Northwest Lesbian and Gay History Museum Project

The following is the text of a handout distributed to transcribers during our transcription activities from 1997-2002. It is reprinted here as an aid to volunteer transcribers in this or similar projects.

At the end of this section is a brief list of publications with useful information on oral history procedures and processing.

VERBATIM TRANSCRIPTS -- Guidelines for Transcribers

Thank you for participating in NWLGHMP's Oral History Project. The following guidelines are to help us maintain a consistent format for printed versions of our collection of taped interviews. NWLGHMP will supply disks. We will need one printout, plus the file on disk in a PC-compatible format (Microsoft Word .doc, .txt, Word Perfect, ASCII, etc.). In any publications generated from transcripts we will credit the transcriber. If you do not wish to be credited, please indicate that by a note attached to the printout.

If you encounter problems or have other questions, contact Ruth Pettis, project manager, at
(Note: the phone number in the letterhead connects with our voicemail service, which is checked weekly. For quicker response, contact Ruth directly.)

General considerations

The following information is intended to serve as guidelines and to help answer questions that might come up in the course of transcribing. They are not set-in-stone rules that must be followed in order to be paid. If you've had experience with oral history projects before (or even if you haven't), and want to suggest better or easier procedures, please do so. Use your best judgment and don't let the details make you anxious. What NWLGHMP is looking for are readable and accurate records of our interviews.

Listening quality of the interviews varies, depending on the equipment that was used. Do not spend a lot of time listening to garbled or impossible-to-understand segments. Make a reasonable attempt (2 or 3 passes), but if you can't make out what is being said, insert [hard to hear] and move on.

Document format

Use double or one-and-a-half line spacing for transcripts, and right/left margins of at least one inch.

The top of the first page should begin with this information, which you will find on the covers of the tapes you receive:

    Interview with __________ (narrator's name)
    Date _________ (there may be more than one)
    Interviewed for NWLGHMP by ________________ (name/s)
    Transcribed by _____________ (name)
    Total number of tapes: _________

Then begin the transcript with: SIDE 1 of _____ (total number of sides)
and use a similar heading at the beginning of each new side.

Use page headers. These should include the name of the narrator and the page number.

It is okay to indicate the speaker by first name, unless the names of narrator and interviewer are close in spelling. In that case, spell out the first name of the narrator, and use the interviewer's initials.


Use double hyphens (--) to indicate uncompleted sentences or to separate sentence fragments. If your word processor changes these into em-dashes, that's fine. Ellipses ( . . . ) indicate material left out; in general, you should not have to use them in a verbatim transcript. An exception to this might come up, for example, if the tape recorder was left on while the interview participants made small talk during a break, or chatted on social or personal topics not intended as part of the interview. Consult with the project manager if this occurs.

It's okay to punctuate sentence fragments as complete sentences if the narrator's emphasis or pauses indicate them as stand-alone statements.
    "You have to understand that -- I mean, we didn't have -- There weren't any resource centers
    like they have now. Nothing like that."

Some narrators speak in what sound like continuous run-on sentences, using "and" instead of a period. You may break these up into reasonable-length sentences, at logical shifts of topic or emphasis. Keep the "And" as the beginning of a new sentence.

Transcribe contractions (I'm, We'll, etc.) exactly as spoken; don't spell out.

Comments and annotations

Square brackets [   ] are used to enclose comments from the transcriber or editor. They are helpful for indicating items a later user or researcher might need to clarify with the narrator, or places in the tape where a sound editor might want to reduce excessive noise. Plus, they are essential when the words on the printed page aren't enough to convey a speaker's intention, for example, for ironic or sarcastic remarks.

    [hard to hear]
    [noise from plane, hard to hear]
    [interrupted by phone call]
    [looking at snapshots]
    [ironic tone]
    [imitating gruff voice]

This is a verbatim transcript, a record of the interview as it actually occurred. We will edit segments that we use in publication. Resist any temptation to edit as you go, even if you are sure that the narrator intended to say something other than what he/she actually did. If you are very sure that the narrator intended a different word or phrase, you may add what you think was intended immediately following, in square brackets with a question mark. For example, if you infer from the narrator's age that the following could not have been true, you may indicate it thus:

    "... I ended up in Seattle immediately after World War One [intended: World War Two ?] and started working at ..."

Insert [pause] if the speaker actually pauses for impact or if a pause occurs due to a moment of significant silence in the narration (i.e., a "pregnant pause"):

    Q: Did you realize that you were making history?
    A: That didn't occur to us at the time.
    Q: Or that later generations would benefit from your work?
    A: Well, we certainly had that hope.

but not for momentary breaks in narration.

At the end of a side or end of a tape insert a note in square brackets:

    [SIDE 1 ENDS]

If the tape runs out while a person is still speaking, substitute:


Conveying narrator's speaking style

Most of us use "crutch words" in our speech, phrases like "you know," "and so forth," "right?" Usually they indicate nothing more than verbal pauses while collecting one's thoughts. If a narrator uses them excessively, you may leave them out after the first page or so. Transcribe them as they occur at the beginning of the transcript, to indicate that they are part of the narrator's speaking style. After that, it's okay to leave most of them out.

Do not attempt to match the speaker's accent by using phonetic spellings such as "in' " for "ing" or "dis" for "this." Use these conventions only when the speaker is clearly and deliberately imitating or parodying someone. Otherwise, spell these words normally.

Don't transcribe "um," "er," etc. Transcribe "ah" and "oh" when used with meaning.

    No:   Let's see, ah, it was in 1952.
    Yes:   Ah, so this was the real one.

    No:   Oh, I don't know . . .
    Yes:   Oh -- that's the one.

If your word processor offers Italic formatting, you may use it for words the narrator used tone of voice to emphasize. Otherwise you may use [emphasis].

Do not attempt to clean up grammar. Type "He don't ..." if that's what the narrator actually said.

Do not transcribe stammering.

Yes/no interjections

Use these spellings (per Merriam-Webster's online dictionary):

    yes:    uh-huh
    Pronunciation: two m's or two n's separated by the voiceless sound h. Used to indicate affirmation, agreement, or gratification.

    no:   uh-uh
    Pronunciation: two m's or two n's preceded by glottal stops. Used to indicate negation.

Transcribe these when a person uses them in place of "yes" or "no." Example:
    Q: Was there any kind of community in this area? Other gay people, other lesbians?
    A: Uh-uh.
    Q: You all had to go into the city to find each other?
    A: Uh-huh.

Do not transcribe if used merely to indicate that the listener has heard what the speaker is saying.

OK, O.K., Ok, etc.

We generally spell it as "okay," but "OK" and O.K." are acceptable.

-- Ruth Pettis                

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Transcription of our interviews was supported in part by the King County Landmarks and Heritage Commission.
NWLGHMP is a member project of Gay Community Social Services.

Useful Publications:

Willa K. Baum. Transcribing and Editing Oral History. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1977.

Cullom Davis, Kathryn Bach, and Kay MacLean. Oral History: From Tape to Type. Chicago: American Library Association, 1977.

Stacy Erickson. A Field Notebook for Oral History. Boise: Idaho State Historical Society, 1993.

Thomas E. Felt. Researching, Writing, and Publishing Local History. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1981.

William Fletcher. Recording Your Family History: A Guide to Preserving Oral History Using Audio and Video Tape. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1989.

John Neuenschwander. Oral History and the Law. Albuquerque: Oral History Association, 1993.

Donald A. Ritchie. Doing Oral History. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.

Powell's Books

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