Skip to Main Content

Oral History Guide: Transcribing

Guidelines for creating oral histories and oral history projects.

Transcribing & Transcription

"A transcript is basically the text version of an oral interview, written out word-for-word. Transcription is the process whereby a transcript is created." - Unwritten Histories

tweet by Dr. Terry Smyth feb 28 2019 - Transcriptions are an important part of the research process.

Best Practices for Verbatim Transcription

Pick Up Non-Verbal Sounds – Verbatim transcripts should not only include the exact spoken words but also the non-verbal sounds such as pauses, sighs, laughter, and others. You need to also transcribe non-verbal communication including hand gestures, in the case of video recordings.

Don’t Leave Out External Sounds – Do not overlook the sounds which are not the part of the conversation such as the sound of ringing phone, blowing wind, and more. You should transcribe these external sounds accurately. 

Avoid Paraphrasing Words – If you are not familiar with or get confused about a particular word in the recording, consider the context and use a dictionary to find out the word and its correct spelling. Make a note of any questions you have regarding words or phrases you could not understand and we will double check the recording.

Double Check Your Work - Once you finish the transcription, check your verbatim transcript for spelling, punctuation, grammatical or other errors.


Three Types of Transcription

1. Intelligent Transcription. In this form, the transcriptionist will often edit out words like “uhh” and “um” as well as false starts, and will do some basic editing to ensure that sentences are grammatically correct. This type of transcription is mostly used within the medical or business fields, often when the material being transcribed is a dictation.

2. Edited Transcription. This form is an Intelligent Transcription, but with more editing of the text (correcting sentence fragments, removing contractions). This form is often used when the transcript will be published, like in a newspaper.

3. Verbatim Transcription. In this form of transcription, everything is included, such as filler sounds, (“uhh or “um”), pauses, interruptions, laughter, etc.. This type of transcription does not feature any editing at all. Verbatim transcription is the preferred format for historians, since it captures the most nuance [emphasis added].

from the Unwritten Historian 

Automated Transcription


There are various automated transcription services available. The easiest to use (and free) is Microsoft 365 Word Transcription.  Click here for the tutorial on how to use this service. You must review the transcript to correct mistakes caused by poor sound, strong accents, and people who are soft-spoken.


What Transcriptions Can't Do

Speech does not translate exactly or easily into written language. Written and spoken language are very different, both in terms of grammar and word usage. Also, speech isn’t simply about the words that come out of one’s mouth; it’s about subtle cues like vocal tone, inflections, expression of emotions (laughing, crying), and even body language. The written language simply cannot capture these nuances.

from Unwritten Histories

Style Guide for Oral Histories

Consult a standard style manual like the Chicago Manual of Style or the APA Manual. Make sure all the transcriptions for one project are done in the same style. 

  1. Abbreviations – In general, avoid abbreviations.

  2. Acronyms – Always provide the full name of an acronym if known. Use square brackets to provide the full title of the name or organization Example: “I worked at UK [University of Kentucky].

  3. Capitalization – Follow the proper forms of standard English in running text.

  4. Administrative titles – Titles are capitalized only when they are combines with a name and refer to a specific person. They are not capitalized when referring to a general title. Example: I talked to Chancellor [Dr. Lewis] Dowdy. He is a doctor.

  5. Numbers – Use numerals as long as the numbers do not begin the sentence. If a year is the first word in a sentence, it must be spelled out. Example: “I moved to Greensboro in 1937 or ’38.”   “Sixty was the year of the sit-ins.”