Tips for Oral History Transcription – Transcribing Life Story Interviews.

Oral history is the recording of people’s memories, experiences and opinions, as described by the Oral History Society (OHS).  It is then the role of the transcriptionist to transcribe these recordings, so they are transformed into written words that truly represent the story being told.

Whilst general transcription is different from audio typing, oral history transcription is different again, and these tips can help with the process when you are transcribing life stories, whether as a volunteer or as an experienced transcriptionist.

1. Familiarise yourself with the topic. Oral history projects can often be quite specialist. It’s useful to spend a little time reading about subject matter, and having some relevant websites on your screen when you start transcribing. This can help with project specific terminology and acronyms which may be discussed, as well as names and places.

2. Familiarise yourself with the area being discussed. If you are not local to the areas covered in the oral history project, find a detailed map of the area and also the Tourist Board website. This can help to ensure you transcribe place names and local areas correctly.

3. Set up autocorrect or other text expander software for words or phrases you anticipate will be frequently used. For example, if you know “Oxfordshire” will be discussed, you could set up autocorrect to type this in full whenever you type *O.  This can safe a lot of time, especially for project related jargon that you are not used to typing.

4. Use professional tools. Express Scribe is great software for transcription, the free version is often sufficient for one-off projects, although we do recommend the professional version if you transcribe regularly.  Also a compatible footpedal so your fingers are free to type rather than using hot-keys, and of course noise-cancelling headphones are preferable.

5. Make sure you are working in a comfortable position. Oral history transcription requires a high level of concentration and can take a long time.  Of course, all transcription requires a lot of focus, but with life stories there often emotions that need to be captured too, for example [laughs], [gets upset].  This can involve more replaying of the audio than normal to ensure you transcribe what is being said, and how it is being said, so being comfortable is vital.

6. Because of the level of concentration required, and the length of time, frequent breaks are essential when carrying out oral history transcription, both mentally and physically. Stand up, walk around, stretch your arms, have a cuppa (and cake!).  There are also some great 5-minute stretch routines on YouTube which can help loosen up muscles that are stiff from sitting too long.

7. Proofread your transcript, ideally by listening back to the audio at a faster speed whilst reading the text. It is surprising how listening back to the recording whilst reading the transcript can highlight some mishears, or help you replace any inaudibles or phonetic guesses.  If budget and time allows, it is even better if this can be carried out by a colleague or another volunteer, as fresh eyes and ears always help.

8. Congratulate yourself! As well as being a privilege to carry out, oral history transcription is also a skill.  Now you’ve done it, and future generations can benefit from knowing you have accurately captured personal stories that were told at a specific period of time.  Well done!

If you would like to discuss our Oral History Transcription service, then please get in touch!