The Do’s and Dont’s of Verbatim Transcriptions

There are many things a transcriber must do or must not do when transcribing audio, but perhaps the first and most important is to find out what the client wants. There are different types of verbatim transcriptions, so you need to be aware if the client wants ‘clean/intelligent verbatim’, full/true verbatim or something else.

Here are a few dos and don’ts:

Do

DO – Establish the client’s requirements before starting and follow them exactly. This may be as simple as asking if they want British English or American English.

DO – It is a good idea to make a list of questions and use it each time to establish the clients requirements.

DO – Write every word. that is what verbatim transcription is about, letting the client know exactly what was said, as even a false start can show the intent to say something different before changing his/her mind.

DO – Be accurate. This might seem obvious but if you come to a word you are unsure of, but which you think is probably xxx, do not write that it is xxx, add a note saying you believe it to be xxx but are not totally sure.

DO – Tag speakers clearly. Identify each person speaking on the recording every time they speak. This can be their name or position in the company; eg. ‘The tea lady: would you like a biscuit?’

DO – Proofread. It is easy to make silly mistakes when writing at speed, so check the finished document thoroughly before consigning it.

DON’T

DON’T – paraphrase. The client does not want your idea of what was said. This can make a huge difference to the overall significance of what was said.

DON’T – leave out non-verbal communication. Sounds such as sighs and laughter can be important as they show the ‘unspoken meaning’. Laughter can be sarcastic, making fun of something and therefore belittling it and so on.

DON’T – Guess. If you are unable to make out a word or section leave it and state this was unintelligible.

DON’T – Make decisions without checking with the client. If you come across something not foreseen, do not decide how to deal with it without consulting the client. An example might be in a conversation between two British people in British English. Then an American joins in. Do you write this person’s words in British English or American English?

DON’T – Clean up grammar. If the speaker says ‘I were, like, you know, like sat on a chair’ do not correct this to ‘I was sitting on a chair’ – unless this is what the client wants.