6. Transcribing

The practice of reproducing the content of a recorded interview in the form of a typescript, thereby creating the oral history transcript (a hybrid that is neither a genuinely oral record nor truly a written document), has resulted in an apparently endless debate about the relative status of these two formats. To the extent that it focuses attention on how to present an essentially verbal record as accurately as the written format permits, the debate should be of interest and value to all collectors and users of oral history materials. However, claims that the transcript is the primary oral history document ascribe to it a character which the most discriminating processing methods can never achieve. The only form in which the full content and quality of oral information can be reproduced is that in which it is recorded. It is in the spoken word, not the written, that the oral history interview is encapsulated.

Given that the average speed of reading is about three times as fast as the average rate of speaking (and therefore of listening, since there are as yet no generally available systems for fully redressing this imbalance while retaining speech audibility) the value and importance of the transcript obviously lies in the convenience of access it permits to the content of oral history interviews. While the transcript has no other major advantage over the recording, this one alone is a sufficient justification for its existence, and a sufficient guarantee that most collecting centres which have the means will endeavour to transcribe as many of their interviews as possible.