Refine the transcription

Refining the transcription requires the making of many judgment calls. Review this page before uploading your transcription to the oral history page of the Fellowship website. If the initial transcriber and the editor of the particular oral history are two different persons, they will want to communicate at this stage, or perhaps here is where the initial transcriber can relay the transcript over to the editor.

"Making judgment calls," by Kristi Raffa

If you are only going to consult one part of the manual, this should be it. Knowing how to make a judgment call is by far the most important skill a transcriptionist needs to learn. There are two reasons why you should pay extra attention to this section.

First, this guide is not comprehensive. Only after reading through all of the transcripts for this project could I maybe try to write a comprehensive guide that is unique to this project. I came across a lot of new things while transcribing, and I'm sure I'll come across more as I listen to new interviews. But because I can't account for every possible situation that may arise in the interviews, it's up to you to decide how it should go.

Second, this guide is actually incorrect sometimes. (And no, I'm not talking about the fact that instances of "judgement" here should actually be "judgment" to conform to our American English style.) There are some things I've decided that you don't get to make a judgment call about, like the format of the date, because our team considered it carefully and already made that judgment call. But the way that your particular interviewee says "um" might be different from the way that mine says "uhm." This guide is here to do the heavy lifting so that you do not need to reinvent simple and common occurrences like the word "um." But if you're upset because the guidelines I've made don't accurately represent the words you're hearing, chances are you're right. Because we’re striving for accuracy, I'm giving you permission to deviate from the rules sometimes.

Breaking the rules is easy, but it's important to get away with it. Here's what you need to know in order to make a good judgment call:

  • Aim to maintain consistency within a document.

It's fine to spell "um" as "uhm," "umm," or even "eh-euxmm," if the situation really called for it (protip: it probably doesn't). The important thing is to maintain consistency of your judgment call within a document. If your participant says "um" and it kinda sounds like they say "eh-euxmm" later, I'd err on the side of keeping the first spelling. It's important to consider your audience when transcribing, where in this case it's your reader. Someone reading your transcript might be able to understand why you use "eh-euxmm" if it occurs often and in the right places, but an infrequent occurrence is likely to confuse and exhaust your audience and make it difficult to use a search tool on the document later. If you are going to deviate from consistency, there needs to be a Good Compelling Reason.

Breaking the rules on breaking the rules is dangerous territory, so here are your emergency guidelines, or "Good Compelling Reasons," if you decide that it is truly necessary:

  • It more faithfully represents the participant, but only in the sense that any other way would be decidedly unfaithful. Deviating from a consistent spelling of "um" is not a Good Compelling Reason.
  • It disambiguates something in text that is obvious in the audio. Making something easier to understand and clearer is not the same as disambiguating.

As you spend time getting to know your participants, you'll intuitively know how things should be spelled or where the commas should go. Lean into your intuition. There will come a point where I, as the writer of this manual, will not be qualified to make the judgment calls that you will.

  • Too long; didn't read (tl;dr):

This is the only section I'll strongly encourage to read the whole way through, as I think it is the most important. But if you must, here is your tl;dr:

  • Maintaining consistency within a document is key
  • The only Good Compelling Reason to deviate from consistency is to prevent gross misrepresentation of the participant
  • Consider the audience (is verbatim helpful?)
  • a transcription is never done (send things off for others to review)
  • humanity

This manual covers many situations that may arise in transcribing a history but there are still many unique situations that may arise that will require a judgment call on the part of the transcriptionist. Maintaining consistency within a document is crucial for evaluating the transcript as an editor and as a user of the history. For example, the sounds of certain crutch words may sound different from person to person and thus may warrant different spellings from the words listed in this guide. Deviations from the guide are acceptable, but should remain consistent within a transcription document. Similarly, when uncertainties in a transcription are flagged for review, the transcriptionist may choose to mark them with an asterisk (*) or question marks (??); maintaining consistency of documentation is more important than which method of documentation the transcriptionist chooses to use.

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