5 Things to Remember When Transcribing Oral Histories

Aug 23, 2011 | Qualitative Research, Transcription | 0 comments

An oral history is a verbal record of a living person’s experiences related to a specific period or event. It’s generally a monologue, an interview or a conversation that’s systematically recorded, verified, analyzed and stored by oral historians and researchers.

Transcribing oral histories can be a rewarding experience because of the rich detail and insight they offer. Here are a few tips to get the transcription right:

Transcribe Verbatim

An oral history captures the unique perspective of the speaker. It is therefore imperative that you don’t paraphrase anything that’s said.

The transcript should be present an exact, word-for-word account of what’s spoken.

Do Some Intelligent Editing

Narrators of oral histories often use a lot of fillers and clipped sentences. These can be edited for easier reading, after discussion with the client.

Send a verbatim and edited version of a section of the transcript to the client, highlighting the changes you’ve made and the reasoning behind your editing. This will form the basis of your discussion. Once you establish what the client needs, you can proceed without worrying about re-work later.

If the transcript looks like it needs a professional editor, point this out to the client and offer to do a verbatim transcript that can be edited by someone else.

Research Research Research

Oral histories are full of references to people the speaker knew, places they visited, famous personalities of their times, hangouts in their town etc. All these words have to be researched online to get the spellings right.

You can type these words phonetically while typing the first draft and do the research later, while proofreading.

It’s tempting to leave these words as blanks in the transcript, but that just means additional work for the client. If you want your clients to become lifelong customers, take the time to do it right!

Add Time Codes

Transcripts of oral histories are used for research. At some point in time, someone would want to hear how the speaker sounded while saying something mentioned on the transcript. At this point time codes can be a great help in locating the correct part of the recording to hear.

After discussion with your client, place periodic time codes in the transcript. These time codes are usually in [hh:mm:ss] format and are placed in the transcript every few minutes, every time the speaker changes, or every time a new question is asked etc.

Use Speaker Identification

Some oral histories are in the form of conversations between 2-3 people. Find out the names of the participants and clearly identify each person separately in the transcript.

If the client wants to maintain anonymity of the participants, use markers like Male 1, Female 2, Interviewer, etc.

Stay tuned for more tips of transcribing!

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