Transcribing Immigrant Interviews

Now that we have conducted and recorded our Oral History/Immigrant interviews, it is time to transcribe them! This is an exercise in close listening and also an examination of dialogue. We have received some tips on how to make it easier:

  • Write on ONE side of the paper.
  • Skip lines between each question and each answer. This will make it much easier to read.
  • Use script or print — whatever is easiest for you and easiest to read.
  • Number the pages and (ideally) keep them stapled together.
  • Write down your subject’s words as accurately as you can.
  • You will probably have to listen more than once to some bits of the interview to get the exact words. Get comfortable rewinding your recorder just a bit to do this.
  • If you can’t understand a word, try to figure it out using context clues (the rest of what they are saying). If you still are having trouble, ask a teacher to listen. And if she/he can’t figure it out just put in “unintelligible” and move on.
  • You may leave out “um” “er” and words like that. Put ellipses (…) in where you do.
  • If you add anything in for clarification, use brackets [abc].
  • Don’t worry about spelling. Just get the words down so that you can read them when you go back to the transcript. (You will take care of the spelling later in the process.)

Here is a model format from last year’s interview with Wade Cummings:

Q: Could you please state your name for us?

A: My name is Wade Cummings

Q: And where did you come from?

A: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica.

Q: When…did you come here and how old were you when you left Jamaica?

A: I left Jamaica at 6…I know the date, the year was…’72 and I was 6 years old.

Q: What was the reason that you came to America?

A: My parents. I was 6 so my parents sent for me. They [my parents] were already here.

Q: So it was their choice. How did they decide on America? Because they had immigrated before you did?

A: …My parents were here and few of my brothers and sisters were already here before me. There are a lot of us so we came in…groups. And I came with…two older brothers. The three of us came together.

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