Family History: Some Tips for Creating and Editing Transcripts

Family History: Some Tips for Creating and Editing TranscriptsBy Barry J. Ewell

The following are some tips for creating and editing transcripts based on my personal experiences:

  • Listen to about ten minutes of the interview before starting to transcribe.
  • Transcribe what you hear. Do not put words or phrases into the interviewee’s mouth, even if what they say is awkward or ungrammatical. Do not change word order.
  • It will help if you have special transcribing equipment, such as good headphones and a transcribing machine that can be operated by foot pedals so you can stop and rewind the tape during playback, freeing the hands for transcribing. They also play at variable speeds to enable muffled or garbled portions to be intelligible. Using an ordinary recorder will take longer. If you have access to a personal computer, it will be easier to correct mistakes, although making a first draft by hand works quite well. Manufacturers of transcribers include Sony and Panasonic, among others.
  • At the beginning of the transcript, identify who transcribed the tape, who edited the transcript, and the date(s) these tasks were done.
  • Include a title page with the name of the interviewee, the inter¬viewer, and the date of the interview. State clearly whether restrictions have been placed on any parts of the interview.
  • When formatting the text on the page, use one-inch margins on each side of the paper, number the pages, and double-space the text.
  • Identify all speakers at the start of their comments by typing their name in bolded capital letters, followed by a colon—for example, SMITH:
  • Create a verbatim transcript, but omit such expressions as “um” or “ah.” Include expressions such as “umhum” or “huh- huh” when used to mean “yes” or “no” in response to specific questions.
  • Put in periods at what seem to be natural sentences breaks. Transcripts with little punctuation are very difficult to read, let alone understand.
  • Do not revise the narrator’s words to force them into standard written prose. Leave any sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and incorrect grammar untouched. Commas and dashes may be used to reflect pauses in the spoken words.
  • Punctuate so that the transcript makes sense of the words as they were spoken. Be consistent in your punctuation; don’t, for example, indicate a pause by a dash (—) in some transcripts and three dots ( . . .) in others.
  • If changes are made, clearly indicate when and how the tran¬script differs from the original tape recording.
  • Use “stage directions” with care. Some may be useful to help understand what is happening, for example, “[reading from newspaper]” or “[interruption for telephone call]” may be useful, but those which make interpretations—such as “[laughs sarcastically] “—should be used with caution.
  • Include word contractions as they occur, such as “don’t” and “wouldn’t.”
  • Place a question mark before and after a word or phrase to indi¬cate any uncertainty about it, such as “?destroyed?.”
  • Indicate the end of a side of the tape in capital letters—END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE; BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE.
  • Identify garbled or inaudible portions of the tape. If one word is inaudible, indicate the gap with an underscore ( ). When multiple words are inaudible, insert ” +” or estimate the elapsed time using a time indicator, such as ”  . . .. (3 seconds).”
  • When you are satisfied that what is on the page accurately reflects what is on the tape, type a final copy and assemble the interview file.