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AU Oral History Project: Transcription

Why Transcribe?

  • Transcripts make the information on the recording easier to locate and assemble for use in media presentations, exhibits, and research publications.
  • Researchers often prefer the ease of looking through a transcript for topics related to their interests over listening to a recording, especially if the recording format is outmoded.
  • Narrators still attach prestige to having a print document of their stories.
  • Narrators may preview the draft transcript and provide spellings of proper names and clarification of misunderstood information, resulting in a more accurate account.
  • Transcripts are easily indexed by name and subject.
  • The shelf life of paper far exceeds the brief time a recording format exists before it is replaced by a newer, more advanced format. Even if the medium lasts, the playback equipment does not. Reformatting to new media is expensive.

From Baylor University's Institute for Oral History

Tips for Transcribing

See Baylor University's Transcribing Style Guide for a guidance regarding how to format and transcribe your oral history.

Here are a few things to remember:

Crutch Words: Words like uh-huh, um-hm, unh-huh should be spelled out.

   Example:

   Mr. Redd: Uh-huh, we did all we could to help with the war effort. I collected scrap metal to donate.

Added Material: If you need to add information (like a note for context or words not present in the transcript that would help clarify meaning), you should put it in brackets.

   Example:

   Mrs. Harvey: She [Anne Marie] helped mother every day with the dishes.

Feedback Words: While you're interviewing, you might encourage your subject on by saying little words like "yes," uh-huh," etc. When transcribing the interview, writing down each of these sounds might disrupt the narrative flow of the person speaking. Exercise good judgement on which to include and which to leave out.

   Example - Incorrect inclusion

   Mr. Patterson: We worked really hard pickin' cotten. Mom and Dad

   Interviewer: Uh-huh

   Mr. Patterson: would take us out of school for a few weeks to pick it.

   Example - Correct inclusion: 

   Mr. Patterson: We worked really hard pickin' cotten.

   Interviewer: I see.

   Mr. Pattesron: Mom and Dad would take us out of school for a few weeks to pick it.

Incomplete Sentences: No conversation really sounds like text in a novel; people change thought mid-sentence and interrupt themselves. Oral histories contain many incomplete sentences. Do not edit them to make them gramatically correct. Just end them with a dash [-].

   Example:

   Dr. Graham: You know, I entered medical school in 1968 and it was -. I was 21 years old and the Vietnam War was going on. What a time!

Sounds in the Recording (other than talking): Oral history doesn't just consist of plain speech. Often people interviewed will laugh, sigh, or even cry when talking about things in their life. Put these things in parenthesis.

   Example:

   Mrs. Wilson: We had such a good time that night! (laughs) I'll never forget how Harry sang that song!

Unintelligble Words: Once you go back and listen to the interview, you may not be able to understand something that was said. If you can make an educated guess, underline the word and put two question marks in parenthesis after it. If you are unable to guess, type in a blank line and follow it with two question marks in parenthesis. Sometimes a word in unintelligible because the subject has lowered their voice or turned away from the microphone; in this instance, you can write their action, add a semicolon, then write unintelligible.

   Example:

   Ms. Barber: We were driving through Jacksonborough (??) and decided to stop for the night

   Mr. Goldman: I thought we stopped in ____________ (??) and spent the night

   Ms. Barber: I could swear it was (turned from the microphone; unintelligible) 

What does a transcript look like?

Click here to see what an oral history transcript looks like