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Oral History

A guide to oral history resources at the Southwest Collection and beyond.

Transcription Overview

Transcribing an oral history interview can allow greater accessibility and easier perusal of an otherwise aural medium. The Southwest Collection began transcribing newly accessioned interviews in 2013 and currently staff four student assistants for initial transcription work and one full time archival associate handling editing/audit checking transcripts. While many online platforms provide automated transcription services, in our experience, the most efficient way to achieve a high quality readable transcript is to work with well-trained transcriptionists. Transcribing is an art and valuable life skill that can be learned! But know that this is slow, detail-oriented work that requires a lot of focus: even the best transcribers work typically at a speed of six hours of typing for every hour of audio recorded. Not everyone will have the time or patience to attempt full transcript. Have we scared you off yet? Hopefully not!

Below are resources for those interested in transcription work. 

Methodology for Transcribing

If you would like to transcribe, here is a basic how-to getting you started. 

  1. Download software that plays your audio files while also utilizing hotkeys on your computer. We currently use both InqScribe and Express Scribe and both have free versions. 
  2. After loading the audio file into the software and ensuring the hotkeys are set up (for example, we recommend using step back 5 seconds rather than rewind), begin typing what you hear as the audio plays. This will require you to rewind frequently, depending on the speed of your typing and the speed of those speaking.  
  3. Make sure to save your transcript frequently to preserve the work being done. 
  4. Once the entire interview is complete, you'll want to re-listen to the entire recording. This step allows you to catch missed passages or formatting errors. This quick proof reading stage helps future editors and readers immensely. 


General Tips

  • Good quality headphones are an absolute must. The Southwest Collection uses Sony MDR-7506
  • Each person has their own transcribing rhythm and method. Most commonly transcribers type as much of the recording as they can as they are hearing it. When they fall behind the speech, they rewind to return to where gaps in the text document begin to appear. For particularly difficult passages, the transcriber might wish to listen to a section multiple times before attempting to type what is being said. Beginning transcribers should review their transcript with an eye towards common error and mistakes, notating for subsequent transcription work.
  • Slowing down the recording can distort the audio, impacting the accuracy of the transcript. However, upon editing, slightly speeding up the audio can save time. 
  • As you transcribe interviews, pay close attention to certain common 'issues' with transcription: feedback words, stage directions, stutters and false starts, cross-talking, unknown voices, and inaudible passages. Each institute has their own style guide that codifies how to format and deal with these idiosyncrasies that occur when translating the spoken word to the written word. See below style guides for more assistance with these. 
  • To save time with future editing, at the time of transcription it is helpful to quickly search and confirm the spelling/formatting of proper nouns, places, and organizations. In addition to a simple google search, websites that might be useful in searching for words that are hard to understand or spell:

Online Resources for Transcribing

Online transcription guides: