I filmed many hours of interviews with my grandfather way back in 2004 and 2006 and now want to transcribe them all properly for my research into the family’s history. I am still not entirely sure how to go about it but found some helpful tips and guidance in this two-part piece ‘How to Transcribe an Interview for Dissertation’ posted online at Weloty.com. Reading through all the advice given in part two (here), I think it best to first go with the “verbatim transcription” option in order to capture all the dynamics and flaws in speech, and then try the “intelligent verbatim approach” for more accessible readership. This piece further explains that the verbatim transcription of research interviews and group discussions can include token responses and vocalizations (both involuntary sounds and non-verbal interactions). It also provides a tabled summary of transcription conventions taken from Powick and Tilly (2002).
Attempting to type up what exactly was said and capture the speech as faithfully as a possible in written form has forced me to think very carefully about how to use things such as colons, semi-colons, dashes and ellipses. The precise use of dashes for example differs from the US in the UK where I notice varying styles between different publications and writers. Where the Americans use the ‘em dash’ without spaces between words, the British tend use an ‘en dash’ with spaces. When it comes to ellipsis the Oxford Style Guide recommends the use of three dots surrounded by spaces. The University of Oxford Style Guide on the contrary demands no spaces. Whether an interrupted speech is indicated by an en dash with a space or without a space following the last or unfinished word in an interrupted sentence is another aspect of UK punctuation on which I am still uncertain. My confusion remains despite reading through all the hyperlinks provided below. I need to get myself a proper book on the subject and see that the New Hart’s Rules: The Oxford Style Guide comes highly recommended.
In the meantime, here is my attempt at transcribing the first few exchanges between John Raymond Smith (better known in his time as Jack Smith) and myself on 25th September 2004:
Interviewee: John Raymond Smith
Interviewer: David A. Pugh
Date and Time: 25 September 2004 [00:54:44]
Location: [Home address withheld], Swansea
Audio/Video file information: Jack Smith Interview (25 September 2004).avi file (created 30 July 2017)
Is it [the camcorder] on now?
It’s on now, yeah. We’ll talk about –
Jack [interrupts] [0:00:19]:
Well, the Second World War started in the beginning of September I was in school at the time. [David adjusts the camcorder] [0:00:28–30] I couldn’t leave school until the Easter … the Easter holidays. And as children – more or less children we were – and we were saying, “Well, the war won’t last much long[er] because we’ve got France and all these other Canadians and Australians and everything on our side and it will be over quickly.” But of course, how mistaken we were. And when I came up to eighteen then I had my papers to join the Army and … arrive at Brecon on March 2nd 1944 in a training battalion of the 9th Royal Welch Fusiliers and they ah really put us through it. As the colonel of the regiment said, “I’m going to really put you through it and then my conscience will be satisfied that I’ve done the best I can for you.” So after finishing training with lots of running and different things I got um wounded while training, which was very unfortunate ‘cos I never got wounded after in the real thing. [Jack chuckles] To get wounded in training was quite laughable. But we got over that. After twenty-one days in hospital and all my mates that I trained with came to see me in hospital before they went abroad on the D-Day Landings. So I was stuck then and, of course, it made me late so I missed the Landings. I went over then as a reinforcement or reinforcing … And ah they shoved me into the Royal Scots. And that was [the day?] [0:02:42–43] that the RSM came along and said, “Take those flashes down off your shoulders.” There were Suffolks and Welsh and God knows … “Take them all down because you’re in the RSes now,” he said and none of us knew who the RSes was. So, we got in this 3-ton army lorry and they said, “Right, we’re – you’re going to join the RS.” So we went into a Scottish division: the 15th Scottish Division.
Okay. Let’s break this down and explain the all punctuation points and conventions, as I understand them at present.
Use brackets to clarify something unspecified that is mentioned in speech. For example:
Is it [the camcorder] on now?
To indicate an interruption follow the last word in the sentence of first speaker with a double dash or en dash or n-dash ( – ) – with spaces each side – and then start the second speaker’s sentence with an description of the interruption in brackets followed by a timestamp also in brackets. For example:
It’s on now, yeah. We’ll talk about –
Jack [interrupts] [0:00:19]:
Well, the Second World War started
Place a comma after words such as ‘Well,’ and ‘Of course,’
Example: Well, the Second World War started
Put brackets around a description of an environmental sound or interruption (such a phone ringing in the background) followed by a timestamp also enclosed in brackets.
Example: [David adjusts the camcorder] [0:00:28–30]
Dash (value range)
Use an en dash or n-dash without spaces between two ranges of values or numbers or spans of time.
Use an ellipsis or three dots ( … ) with a space on each side of dots for a pause or hesitation between words or the trailing off of a thought/sentence.
Example: I couldn’t leave school until the Easter … the Easter holidays.
Example: I went over then as a reinforcement or reinforcing …
If the ellipsis is used as an editorial device to skip or leave out dialogue put the dots in brackets [ … ] followed by a timestamp in brackets.
Example: And when I came up to eighteen then I had my papers to join the Army and … arrive at Brecon on March 2nd 1944 in a training battalion of the 9th Royal Welch Fusiliers and they ah really put us through it. […] [0:01:20–43] So after finishing training with lots of running and different things I got um wounded while training, which was very unfortunate ‘cos I never got wounded after in the real thing.
Dash (bonus phrase)
Adopt the British English use of the en dash or n-dash ( – ) – with spaces on either side – instead of the American em dash or m-dash (—) for “bonus phrases” or appositives.
Example: And as children – more or less children we were – we were saying
In the actual quote however the use of the word ‘and’ twice means that the dash signifies more a change in thought/sentence or a restarting of the original thought/sentence. So the dash is a way of showing broken-up speech.
Example: And as children – more or less children we were – and we were saying
Brackets can be used by the editor/transcriber to clarify, correct or complete a word or phrase on behalf of the speaker.
Example: Well, the war won’t last much long[er]
Army or army?
Capitalize the noun ‘Army’ to refer to the British Army or British Liberation Army (BLA) as it was known at the time. Use the lower case ‘army’ when describing general equipment such as ‘army rations’ or ‘3-ton army lorry’.
Example: I had my papers to join the Army
Example: So, we got in this 3-ton army lorry
Write dates as the speaker says them; in this case as March 2nd 1944 instead of March 2, 1944 or as March the Second Nineteen Forty-Four.
Use capital letters for specific military units, battles/operations and ranked individuals but lower case letters for general military units and figures unless they are abbreviated. Note the differences between ‘the 9th Royal Royal Welch Fusiliers’, ‘the colonel of the regiment’, ‘the D-Day Landings’, ‘the Royal Scots’, ‘the RSM’ (for a regimental sergeant major).
Put brackets around a non-verbalised gesture or a non-verbal sound from the speaker if it seems pertinent or reinforces what is being said.
Example: [Jack chuckles] To get wounded in training was quite laughable.
Write phonetically the vocalizations that indicate verbal stumbles, hesitations, time-saving devices and other flaws in speech (e.g. ah, um, ah, er, ‘cos, RSes).
Commas, colons and quotations
Use commas to begin a quotation unless the quotation is an independent clause. For example:
As the colonel of the regiment said, “I’m going to really put you through it …”
Note the optional use of a colon instead of a comma below:
Shakespeare said it best: “To thine own self be true.”
Keep commas within the closing quotation marks (because it’s more modern and in keeping with the American style).
Example: “I’ve done the best I can for you.”
Inaudible speech or other possibilities
If in doubt over what exactly was said write the word ‘inaudible’ or what you think was said with a question mark in brackets followed by a timestamp also in brackets. Be careful not to put words in the speaker’s mouth.
Example: And that was [inaudible] [0:02:42–43] that
Example: And that was [the day?] [0:02:42–43] that
Colon and dashes for drama or emphasis
Use a colon to announce, introduce, or direct attention to a list, a noun or noun phrase, a quotation, or an example/explanation.
Example: So we went into a Scottish division: the 15th Scottish Division.
In spoken speech a dash can put emphasis on material at the beginning or the end of a sentence.
Example: So we went into a Scottish division – the 15th Scottish Division.
Example: The 15th Scottish Division – that was the division we went into.
In this final case I am unsure about which option is best: a colon or dash?
I think that what really matters at this early stage is to pick a style and stay consistent with it throughout the verbatim transcription process. A change of style or convention can always be affected later.
For further reading see:
Peter J. Francis, ‘Em dash, en dash or hyphen’, Hyper Graphic Publishing Services.com, published 10 December 2014, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Kimberly Joki, ‘Em Dash: Why Should You Love It?’, Grammarly Blog.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Leah McClellan, ‘The Em Dash and How to Use It Correctly’, Simple Writing.org, retrieved 4 October 2018:
K. D. Powick, and S. A. Tilley (2002). Distanced Data: Transcribing Other People’s Research Tapes. Canadian Journal of Education 27, 2 & 3, 291–310.
Karen Yin, ‘Em Dashes and Ellipses: Closed or Spaced Out?’, APvsChicago: Edit or Die.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Getitwriteonline.com, ‘En Dashes and Em Dashes’, Get It Write.com, 15 September 2002, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarlyblog.com, ‘Dashes’, ‘Dashes: How to Use Them’, Grammarly Blog.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarbook.com, ‘Colons’, Grammar Book.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarbook.com, ‘Dashes’, Grammar Book.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarbook.com, ‘Ellipsis’, Grammar Book.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarbook.com, ‘Semicolons’, Grammar Book.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarmonster.com, ‘Comma or Colon before a Quotation?’, Grammar Monster.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Grammarmonster.com, ‘Punctuation in or outside quotation (speech) marks’, Grammar Monster.com, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./GSBE.co.uk, ‘Grammar and Style in British English: A Comprehensive Guide for Students, Writers and Academics’, GSBE.co.uk, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Sussex.ac.uk, ‘The Dash’, US: University of Sussex.ac.uk, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Ox.ac.uk, ‘University of Oxford Style Guide, Michaelmas term 2014’, University of Oxford.ac.uk, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Writingcenter.unc.edu, ‘Semicolons, colons, and dashes’, The Writing Center: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.unc.edu, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Weloty.com, ‘How to Transcribe an Interview for Dissertation – Part 1’, by Isaac, Weloty: Academic Transcription Services.com, 21 May 2015, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Weloty.com, ‘How To Transcribe an Interview for Dissertation – Part 2’, by Isaac, Weloty: Academic Transcription Services.com, 25 May 2015, retrieved 4 October 2018:
Anon./Weloty.com, ‘Verbatim Transcription of Research Interviews and Focus Group Discussions’, by Isaac, Weloty: Academic Transcription Services.com, 19 January 2014, retrieved 4 October 2018: