Transcribing Transcription

I’ve been digging through my summer research a lot this week, trying to get organized for the insanity of this thesis project I’ve taken upon myself. You don’t take on projects that consume you unless there is some semblance of inspiration in them, unless there is a conversation worth conveying, a dynamic worth exploring, or a character worth illuminating.

I have discovered that all of these things go into hiding when you start transcribing them.

Transcription of  audio-recorded interviews is many things. But it is not inspiring.

It is a strange transformative process – moving from the oral to the written; from a vague, unique memory to a crisp, common account; from a voice with its natural intonations to a carefully punctuated sentence.

It feels like being responsible for taking something vibrating with life and sedating its motion.

Listening to the interviews is like remembering every thought, letting yourself make connections that enrich your research. When you close your eyes, you hear the pauses and the sighs; you remember the smiles and the winks; you are part again of a conversation you once had.

And then, you open your eyes to find a white sheet with text and a blinking cursor waiting for you to take your hand off the pause and keep typing…

It is like a strange moment in research where we, as writers and academics, take the life from our research and hide it from ourselves…only in preparation to spend months in a grueling search to find it again, to find that one moment in an interview where you heard a phrase that brought it all together.

But, this time you will do it scanning pages of transcribed records. You will do it the proper way. You’ll do it the literate way. You will set the voice aside and you will quote Interview R3 with the beautiful, wide-eyed girl whose name sent chills down your spine.

Here’s to fighting the literate way. Here’s to remembering the voices when we write.


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