Difficulties When Transcribing Oral History Interviews.

The purpose of this blog is to examine the main challenges that arise in the process of transcribing oral history recordings. We will discuss four aspects that make this task particularly complex and demanding, and offer some suggestions on how to overcome them.

Overlapping Words

Transcribing oral history interviews can be challenging when dealing with overlapping words. In the context of oral history interviews, overlapping refers to a situation where two or more speakers talk at the same time, making it sometimes close to impossible to transcribe the conversations. Here are some tips to help address this difficulty:

  1. Transcribe what you hear: When transcribing, it’s important to capture the spoken words as accurately as possible. Try to transcribe exactly what you hear, even if there are overlapping words or incomplete sentences.
  2. Use punctuation: Signify pauses and changes in inflection by using appropriate punctuation marks. This can help indicate where one word or phrase ends and another begins.
  3. Focus on readability: While it’s important to maintain the integrity of the interviewee’s words, prioritize readability when transcribing. Use paragraph breaks, headers, and other formatting techniques to make the transcript easier to follow.
  4. Proofread and edit: After transcribing, proofread the transcript while listening to the audio file again. Fill in any gaps, correct misheard words, and punctuate the transcript to enhance readability.

Difficulty in Volumes of Speakers

Another challenge of working with oral history interviews is dealing with varying volumes of speakers. Sometimes, the interviewer and the interviewee may have different levels of loudness, or the volume may fluctuate during the conversation. This can make it hard to transcribe, analyze, and share the audio recordings. To address this issue, oral historians can use various tools and techniques to normalize the volume and enhance the sound quality such as:

  1. Audio enhancement: Use audio editing software such as Audacity or tools to enhance the volume of the audio file. This can help make the speakers’ voices more audible and reduce the difficulty in transcribing.
  2. Speaker identification: Clearly identify each speaker in the transcript to avoid confusion. Assign unique labels or initials to each speaker and indicate the change in speaker whenever there is a switch.
  3. Speaker timestamps: Include timestamps in the transcript to indicate when each speaker begins and ends their contribution. This can help maintain clarity and provide context for overlapping speech.
  4. Speaker notes: Make notes about each speaker’s characteristics, such as their voice quality, accent, or any other distinguishing features. These notes can serve as a reference while transcribing and help differentiate between speakers.

Inaudible Sections.

When transcribing audio, inaudibles are used to indicate parts of the recording that are unclear to the transcriber. They are typically represented by symbols like … (three dots) – (a single hyphen), or [inaudible]. Transcriptionists use these symbols to denote sections of the audio where they couldn’t understand the words being spoken. This helps ensure that the transcript accurately reflects the audio, even if some parts are difficult to decipher.

To address the inaudible problem, I have a few tips that I hope will help reduce the occurrence of unclear or inaudible sections in your transcripts.

  1. If you’re transcribing audio with poor quality or background noise, it’s important to use good quality earphones or headsets to enhance sound clarity
  2. Slowing down or speeding up the recording can also help improve comprehension in some cases.
  3. Additionally, sound editing software can be used to remove background noises and enhance audio quality.
  4. If there is an additional person available to listen and assist with any unclear or inaudible sections request them to have a listen. It just might be that you are exhausted and need a little help.

Background Noise.

Background noise can be any unwanted sound that is present in an audio recording, apart from the primary sound source. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental sounds, electronic interference, and microphone handling noise. Background noise can make it difficult to hear the primary sound source and can reduce the overall quality of the recording.

To reduce background noise in your oral history audios, it’s important to:

  1. Use good quality microphones and recording equipment.
  2. Additionally, recording in a quiet environment with minimal background noise can help improve the quality of the recording.
  3. If background noise is still present in the recording, noise reduction software can be used to remove or reduce it.

Have a look at my blog on Top Tips on How to Record your Oral History Interviews in a Noisy Environment.

Remember that transcribing oral history interviews requires a balance between maintaining the authenticity of the spoken word and ensuring clarity and comprehension for readers.

Transcribing may pose various other challenges not mentioned above. However, most of these difficulties can be overcome with consistent practice and application of the tips I have provided. You will notice your skills and confidence improve gradually, and I assure you that transcribing will become easier for you.

Check out our blog post on the Advantages of Transcribing Oral History Interviews. If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out in the comment section below and remember, always be kind, stay positive and learn to unwind.

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