Transcription: Useful Guides for Students and Researchers

Transcription: Useful Guides for Students and Researchers  

Over the last term, a colleague and I at the University of Bristol taught a new course examining ‘voices’ from the past. We explored a range of voice-gathering projects, from transcripts of late eighteenth-century criminal proceedings to modern oral history interviews. As Alexander Freund has recently pointed out, the gathering, recording and dissemination of voices all have a long history and leave behind a variety of archival traces.[i] Each week we tackled a different way in which ‘voices’ from the past had been recorded and questioned how reliable these attempts at voice-gathering were. By the end of term, it became clear that each week had yielded a very different type of transcript (loosely defined) and that there were challenges in using every single one of them.

But during our final week on digital recording devices – and the potentials of using YouTube or various digital bookmarking tools – an important question emerged: was there still value in producing written transcripts of oral history interviews ourselves? There followed an emphatic “yes!” It was felt that, despite the evident issues in transposing spoken words to written prose, transcription was vital not only in terms of dissemination but as a learning and reflective tool, helping the researcher to pay closer attention to the detail and intricacies of the spoken word.

What resources then are available for students and researchers still looking to produce a transcript themselves, beyond guidance given in standard referencing guides? Below are a list of some guidelines and articles that I have found useful in teaching and research, although doubtless other useful resources exist (which members are very welcome to share using the “Comment” function below). Happy transcribing!

Grace Huxford, University of Bristol

Transcription guides and advice

  • Baylor University Transcription Guide – a long-standing, comprehensive guide produced by the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. The guide is based on the Chicago Manual of Style, with particularly helpful sections on using punctuation effectively and accurately.
  • Minnesota Historical Society – guidelines on producing and editing a transcript for oral historians, with useful guidance on being consistent with false starts, simultaneous speech and ‘habitual qualifiers’.
  • East Midlands Oral History Archive – Transcription is the subject of no. 15 of the EMOHA’s clear and concise guides to various aspects of oral history.
  • Linda Shopes “Transcribing Oral History in the Digital Age,” in Oral History in the Digital Age, edited by Doug Boyd, Steve Cohen, Brad Rakerd, and Dean Rehberger. Washington, D.C.: Institute of Museum and Library Services, 2012, – a thoughtful article on the place of transcription alongside digital technologies, with a particularly useful set of questions transcribers should ask themselves.
  • Digital Omnium (blog produced by Doug Boyd) – a range of resources and blog posts on oral history, digital technology and archiving, including a March 2017 post on Transcribing Tips and the challenges of verbatim transcription.
  • Donald A. Ritchie, Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed, 2003) – a useful guide on many practical aspects of oral history methodology, especially for those starting out with oral history and transcription.
  • Alexander Freund, ‘From .wav to .txt: why we still need transcripts in the digital age’ Oral History (Spring 2017): 33-42. Five arguments in favour of transcription and discussion of transcription in the era of digital indexing tools.

[i] Alexander Freund, ‘“Confessing Animals”: Toward a Longue Durée History of the Oral History Interview’ Oral History Review, 41, 1 (2014), 1-26.



2 thoughts on “Transcription: Useful Guides for Students and Researchers

  1. Hi Grace,
    Thanks for this great blog and for citing my article “Confessing Animals.” Another article, published last year in the British oral history journal, may be of interest as well, as it tries to answer the question whether transcription is still valuable: “From .wav to .txt: why we still need transcripts in the digital age,” _Oral History_ (Spring 2017): 33-42.


    1. ghuxford

      Many thanks for this, Alex. I’ll add your article to the list above (and to our reading list on ‘voices’ of the past) – it’s great! With best wishes, Grace


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