Tips on Transcribing

Oral History Transcription Guidelines for Military Collection at State Archives of North Carolina

By Matthew M. Peek, Military Collection Archivist

January 2018

Basic Formatting of Text

  • Transcript should include a header of the following information (if available) formatted in this order in separate lines:
    • Interviewee name
    • Interviewer name
    • Date of Interview (for example, May 3, 2004)
    • Interview location (if stated)—for example “Interview conducted at John Smith’s home in Wilson, N.C.”
    • Transcriber’s name and transcription date: “Transcriber: John Smith, May 13, 2018”
  • Single-spaced paragraphs for individual speakers’ text, with double space between speakers
  • Speakers should be identified by their initials and followed by a colon.
    • Example: Jane Smith = “JS:
    • Insert a single space between the initials and the beginning of the speaker’s text.
    • (e.g. JS: Where were you born?).

Transcription Best Practices and Grammatical Rules

  • Transcriptions are created by listening to an interview and typing what you hear on the audio, to provide textual access to interviews and make the content more discoverable to researchers.
  • Each change of speaker should be noted in the transcript.
  • Transcribe each word in the order spoken by the narrator. Filler words, such as “uh,” “um,” and “ah” should not be included in the transcript. Do not indicate long pauses.
  • A transcript should capture the style of an interviewee’s speech.
    • For example, this is an interviewee’s description on a transcript “The Germans just kept on-a-rolling down the hills.”
  • If you are unsure of the spelling of non-military words, use the online Merriam-Webster dictionary to locate correct spellings. For military words or phrases, simply use brackets to identify the unknown spelling or phrase. If you do not recognize or understand the word use the phrase “unknown military terminology.”
    • For example: “I served with the U.S. Army’s new [unknown military terminology] program to stop incursion into Panama.”
  • For grammatical rules, follow the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th or 17th editions.
  • You can also follow grammatical guidelines from A Quick Reference for Editing Oral History Transcripts from Baylor University.
  • Include full name of a person when mentioned for the first time. If the narrator mentions only a first or last name, the transcriber should fill in the full name [John] Doe.
  • When a community is mentioned, the name of the state, province, or country should be included in brackets.
    • For example: Raleigh [North Carolina]
  • Quotes should be used when interviewer or interviewee quotes someone during the interview.
  • An ellipsis is three dots, each separated by a space ( . . . ). Ellipses (. . . ) are used to express an omission. Generally, ellipses are used to indicate an incomplete sentence by typing three dots separated by a space.
    • For example: I was running late when . . .
  • Dashes indicate a change in thought mid-sentence
    • For example: I was running late when—unlike last week—I arrived to the camp.
  • Acronyms have no periods. They should be spelled out in the first instance, using brackets to set off the full name.
    • For example: MATA [Military Assistance and Training Advisory].
  • If a word, phrase, or sentence can’t be understood, use a statement and brackets to indicate this, rather than trying to guess at the wording. If after re-listening to the audio section several times you cannot make the wording out, the transcriber should mark the spot and use the phrase “unintelligible speech” as follows: “[unintelligible speech].” If the spelling of part of a word or a name is unknown, use three question marks in parentheses after the known letters of the word or name to indicate it not being known.
    • For example: “I visited Fort Dav(???) in Saigon in 1973.”
  • Profanity in the interview should be transcribed without censoring. A note on transcript will be added later by the Military Collection Archivist on the use of cursing language.
  • Transcripts should note any time the recorder was turned off for any mechanical issues with a brief statement.
    • For example: [Interview stopped for a break].
    • For example: “Company C, 121st Infantry, 3rd Division.”
  • Ship names should be italicized, but not the “USS” abbreviation before the name.
    • For example: USS Kentucky
  • Any military ship names, plane names, or weapons names should be spelled out as spoken by the interviewee and interviewer. Do not add any technical information.
    • For example: “I served aboard the USS North Carolina”—not “I served aboard the USS North Carolina (BB-55).”