How to Transcribe Interviews

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Conducting a great interview requires coming up with pertinent questions and establishing a rapport with your subject. While those tasks aren't easy, transcribing that interview can also be difficult. Accuracy is essential, so you'll need precise listening skills, careful editing and patience. Depending on your keyboarding ability, an hour-long interview can can take up to six hours to transcribe, so make sure you allow enough time for the job.

How to Transcribe Interviews
(Michael Gann/Demand Media)

Things You'll Need

  • Tape player, preferably with headphones and foot pedal
  • Notepad
Step 1

Start the tape. Use the foot pedal to stop and restart it as you work. If using a regular tape player, simply hit "pause" to stop the tape. The process will take much longer this way.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 2

Start typing as soon as the tape starts. You won't be able to type as fast as people speak, so stop the tape each time you fall behind. Use whatever technique works best for you. You may want to listen first to a sentence, then pause the tape and type it. The cleaner your transcript in the first pass, the less editing you'll have to do.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 3

If a passage is difficult to decipher, listen to it twice more. If you're still having trouble, make note of the counter number on the recorder, and plan to go back to it later.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 4

Transcribe the interview exactly as you hear it.

Step 5

Abbreviate speakers' names to the first or first two initials, with a colon following. For example, "V: What other voice work have you done? C: I've done two radio commercials and one TV commercial."

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 6

Type in block paragraph format, inserting a space when the speaker changes.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 7

When you've finished typing the initial draft, listen to the tape again. At the same time, read what you've written. The print should match exactly. Make corrections as necessary.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 8

Return to problem areas you noted that weren't repaired during the second play of the tape. If the dialogue is impossible to decipher and the answer is an important fact or comment, contact the speaker to verify the information.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 9

For any text you are unable to verify, put your best guess in brackets in the final copy; this indicates that it's your text, not the original source's. Use whatever guidelines your editor has for these situations; some will add an editor's note. If the missing words aren't important, edit the answer out of the final copy, or add ellipses to the preceding part of the response to show that something was omitted.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 10

Begin editing the text. Spell out abbreviations and clean up punctuation.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 11

Edit out filler or patterns of speech such as "um," "uh" and "like" that detract from the message of the interview, especially for factual interviews. If it's a personality piece and the person's speaking style is important, leave in more of these patterns.

Michael Gann/Demand Media
Step 12

Insert extra paragraph breaks if a response is particularly long. Check spelling. The interview is now ready for publication or for integrating into a fuller piece. Depending on where the item will be published, only samples of the full interview may be used, or biographical information can be woven into the text of the interview to add context.

Michael Gann/Demand Media

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