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Transcription Guide

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Transcription Guide

When you transcribe a tape-recorded interview you are privy to a significant conversation. You are performing a great service by rendering someone’s words in an accessible format, and researchers may use your work over many years. Treat a transcript as a document that will be
passed down through posterity. Enjoy not just what is said, but also the language patterns that are particular to each speaker.

Transcribe everything. Do not iron out regional dialects or other grammatical forms that sound nonstandard to your ear. Transcribe all of the words spoken in the order in which they were said, even if they don’t make sense to you. Do not spell phonetically or convey dialects through your spellings. Always use dictionary spellings. Until we have a linguistic system which can depict everyone’s words within the same framework, whether the person is formally educated or not, and regardless of what region they were born in, we will be most respectful by using standard English spellings at all times. For example, if it sounds like someone is saying that they were in the woods hunting
for a “bar,” type “bear.”

It is important to the reader of the transcription to have as much information as you can provide about what transpired during the interview. Pass along the tidbits your ear picks up as you listen, knowing that the person reading the finished transcript won’t have the benefit of audible sound. If the speaker laughs, type [laughs]. If you can hear that the tape recorder is turned off and then back on, type [Tape recorder turned off and back on], skip a line, and continue.

You are transcribing for diverse audiences. Those who read your finished transcript may include the person interviewed, family and community members, scholarly researchers preparing their own materials for publication, and documentarians who may want to use portions of the interview for audio or visual productions. Those people using your transcriptions for purposes of scripting documentaries will need every word transcribed verbatim. Exceptions to this are what might be called thinking words like “uh” and “um.” But it’s important to transcribe expressions such as of uh huh” and “umm hmm” when they represent a positive response to a question or statement, or “ah hah!” when it seems to be said as an exclamation.

The double hyphen — Most of us speak in interrupted sentences. We start to say something, and then switch directions, or choose other words. Note these with a double hyphen, period, and two spaces. For example, “When I was–. I was about six years old when . . . .

Ellipses . . . or . . . .

If, after trying several times, you can’t understand a word or a phrase, signify that something is missing by typing space, period, space, period, space, period, space, and then go on to the next word you can hear: ( . . . ) If a sentence ends or begins in the span of unintelligible words, indicate this with an additional period and space: ( . . . . )

Noting tape locations

When you are changing from sides of a tape of to different tapes, note the end of a tape and side and then note the beginning of the next tape and side. This is done by skipping two spaces, noting the end of the side and tape in square brackets, skipping two spaces, noting the beginning of the side tape and side in square brackets, and then skipping two more spaces. For example,
[End of Tape 1 of 1, Side A, copy 2] [Beginning of Tape 1 of 1, Side B, copy 2] First page

You should skip a line between the interviewee’s name and the title of the interview, if there is a title. The name and title should be in larger typeface than the rest of the transcript for easy viewing. Then leave a couple of lines before typing “Interviewer: And The Interviewer’s Whole Name,” and on the next line, “Also Present: And The Name of Anyone Else Who You Know Is In The Room,” then the copy 1 (if noted on the tapes) of the tapes, and then skip two lines before beginning to transcribe.

The first time you name someone who speaks on the tape, type his or her full name, colon, two spaces. Afterwards, just two initials, colon, two spaces. “Bob Lewis: Would you start by saying . . . . and later, “BL: Did you say that . . . ?”

Punctuating spoken speech is difficult. Just do your best to put periods and other appropriate punctuation where they belong to help with readability and accurately convey what was said. Use exclamation points to indicate emphasis or that someone said something with a laugh in his/her voice.

Type in page numbers somewhere on each page. Type in the date of the interview, at least on the first page. A header or footer on each page is optional. This was a header used:
James Alexander Forrest Sr. — February 25, 2003


Take frequent breaks so as not to strain yourself by the labor of transcription, which is both intense and time consuming. At least stand up and stretch every ten minutes. Enjoy this intimate visit with someone you may not have met but who is presenting you with an oral testimony. And remember, you are performing a great service to those who are aware of your work and those who will come after.

Stylistic notes

you know need not be transcribed when used as a refrain
umm or hmm need not be transcribed when this indicates thinking
umm hmm should be transcribed when it indicates an affirmative – “yes”
ah should be transcribed when it indicates understanding or realization
yeah should be transcribed verbatim
–. indicates an interrupted sentence
— indicates a false start. Although stammers need not be transcribed, false
starts should be transcribed. For example: I though–I was thinking–I
though that I should go . . .
. . . indicates that the transcriber could not hear the word
. . . . indicates that the transcriber could not hear more than one word
’cause should be transcribed as because
’til should be transcribed as until
ain’t should be transcribed verbatim
dates use numbers if the informant uses numbers. For example: What is your
birth date? Four, fourteen, nineteen forty-four. Should be transcribe as
‘(date) use an apostrophe before each year when the century number has been
omitted. For example: ’98 flood or ’33 hurricane

Digital Library Standards for Transcription

Many documents in the digital library come from archival collections which contain letters, notes, telegrams, etc. One of the goals of the digital library is to transcribe these handwritten documents so that they are more easily searchable and accessible to the public. Transcription involves copying every letter, notation, and bit of punctuation into a machine readable format, for us, .doc files which will later be converted to .pdf files. Digital Library Standards for Transcription are as follows:

Copy every word of a document in to a .doc file. Each file should be named consistent with the following guidelines regardless of document type (i.e. letter, telegram, form, etc):

number from the digital library_transcription_your initals_author’s name_date letter was written_D.doc

For example: 13_transcription_TAI_amthackara_07_30_1881_D.doc

Please include a header and footer in your transcription. The header should include, “Title:”, the type of document “Letter”, the author and recipient, and date.

Header: Title: Letter, A.M. Thackara and General Sherman, July 30, 1881.

The footer should follow the following format “Transcribed by: Your Name, the date you completed the transcription”

Footer: Transcribed by: Teri Ann Incrovato 9/17/07.

Keep the original writer’s errors (spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc.)

If you come to a word that is illegible mark it by […] and include an endnote if you think you can make out some of the letters of the word AND/OR if there is more than one word missing, in which case, note how many words are missing.

For words that you are uncertain of consult with Michael/Teri or other members of this team to come up with a best guess. If there is further uncertainty this should be noted by an endnote (i.e. Best guess).

Strikeouts should be noted using the ‘strikethrough’ option in the Format > Font > Effects section, check the “strikethrough’ box. (For Example)

Ink blots or slips of the pen may be omitted unless they obscure the meaning of a word then they should be noted in brackets near where they occur.

The original formatting of the document should be adhered to as much as possible (e.g. placement of date, salutation, page, etc.) Line breaks will not be kept, while page breaks will be noted in the text:

For example:

Last line of text p. 1




First line of text p. 2

Words that were inserted into the text using a “^” or arrow should be included in the transcription but in <insertion: word >.

Emphasis should be kept where possible, underlined words should be underlined.

Superscripted letters should be included as superscripted in the text.

If more than one person wrote on the document a distinction should be made in the text (e.g. the primary writer in normal font, the second in italics). If both authors are known then a note should be added explaining who each author is.

In the cases were words have been shortened (i.e. “yr. most humble and obedt. servant”) keep the original author’s text as is. An additional example, Sept. remains Sept. not September. Likewise, symbols should be kept as closely as possible, a “plus sign” indicative of “and” is kept as + and not transliterated.

If your letter has letterhead, transcribe the machine printed letterhead but use the small caps feature found under Format > Font > Effects > Small Caps. The small caps feature is still case sensitive so you can still show capital letters vs. lower case letters while using this special feature.

A note on Forms & Telegrams: For forms or anything with machine printed text use the small caps feature found under Format > Font > Effects > Small Caps to differentiate printed matter from handwritten matter. Handwritten text on a form should be typed in “normal” but italicized font. If there are “blanks” on a form like this: ___Bobby___ you can create the front and end of the line by using an underscore “_” then underline the written in word by highlighting the word while holding down Control + U.

Endnotes : Please use endnotes not footnotes (Insert > Reference > Footnotes). Please be sure that Arabic numbers are selected under “number format” (1, 2, 3 …). Use these common endnotes when possible.

Common Endnotes:

Indecipherable word

Best guess

Partially overwritten word

Best guess – written diagonally on the page in a different hand.

Italicized segment written over [top left] part of letter, perpendicular to the main body of letter, by author.

Name authorities: i.e.

Sherman, Thomas Ewing, 1856-1933.

Sherman, Mary Elizabeth, 1852-1925.

Please use name authorities as found in the (shermannameauthority1-02.rtf) document that Michael created.

Special Considerations for the Collection

The docketing, that is, the information written at the head of the letters in pencil by an earlier archivist to identify them should be noted by: […] with an endnote that reads: Docketed: “whatever is written in that note”. See also the example letter.

Many of the letters in the Sherman-Thackara collection were written “out of order” that is to say after the first page the letter continues on the “third” page of the document then the author returns to the back of the first page. In these instances the flow of the letter should not be interrupted, but the sequence of pages should be listed in the transcription as the document appears to be written.

For example:

[p. 1]

The text should be able to be read as a continuation of the sentence from the first

[p. 3] ( Add endnote here that reads: “Author wrote the letter in the following order: p.1, 3, 2, 4.”

to the second page with ONLY the bracketed number as an indication that the text is in a different sequence from a traditional front, back, front, back ordering of the letter. Further more an endnote should be added, see above.

Blank pages should be noted in the transcriptions

For example

[p. 1]

Text of letter here

[p. 2]( endnote that reads, “blank”

[p. 3]( endnote that reads, “blank”

When letters are “continued” from the back of the last page on to the front of the 1st page of the letter (perpendicular to the text) they should be added to the end of the transcription for ease of reading. The page number should read as [p. 1 cont.] and the standard endnote should be applied to the first word of this section.

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