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How Should We Transcribe?

How Should We Transcribe?

Transcription is a very useful tool. When something is hand-written, or printed badly, someone, or a machine can take the text and usually use a program like Microsoft Word to type the text in the previous format into a ready to read and search document. 

Transcription seems simple. Something is on the page, that same thing gets put into a readable format. But, in certain cases, there are gray areas. What do you do if the hand-writing is illegible? Do you make a judgement call or omit the word entirely, which may have certain implications such as changing the whole meaning of the sentence or phrase? Our class dealt with some of these issues when we transcribed letters from the American Prison Writing Archive. There are specific rules we had to follow when transcribing which included things like using 12-point font and Times New Roman which seem standard, but also some more unique rules, in particular about transcribing text format. We were to not reproduce bold, italics, underlining, or unusual capitalization. Of course, I do not know the specific reason for this rule, but I found it interesting.

The question now is about integrity. How do we keep the integrity of the piece we are transcribing, while also following rules that have been set? It is not an easy thing to do, and in some cases I do believe that some of the integrity falls by the wayside in order to conform to the guidelines. Things like bold, italics, and underlining are things we use for emphasis, and when we lose that, we lose some of the tone that the writer intended, and the message can be misconstrued.

When we were transcribing, more issues popped up than I expected! There were bound to be things that got transcribed incorrectly, and there were. It is human nature to make errors sometimes, and transcribing is no different. I am a "read what I want to see" kind of person, so it takes extra focus when transcribing to not read the words as I want them to be set up, but to read them exactly as they were written on the page.  

There is beauty in transcription. As long as we realize that rules and guidelines can hinder the transcribing process, we can continue this work, but we should think carefully about what we restrict and why. 


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