Approach with Caution
Transcribing an interview is absolutely essential in the field of oral history because it gives the interviewer the opportunity to transform what was said into a grammatically correct written text. Specifically, from an interviewer’s perspective, “do you ever cut the person off when you are interviewing them with mid-sentence interjections such as ‘That’s interesting!’ or ‘I know what you mean’? These encouraging words actually stop the natural flow” (DeSilva, 1). This is exactly why a transcription must be done in order to not disrupt what is being read or said. Just the other day, I was watching ESPN, and they were quoting a player after a tough loss in the NBA. The screen was flooded with filler words such as “um” and “man.” Reading this took my attention off of what was actually being said, and I was confused as to why ESPN did not take a few minutes to clean up his remarks. With that being said, as Cindy Bird discovered, it is better to lean on the cautious side and not leave anything out of the transcription than to discard it because it does not flow as well. For example, in her one-on-one interview section, Bird realized that she had “no key for typing conventions, no complete record of verbal utterances, not even a format typed in the form of a dramatic script with separate lines indicating the various speakers” (Bird, 237). Although it was clear that Bird was not given much assistance and forced to learn on the go, these mistakes are the exact reason why the validity of transcribing materials has become a hot topic of oral history.
Judith Lapadat and Anne Lindsay did a noteworthy job of bringing multiple viewpoints in from people who support transcription, as well as those who have issues with the process. Both agree that omitting the step of transcription altogether would be an overreaction, as researchers have proven this to be an important part of the analysis process. However, for Lapadat and Lindsay, transcribing goes further than the words written down on the paper. They insist that the entire process of transcribing be reexamined and emphasize that no small steps be left out of the procedure. If words are removed that do not take away from the point or the emotion of the interviewee than cleaning up the transcription allows for a smooth transition from the oral history interview to written text. However, if these minor details are forgotten, then the field of oral history will lose validity because the words being written down will be those coming from the interviewer instead of the interviewee, which seems to already be a main concern for critics of the field.
Bird, C.M. (2005). How I Stopped Dreading and Learned to Love Transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(2), 226-248.
DeSilva, Gwendolyn. “Why Transcribing Your Interview Is Essential.” The HappyScribe Blog. August 19, 2018. Accessed February 14, 2019. https://www.happyscribe.co/blog/5-reasons-why-it-is-essential-to-transcribe-interviews/.
Lapadat, J.C. & Lindsay, A.C. (1999). Transcription in Research and Practice: From Standardization of Technique to Interpretive Positionings. Qualitative Inquiry, 5(1), 64-86.