Archive for the 'Assignment 3-Transcript Review' Category

Reflections on Transcription

The transcription process did not start well for me.  It took me about 45 minutes and an email conversation with Sarah to finally get a grasp on who was actually speaking in my section of the interview.  Listening through the recording the first time, it seemed as though a new person starting talking every three minutes or so.  All in all, transcribing ten minutes of interview took me about two hours, so I think that I might be in the slower bracket of people.  However, the thing that surprised me most about the whole process was just how interesting it all was.  It was like looking behind the curtain at something that I wasn’t meant to see.  Hearing a conversation from the past is really an amazing thing, considering the impossibility of it. And it was as if I was an actor myself, writing the words to a memoir as if they were my own, and manipulating those that I couldn’t  quite make out.  That was another aspect of the transcription process that struck me – how much my own biases and idiosyncratic thought and voice patterns influenced my perception of those words that I just couldn’t make out clearly.  It was an interpretation of something that is supposedly objective, something that isn’t supposed to be open to interpretation.  That’s the astounding part of it – how much of a role I played in an event that I was never supposed to play a role in.  In my own way, I was tacked onto the past ex post facto.  Even more so, I haven’t even gotten to how interesting the interview itself was.  It’s really phenomenal how people have the ability to make a subject that may seem mundane in writing  (a history of Williamsburg, for example) into something with life and depth and force.  Listening to this interview only solidified what Portelli wrote about – that the written word is no substitute for orality.

So, looking at the guidelines for this Assignment 3, it says that I should be critical of the interviewer – what did she do right and what did she do wrong?  To start off, I think that she let the interview play out organically, never forcing a particular topic into conversation where it didn’t belong.  She seemed to genuinely listen to her interviewees and respond to what they were saying, rather than what she wanted them to say.  However, I thought that she had a tendency to preface her questions with her own thoughts on the matter, which may have led to a bit of bias in the interviewee’s response.  However, I think that many of us do this in conversation, not as a way to voice our opinion or purposefully elicit a certain response from the person that we’re talking to, but just as a natural lead-in to the question itself.  So, I think this is something that I will have to be conscious of in my own interviewing, as I’m sure that I do this as well.  Otherwise, I think that the interviewer did a great job, and I got the impression that the interviewees were comfortable with the interviewer.

Transcription/Indexing Reflections

The hardest thing to work through was my bias as journalist as I have  conducted and transcribed interviews before, but have never analyzed the oral quality to them.  I naturally was inclined to exclude the umms and stutters,etc. but felt that I needed to include them where they were particularly distinct.  Generally, I kept worrying about my role as transcriber and really wanted to have as little presence as possible.  I couldn’t help thinking I was stealing Mr. Wallace’s voice and literally putting words in his mouth.  In other words, I didn’t want to take any authorship over  the interview but almost immediately, I realized that was impossible.  Practically every piece of dialogue posed a challenge and I’m afraid I was inconsistent in my treatment of the audio file.  Occasionally, I would use “…” for pauses, for instance, yet reviewing my work I realized I also used “–” which I think was used primarily to indicate an interuption.  There were countless other “close calls” that I had to make where I didn’t know whether to guess at the spelling, include a comma, or indicate laughter, for example.  Most of my judgements were difficult ones and I couldn’t help cringing a little when I thought of how arbitrary I was being.  Throughout the process, I felt like I was bastardizing their interview, like too much gets lost in translation moving from one medium to another.  The accent for one, but so many other things cannot be replicated when voices move to paper.  Overall my experience was like a kid eating brocoli-I hated it but knew it was good for me.


I found transcribing this interview to be an extremely frustrating task. I hesitate to critique the interviewer, because I am terrified of what I will sound like to others transcribing my work. However, with that said I will point out a few of the things that made transcribing difficult. First and foremost, the interviewer seemed hesitant and at times even stumbled over his words. Mumbling is difficult to comprehend face to face, even more so on a recording. Also, he contributed, in my opinion, too many “right,” “uh huh,” “OK,” and other comments of that sort when the interviewee was speaking. In my mind, such commentary is not essential. Thus, I omitted it from the transcription. Although the interviewee had a unique speech pattern, I could understand most of what he said. Cases in which I was unsure of a word are marked by an asterisk. I did include the “ums” as a sign of pause and/or thought. The punctuation used in my transcription is certainly not grammatically correct. Rather than inserting commas or periods where they would go in a piece of scholarly writing, I inserted them only where the speakers seemed to place them. Therefore, you may notice some incomplete or run-on sentences. While I know that this transcription may not be totally accurate, I did my best to truthfully represent both the interviewer and the narrator.

Transcription Assignment

I knew this would be time consuming and potentially very difficult depending on the quality of the recording, as my mom has worked as a medical transcriptionist and I grew up hearing her frustrations with doctors who didn’t always speak clearly. Even with this prior knowledge, I found transcribing to be a very difficult process.

I definitely learned that as an interviewer, it is a terrible idea to interrupt or try to speak over the interviewee. While this sounds like basic etiquette, I understand that when having a conversation and asking questions it is sometimes difficult not to jump in, but having only one person talk at once is crucial to the final transcript making sense. I wasn’t sure if I should put in the interjections of the interviewer or not and then continue on with the interviewee’s sentence, or just ignore those bits and transcribe it all as one piece. I generally ended up putting the interviewer’s comments in, although there were some places where I left them out because they did not seem crucial and really made things scattered. I also think interviewing just one person at a time would be much more efficient, in a way – when there were two or three people talking at once I not only had trouble distinguishing who was saying what, but also deciding what should get transcribed where. It made some sections very frustrating.

If things were unclear, I just marked them [inaudible]. I was a little unsure with some of the names that were used, and at points the recording was so quiet I really just could not figure out what was being said. I kept the ‘uhs’, ‘ums’, ‘mhmms’, and ‘likes’ because I think speech patterns are important and it honestly would have been very difficult to transcribe this without including verbal pauses and sentence repeats.

Transcription Reflection

I’d never done a transcription before this assignment, so I didn’t really know what to expect of the task. Everyone told me it was very time consuming, which it was, but I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I think the longer interviews will be much more challenging and tedious, but starting with 10 minutes was a manageable undertaking. I used the software download to slow down the speech, although I’m not sure that it helped as much as i thought it would. Next time I will experiment with slowing the interview down more because this time I was still falling behind and had to stop a lot.

I included most of the “like”s and “uhm”s in my transcript, although I did cut out those that seemed to have no effect on the sentence or question, for example if there was a long pause after it. For the most part, I think that these interjections reveal some meaning or can influence the interview, which is why I chose to keep them. I debated whether to type the words in the vernacular as they sounded (with accent) or whether to put them in plain English. I eventually decided to write in usual spelling but not necessarily in complete sentences, although I have no idea if that was the correct decision. There was only one part of the interview that was undistinguishable to me, so I took my best guess and  put it in brackets with a question mark.

I think my interviewer did a good job on the interview overall. Sometimes it seemed as if she was a little disorganized and unprepared, but that could mean she was just improvising her questions and was therefore unsure of the correct way to word things.

Transcription Reflections

I have transcribed fairly long interviews for other classes before, so I wasn’t too worried about being able to complete this transcription.  Despite some computer issues that took place in the middle of my transcription, I didn’t have much trouble.  That being said, because of the computer issues, I only used the voice editor for about half of the interview.  I think it’s important to note that, to me, using the software really changed the interview.  It made the “uhs” and “ums” much more noticeable which I think challenges our intuition on whether or not to include them in the transcript.  I think that listening to the interview a couple times on regular speed is definitely a good idea just so the listener understands the dialogue in its natural state, if that makes sense. I also think the software affects the conversational tone; I found it a little distracting because the slowed-down voices sounded really funny to me.

I included most of the “ums,” especially those that seemed like they could have indicated hesitation about addressing a topic that might have been slightly awkward, emotional, or more personal to discuss.  There were only a couple of words that I could not make out, so I marked them as “indistinguishable.”  I think the interviewer in my clip did a good job of following what the interviewee said by acknowledging his points and allowing the interviewee to elaborate, while still keeping the interview on track.

Transcription reflection

I’ve done some transcribing before in the past, so I didn’t find this exercise very challenging. For a sociology class once I transcribed an entire 3 hour forum, which took hours and hours, so this seemed relatively simple. It’s always hard to judge whether the ums and pauses are significant enough to be included, but other than that I didn’t run into too many roadblocks.

There weren’t many words that were unclear, and I mostly just left out any repeated words and ums, likes, etc. I thought the interviewer did a good job. He asked a lot of follow-up questions and tailored them to the responses that the interviewee gave. He also did a good job of affirming what the interviewee was saying and letting him know they were on the same page. I think he spent a little too long asking about how Newman felt about the nutritional value of his food. I think he might have had a more productive conversation if he’d asked him about what he thought in general about nutrition in America and problems of the availability of nutritious food instead of just specifically the problems with food people were choosing at the food bank. But in general I think he did a good job.


WHEW! I am thoroughly exhausted.  It might be because I was up late watching the Super Bowl or maybe because I had a long day, but most likely it’s because of this assignment.  Now I’ve done a transcription before, but on a larger scale, so when I got my assigned recording to index and transcribe I wasn’t worried because it was only ten minutes long.  Indeed, it didn’t take me long to transcribe it (I type at 75 WPM), but it was certainly an interesting interview.  For starters, there were six people in the room.  On the interviewees side, the two subjects were doing most of the talking, but occasionally, an unknown voice would chime in quietly in the background to add her two cents.  What was so frustrating was that I couldn’t figure out who was who and so an otherwise simple assignment became frustrating and confusing.

I didn’t think too much about how to transcribe the audio I was hearing.  To me, transcription is simply writing down what is said, even if that means writing “uh,” “yeah,” or “um.”  If they said it, I write it.  I don’t interpret pauses as anything other than a moment of thought or reflection.  Put it this way, if I wrote everything the person said and left out any pauses or punctuations, it would look like a robot said it.  When I couldn’t understand what an individual was saying, I replayed the recording a few times as loudly as possible to try to distinguish as much as I could.  If I couldn’t understand them, I would write “inaudible,” because that’s what it was.  I’m not sure what else I could have written.  I think since transcription is not new to me, I had a pretty easy time completing this assignment.  It will be interesting to hear if there are other opinions on how to interpret a recording.  Personally, I don’t think transcribing is about interpreting, it’s about listening and writing what you hear.  The real learning comes when you actually listen to the stories the people are telling.  That’s when I have the most fun and that’s when I get the most out of a historical recording.  This project, to me, is about recording living history, taking what we encounter in everyday life and using every means possible (blog, classes, recordings, written accounts) to record it for posterity.  The methods of recording these accounts are important but transcriptions are just a re-iteration of a recording.  If we start manipulating what was recording, we’re manipulating history and that’s the worst crime of all.  To me, if you start with leaving out the ums, yeah!’s and uh-huhs, it’s only a matter of time before you start changing whole sentences!

The interviewers in my recording seemed like they really came prepared.  They had questions ready to ask, and knew how to draw on what the interviewees were saying.  In fact, the interviewers seemed a little quiet at times.  Will (the interviewer) would ask a question and sometimes the response would be just “No.”  It was almost as if Lloyd was slightly hesitant to share everything for everyone to hear.  I think what we need to watch out for, and especially in my topic with substance abuse in the schools, is people basing their answers off of the fact that they are being recorded.  In an age where one click can upload an incriminating video or sound bite and cause chaos, people are becoming more and more wary to have their voices recorded.  This could negatively impact our ability to record history.  However, sometimes Will seemed to be a little too present in the conversation.  I will give him the benefit of the doubt, however, because I have not been in that situation yet so I have yet to see what it is actually like to be interacting with people.  My hope is that I will not be overly involved, but will be responsive and engaging without affecting the historical account.

Transcription Reaction– Bert Geddy

The indexing was hard the first time just because Mr. Geddy’s voice was unclear in some sections. Also, because I really didn’t know what to expect, I indexed some things that were definitely not the most important parts of the interview. However, the index did help with the transcription and vice versa. Looking back into the transcribed interview I was able to edit my initial indexed records to get a more complete timeline.

The transcribing was of course far more difficult than the indexing. It is definitely a tedious process that requires patience and a keen ear to be able to discern certain phrases. When I couldn’t tell what Mr. Geddy was saying, I would repeat the phrase a number of times. I would then listen to the next few seconds of the interview in case some later contextual clues could help me identify what he was saying. This strategy worked in a number of places—but in some I just really could not discern his message. Another way I utilized contextual clues was to use google to help me identify certain passages. Mr. Geddy spoke of some department stores in Richmond that he used to go to. After failing at constructing a perfect recreation of his pronunciation, I turned to google and searched “department stores in Richmond in the 1950s.” The top two results were the names he spoke of in his answer.

I chose to include most nuances—“um”’s and “uh”’s were mostly transcribed in my record. However I avoided most attempts at recording Mr. Geddy’s accent. He had a few strange tendencies such as saying “aboot” rather than “about,” and I believe when mentioned cub scouts and boy scouts he pronounced it in a very almost Scottish way. I have never met Mr. Geddy but his otherwise Southern sound and the history of his family in Toano suggests that he probably would have neither a Canadian nor a Scottish accent. I did include some common abbreviations such as “‘em” for “them” and “wanna” for “want to.”

My interviewer did a good job besides the fact that I don’t believe I caught her name in my segment of the recording at least. She spoke very little and allowed Mr. Geddy to go on for minutes at a time, which, depending on her topic, wasn’t necessarily bad because Mr. Geddy did stay pretty much on target to her question without many random tangents. She seemed interested in a Mr. Melvin Bryant that both Mr. Geddy and a previous interviewee had mentioned, but when Mr. Geddy began talking about him she led him in a different direction by asking a different type of question. Again, depending on her topic this could have been useful to her, but I felt that her main questions were fairly similar— describing your youth and the town you grew up in are questions that are largely intertwined. Overall I thought she did a good job, and that Mr. Geddy was a good participant in an interview that could have proved very useful to her.


The transcription process went much faster than I was expecting it to.  My computer has play and pause buttons right above the keyboard, so it was easy to start and stop the recording.  The main challenge for me was trying to decipher certain words or strings of words that the interviewee was saying.  It sounded like a mumble to me so I typed words that I could pick out, but then I would write “mumble” in parenthesis to show the loss of the dialogue.  Sometimes the interviewee was saying the name of a place and I could not understand what he said, and because I am not from Virginia I could not even guess a city or place.  I tried to show his accent when he said the word ” ’bout” for about and   ” ’em” for them.  I also included “uh” and “um” and tried to show pauses with the “…”.  I realize after transcribing that it is important to make an effort to speak clearly and not too fast so words do not slur together.

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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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