Archive for the 'Transcription Critical Reflection' Category

Relatively Accurate Needs to be Accurate

The most difficult part of this assignment was understanding the interviewee. Because of his thick accent and imperfect enunciation, it was very difficult for my unfamiliar ear to make out all his words and syllables at first. As I listened to the clip more often, I became familiar with certain variations his accent put on certain English words. I also noticed that it was much easier for me to fill in the blanks for certain words and phrases once I had listened and recorded in detail, the interview. Clues and hints in the conversation made these things clearer. The interviewee also had a habit of trailing off and not finishing sentences which made it difficult for me to understand where one thought ended and another began.

Indexing this was not as difficult as I expected it to be. I quickly developed a system of listening to about 7-10 second clips, writing down what I could remember, and then replaying it to verify what I had recorded was what I heard on the sound bite. Although this took a while, about two hours total, it enabled me to record a relatively accurate translation.

While recording the clip, I used commas where both participants paused and hesitated while speaking. The interviewer was very easy to understand and record because her portion of speaking came mainly in the form of questions. With the interviewee, he spoke in fragmented and run on sentences. So, the grammar I used to record him is less than correct, but depicts the rhythm of his speech well. I was concerned about not using good grammar when I began transcribing, but I became more comfortable with it as the process progressed. I used the words gonna, ‘em for them, and incorrect syntax to emphasize the interviewees accent. When I encountered words and phrases that I could not decipher, I used the words that sounded closest to what I heard followed by a question mark in parenthesis. In other cases where I could make no sense of what was said, I used three underscores followed by a question mark in parentheses. I think the root of my inability to understand certain words was the interviewee’s accent.

I think the interviewer did a good job of speaking clearly and asking pointed questions during the interview. The only thing I found a bit offsetting, especially for the interviewee, was the lack of emotion or engagement I heard from her on the sound bite. Although she may have been very physically engaged in the conversation, it did not appear to be that way on the clip. Overall I think she was very composed and prepared for the interview but I would personally approach the situation with a bit more vocal engagement. I think it is important for the interviewee to know that you are physically and mentally focused only on them and what they have to share.

My overall reaction to this assignment is that it is important to fully engage with the interviewee, remain composed and come prepared, and finally to ensure the clarify words and phrases during the interview if you do not understand because listening to the clip will make it all the harder. Clarifying words and phrases, especially if someone has a thick accent, is important so that future researchers can access the material and understand it with ease.

From Word to Text: Challenges in Transcription/Indexing

Our task for Assignment #4 was valuable but challenging in ways I did not initially expect. As a journalist, I came into the transcription process somewhat familiar and was quickly reminded of how time consuming the work can be! The technical aspects of the recording make it difficult to hear words or exact pronunciations, especially when background noise interferes with the recording device during an interview. As the indexer and transcriber, it was difficult because you had to record what you see as significant in the interview, sometimes based off of what you can actually comprehend through the recording. For example, when words became muffled or the subject’s pronunciation was hard to understand, I had to determine how I was going to transcribe his words. Without having any prior knowledge, documents, general context of the recording subject, it was hard to spell names and places without recording them phonetically, which isn’t always the best or most accurate way of documentation.

Personally, I tried my best to record as much of the dialogue as possible, therefore eliminating filler words (um, uh, etc.) and only noting pauses if it helps aid in understanding the overall interview. If you are somewhat familiar with the topic of conversation (in my case, Greek food), it was easier to figure out how to spell a word (Spanakopita), but I can imagine if a different indexer/recorder wasn’t as familiar, the lack of context around the interview would present a major challenge during documentation. I tried to indicate extended pauses or interruptions with ellipses and recorded the dialogue similar to how one might write a play manuscript (ex. “You gotta,” or “You know,”). The punctuation I used also attempted to mimic natural speech flow, in an effort to present the interview as authentically as possible while being easy to understand by readers.

Reflection on Transcription

I am a firm believer in learning from experience, rather than explicit instruction. Indexing and transcribing are perfect examples of how beneficial the actual experience is. Initially, I was hesitant. I felt as though I did not fully understand how to complete the assignment, and feared completing it completely wrong. With the instructions being so open-ended, it took the pressure off and allowed me to fully engage in what I thought the process entailed. I found the indexing portion to be a bit difficult, mainly due to the fact that it was just a segment was from the larger interview that had been going on for some time. The first minute or so, I could not fully gauge what the interviewee was talking about, so having some background in terms of what this interview was for would have been helpful. This clip, in particular, was hard to index in the sense that the interviewee would go back and forth between topics consistently. After doing the readings, I felt like the interviewer could have done a better job in keeping the interviewee on track, or being a little more vocal/involved in what they were talking about. I just felt like it lacked some direction. Though difficult, it proved to be extremely helpful when it came to transcribing the interview. It was nice to have an outline of what was going on with the timing to refer back to when needed, which was pretty often for me. The transcription took me between 3 and 4 hours. I was surprised when I saw how much of a time commitment the process would be. I feel like this was mainly due to the difficulty I had in decrypting what the interviewee was saying. His heavy accent proved to be extremely difficult to comprehend. There are many instances where I just could not make out what he was saying, either because it was said under his breath or mumbled through. I felt as though the interviewer probably could not understand him in these instances either, in which case she should have asked him to repeat himself or speak a little bit louder. I was also curious as to whether or not the equipment was being properly used. It sounded muffled for a majority of it, just adding to the difficulty to decipher what he was saying. When it came to writing it down, I had to make a quick decision in how I was going to interpret what he was saying. I chose to not include things like “um” or sighs, since they happened quite frequently though out. I also chose to keep his dialect true to who he was. I did not change tenses where I could have, since I felt as though that was an important aspect of the interview. I did, however, find myself inserting some words in brackets where I felt it needed, especially when it helped to clear up what the topic of conversation was. At the end of the transcription, I had some blank areas where I found it next to impossible to decipher what was being said. Overall, I found this assignment to be beneficial in the sense that it gave me the opportunity to learn from my own mistakes throughout the exercise, and as time went on, I found it to get easier.

Excuse me, did I hear you correctly?

Transcribing has been one of the most difficult tasks thus far because I wanted to be sure to capture the interviewee’s thoughts all the while trying to ignore the background. During the process, I found myself constantly rewinding and stopping trying to hear every word. Then I eventually realized there is no possible way for me to capture every word because of the heavy accent of the interviewee. The choices of punctuation proved to be another challenge sense the man had numerous pauses that prevented me in determining where one thought began and when another ended. The pauses as well as the places I could not understand him, I decided to just place uncertain in parentheses. Although much of my focus was on the interviewee, I realized I did not here the interviewer ask many questions and I was uncertain what the point of the conversation. The interviewee seemed to go on tangents and had little direction from the interviewer. I am interested in seeing what is the proper way to interview and transcribe.

Keeping True To The Source

When working as a transcriptionist, I consider that my role is to capture what is being stated as accurately as possible.  If an interviewee is gracious enough to share their time, insights, and perspectives, then it is my duty to record those statements honestly.  This is not my interview, therefore my transcription should not reflect any of me if possible.  That said, I try to record exactly what I hear, including pauses and grammatical deficiencies.  If I am at all unsure about what I hear, then I make a note of that.  I do not try to interpret what the interviewee may or may not have meant, because I might get it wrong and that would do the interviewee great injustice.  Maintaining absolute accuracy not only demonstrates respect for the interviewee, it also establishes my own credibility as a transcriptionist and interviewer.


Putting Words into Words

This assignment proved a challenge for my historically poor hearing. My ears have been rather faulty my entire life, having persisted through near-constant ear infections and two rounds of surgery as a child to just not be deaf. Because of that, I think I’ve developed more of a reliance on non-verbal communication than most (which is already around 90%, right?) That was what I noticed most in my attempts to transcribe this oral history: how much communication I felt I was missing out on.

The interviewee was a Greek man who owned several restaurants in the Williamsburg area. His first name was Angelo, but I do not remember hearing his last. He spoke with a fairly strong accent, which proved challenging to depict in the text. Apart from my best guesses at some last names, I chose to not alter spellings of words to reflect his pronunciation of them. The history major in me wouldn’t allow it; historically, writing in dialect has been a standard way of depicting African-Americans and other people who don’t necessarily speak “properly” by an arbitrary definition as unintelligent and backwards. What I did stay true to, however, was his conjugation of verbs and omission of helping words, articles, and other such words. It seemed to be a good way to depict how he spoke in a non-offensive way.

Punctuation also became an issue in transcribing the clip. I realized while listening how people don’t typically speak in straightforward sentences. There are a great deal of pauses and stutters in conversations. I tried to depict those interruptions as much as possible, using dashes for more abrupt switches and ellipses for longer pauses.

Between the accent, the interruptions in speech, and the somewhat disjointed content within the clip itself, a fair amount of words and phrases were unintelligible. For those portions, I simply listed them as “unclear” within parentheses.

I’m eager to find out in class tomorrow if I did everything properly.


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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