4 Rules of Verbatim Transcription

Jun 16, 2010 | Transcription | 19 comments

Verbatim transcription
is the art of converting spoken word into text such that a message is captured exactly the way it has been spoken.

This requires a keen ear and attention to detail. Verbatim transcripts cannot be created  by mindlessly listening and typing. One has to pay close attention to every sound, tone, word and make intelligent use of punctuation to convey the correct message.

Here are 4 important rules of verbatim transcription:

1. Capture EVERY word (don’t paraphrase)

Many transcriptionists have the habit of paraphrasing statements to convey the general idea of what is being said rather than typing out the exact words. This process is called clean read transcription is much preferred in business transcription because of the easy-to-read transcripts it produces. But it’s not very popular amongst researchers and analysts who need to know exactly what was said. Here are a couple of examples to illustrate the difference between the two styles –

Paraphrased sentence: “I was screaming for my mother and she was maybe 30 yards away in the house, she couldn’t have even heard me even if she was outside.”

Verbatim sentence: “And I’m screaming. You know, I’m screaming. I’m screaming for my mother. And She was uh maybe 30 yards away in the house. I mean she could have never heard me. Even if she was outside she probably wouldn’t have heard me.”

While the meaning conveyed in both sentences is the same, the emotion is far more pronounced in the second one. Depending on what the transcript is going to be used for, this may make a world of difference. So in verbatim transcription, it’s important to type each and every word that is said.

2. Don’t leave out non-verbal communication

Communication has a lot of components other than words – such as laughter, pauses, hand gestures, etc. Verbatim transcription captures all these in order to give a true account of what’s being said.

For example,

K: What does you mother think?

N: .. Not much. . She agrees with me . yeah.

K: Really?! [Laughs] Are you sure?!

[N laughs]

Here are a few more rules for transcribing non-verbal communication:
When two speakers speak at the same time, indicate this with /, as in:

N: Yes, I have been /living here

K: /Oh you have?

N: for three years.

I.e. ‘living here’ and ‘oh you have’ were said at the same time and N continued on his sentence without stopping.

Use = when two lines come directly after one another without a gap e.g.

K: Did you like her? =

N: = Yes!

That is a very fast reply.

For short pauses add a full stop, each one representing a second. For pauses longer than 4 seconds, put time in brackets and italicised e.g. [6 second pause]

3. Catch those fillers and false starts

Fillers are the ums, ahs, you knows, that are often used by speakers to buy time to think.

False starts are sentences that are started but never completed, such as:

“I would say that’s not such a… I mean that may not be… it’best to check with an expert before proceeding in such matters.”

Fillers and false starts may break the flow of speaking but often provide insights into the thinking process of a speaker. The process of verbatim transcription therefore includes these components in the transcript rather than editing them out.

4. Note external sounds

Qualitative research and even market research often requires knowing what’s happening in the surroundings while the subject or interviewee is speaking. Some examples of external sounds can be sounds of doors opening, people walking in, a side conversation between fellow participants, etc. These sounds/events should be duly noted on the transcript in brackets and with time stamps if required.

The main idea of verbatim transcription is to capture both the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of speech. Not everyone requires the same level of detail – for example, someone may need the non-verbal communication transcribed but may not want any external sounds/events noted on the transcript. It’s always a good idea to thoroughly discuss the specific requirements with your client before beginning a transcription project so that you know exactly what to transcribe and what to leave out.

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