on the tape, it would be very difficult to understand what any of the interviewees were saying.

Additionally, I was frustrated by the interview techniques of the WDP students during this portion of the recording.  The interviewers had a very hand-off method, perhaps a little too hands-off.  I think the interview could have been much more successful if the interviewers had provided the interviewees with a little more structure.  At times, it seemed like the interviewers were too nervous and shy to even ask questions or take advantage of breaks in conversation in order to bring up new topics.  Furthermore, I felt that the language used by the interviewers was too disjointed, characterized by many fragmented sentences and incomplete thoughts.  I think it would have been better if comments and questions were better formulated in the interviewers’ minds before he or she spoke.  Additionally, one of the interviewers called Williamsburg a sleepy little town, which seemed to offend some of the interviewees.  Care should be taken to avoid causing offense.

Joys and Woes of Transcribing

I actually have a little bit of transcribing experience (some was paid–now that’s a trap. Most tedious ten hours I’ve ever worked). Those have all been linguistics-based transcriptions, though, so this might be a little different. The way I’ve been trained, it’s very important to include every single syllable, even the abundant “mmhm”s of the interviewer. I’ve been considering the purpose and audience of this oral history, and I suspect they’re a little different from what I’m used to typing up. While I’m inclined to include the pauses and “um”s and false starts, I feel less justified putting them in here, because reading over it, it sounds like the interview subject is unsure of what he’s saying. But listen to the interview–he’s got complete command over what he’s telling the interviewer.  I’m leaving them in for now…I might alter my methods a little before I do my next transcription assignment.  I’ve been reading everyone else’s blog posts and I think we’re all sharing the same thoughts. We want to be true to the oral (+ aural) form by recording each utterance faithfully, but we also recognize that oral and written are very different media (cf. Portelli’s observations as discussed in class), and we understand that translating oral to written is a complicated and loaded task. It’s difficult to negotiate the boundaries of oral vs written, trying to keep from sounding strangely forced or wildly unfocused. I’m hoping we’ll talk in class and come to some sort of consensus on transcribing. At the very least, we could err on the side of consistency.

The subject of the interview delighted my linguist’s ear. He used a few words in ways I’d not heard before and was intrigued by several new and exciting pronunciations. I’m definitely going to listen for these features around town now.  The interviewer, I think, did a good job of letting the subject tell his story. The questions seemed to flow naturally, which only works if you’ve been listening to your subject (I know this.), and were open enough that more story and more answers grew from them. It didn’t seem like it was a struggle to get information from the subject, which is always a good sign, so I think this interview was pretty successful (at least in its first ten minutes).

« Previous PageNext Page »


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.

Add Users

If you want to add yourself to this blog, please log in.