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How do you transcribe stuttering dialogue?
June 28, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Poor understanding of grammar might cost me my job. Can anyone help an audio-typist fight back?

MeFi, you're my only hope.

I'm currently employed as an audio-typist/transcriber for verbal interviews, many of which are used in court. The majority of my colleagues have been with the company for 10+ years. I've been with my current employer for about a year. I'll be honest, it seems like a lot of the lifers have gotten lazy when it comes to accuracy. This is probably made worse by my employer not having an official guide for new typists. Basically you're just trained by one of the typists that's been around for a while, and sent on your way.

I'll get straight to the point. The entire office is atwitter with how, exactly, you're meant to accurately convey a particular type of dialogue. The people speaking on tape often stutter. The majority of my colleague's type a stutter like this: "wh wh wh what" or "s, s, s, s, stutter". Some of the more recent employees, myself included, have been typing them like this: "gr-, gr-, great". One girl I worked with described that she used the hyphen/dash to state that it was a deliberate partial word and not just a typo in the transcript. I agree and think it looks better. (Even though I don't really know the official 'rule' on writing stuttering dialogue.)

Some of the older typists have taken umbrage with how the newer starts are writing a stutter. As if this entire ordeal weren't lame enough, they've started to report every instance of a typist using this style to a manager. (We often do quality checking for each other.) At the heart of this are unresolved personal issues between certain colleagues, but all management seems to care about is that older, trusted employees are blowing the whistle, even though they don't seem to care to investigate what the whistle is being blown about. Management have decided to take disciplinary action against newer starts that have multiple complaints.

So, MeFi, if you've made it this far and haven't fallen asleep, can you tell me what the official rules are for typing stuttering dialogue? Any tips on how to actually bring up the official rule to management (and not get fired) are also appreciated. And if you know how to tame grumpy colleagues, that would be awesome to share as well.

BONUS: If anyone out there knows of some 'Universal Transcription Guideline/Manual/Rules' or something of that ilk, please send it my way.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
So, MeFi, if you've made it this far and haven't fallen asleep, can you tell me what the official rules are for typing stuttering dialogue?

Does it matter? Just do what the older employees are doing.

My instinct would probably be to do what you do, but it is apparent that the "house style" is something else.

That said, it might be helpful to put the "house style" in writing, at some point. Maybe that can be your "project."
posted by deanc at 2:04 PM on June 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


I think the hyphen reads better. As gor how to codify the rule - you guys should build an maintain an in-house style guide for special cases in addition to a standard one (Chicago or AP probably). Have quarterly meetings to review and adjust it. everything coming out of your company should read the same.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


go along to get along.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:06 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd ask management what they prefer and then just do it that way.

As an attorney who uses court reporters and transcripts all the time, I have absolutely no preference on this issue.
posted by The World Famous at 2:07 PM on June 28, 2012 [16 favorites]


Agree with the posters above. It doesn't matter how the stuttering is typed, but it should be consistent. You could certainly go the route of trying to create and implement an official style guide... thus alienating all of the established staff who would no doubt like nothing more than to just keep doing everything the way they've been doing it and who will see your trying to implement a policy to improve the company as vengeful troublemaking. Or, you could just go with the flow and keep your head down, changing the way that you type stutters, and making everyone ignore you.

But honestly I think you should be looking for a new job because it sounds like you work in a place that's full of petty assholes who like making each other miserable and I would be seething inside every day of my life if I worked somewhere like that.
posted by Scientist at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


If the house style is not to use a hyphen, it seems like not using a hyphen is doing your job correctly.

Agree that the management would be wise to change the house style because the current house style looks stupid and is less clear, but that's a different conversation.

This s not the hill any if you should die on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2012 [6 favorites]


In my linguistics classes we have been taught to use a hyphen for a stutter or being cut off and an em dash for a false start (e.g. they started saying one word and switched to another, the word could be complete or incomplete.

Just ask your management which way you should be doing it. Maybe ask to have a meeting with all the typists so you can all be doing it the same way. It doesn't really matter how it's done as long as it's clear and consistent. Your understanding of grammar has nothing to do with this, don't worry.
posted by kansakwens at 2:09 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter what the Official Rules of Typerdom are when you want to keep your job.

Here's how I would handle it:
Boss calls me into office, says "We have gotten five complaints that you write stuttering wrong!"
Me: "When I joined the office, I was trained to write stutters with a dash: gr-gr-gr-great. If this was incorrect, can you provide me with correct training?"
Boss: "I was not aware of that. What documentation did you use for training?"
Me: "None."

Hopefully at this point the boss lets you leave and calls in the people who are supposed to train y'all.
posted by holyrood at 2:11 PM on June 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


(And, as someone whose words are regularly transcribed by court reporters, I'd prefer it if my stutters were not transcribed at all. Skipping them altogether seems to be the norm where I practice.)
posted by The World Famous at 2:12 PM on June 28, 2012


Dammit, "This IS not the hill any OF you should die on."

Despite my shoddy typing here (wrist braces plus iPad) I have done a bunch of this work, as well as a bunch of copy editing. Learning to follow the house style whether it matches your style or not is key to keeping your sanity while doing this stuff.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:13 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


Although I agree with the general trend here -- go with the flow, seeing as your employer is paying you to do the work, not to be happy with it -- I'm definitely sympathetic to your opinion on it.

Were I in your position I would probably switch to the house style but would be sorely tempted to start throwing in a [sic] where appropriate, both to clarify that that was indeed the way that I meant to transcribe the dialogue and to stir the shit a little.
posted by mr. digits at 2:23 PM on June 28, 2012


Agree that you should stick to house rules.

With respect to what the rest of the world is doing, in North America I believe there are two main style guides: the Associated Press and the Chicago Manual of Style.

This online Transcription style guide says it is mainly based on the Associated Press Stylebook--and says to use hyphens:

http://www.tigerfish.com/Transcription%20Style%20Guide%20Rev.%202.08.pdf

The other major guide--the Chicago Manual of Style--is searchable online but does not mention stuttering, although it mentions faltering or interrupted speech, and suggests ellipses in that case. Stuttering doesn't seem to me to be the same as faltering or interrupted speech. There is some specific discussion about stuttering in the CMOS forum about it:

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org

(Search on stutter)

So if you want to fight the fight you have some references.
posted by lockedroomguy at 2:26 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


House style should determine it, and you should learn to love house style, not knuckle under with seething resentment. Seriously, your initial reactions are utterly meaningless, and the more you can get on board with the beautiful arbitrariness of it all, the happier and more fulfilling your professional life will be. I speak as one who well remembers my (in retrospect, foolish) indignation at some of the rules I had to enforce as a barely fledged proofreader.

> Were I in your position I would probably switch to the house style but would be sorely tempted to start throwing in a [sic] where appropriate, both to clarify that that was indeed the way that I meant to transcribe the dialogue and to stir the shit a little.

Great way to lose your job for no good reason. Nobody cares how you meant to do anything. Nobody cares about your personal logic/grammar/issues. This is about doing your job properly, end of story.
posted by languagehat at 2:31 PM on June 28, 2012 [14 favorites]


If you want to be really proactive, I'd bring the issue to management and offer to develop a house style manual to answer questions like this -- you look like a superstar and you can take control over what the style should be! (Give your bitching co-workers input, but find a consensus and stick with it.)
posted by pised at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stick to the house style, but try to get that house style written down in a reference document so that a similar situation doesn't happen in the future. Management should be on board if you tell them you just need a 30 minute meeting with staff to get all the little quirks down on paper. This is something that really should have already been created so that everything coming out of your office is consistent.
posted by coupdefoudre at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


or basically what peachfuzz says.
posted by pised at 2:32 PM on June 28, 2012


Consistency is more important than your possibly idiosyncratic ideas about the best way to do it. If the old-timers have been doing it a certain way for a long time, you'd better have a damn good reason for changing it. In this case, you don't.

You should definitely have a style guide for this kind of thing and others. And the old-timers should at the very least contribute to that project, if not run it outright.
posted by adamrice at 3:05 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


The official rule is consistency. This is not a business where creativity is rewarded. If someone can figure out that it's your work by reading the transcript, you're doing it wrong.
posted by moammargaret at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


Terry Pratchett said, “Fear is strange soil. Mainly it grows obedience like corn, which grows in rows and makes weeding easy. But sometimes it grows the potatoes of defiance, which flourish underground.”

So I would say bide your time. Retreat on the stuttering issue for now and don't take up the cause of a style guide for a while so that your stratagem is not too obvious. At some point, maybe after another ten years, the company will get computerized automated formatting tools, set up based upon the style guide you created. And the archived transcriptions will be reformatted using it... and all of their work will get the hyphens inserted! Bwahaha! By then you'll be as ossified as they are now, but who cares? You won!

Or don't bother. At some point, when auto-formatting tools for your line of work are well-developed and mature, it'll be possible to change it as easily as flipping a switch, so it won't matter.

Shortly after that, or maybe even before, voice recognition and automatic transcription will become perfect enough that there won't be any humans doing your job. Then the Sun will go nova and eventually the heat death of the universe will bring an end to all audio and there would be nothing to transcribe even if a computer really, really wanted to.
posted by XMLicious at 3:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is not the hill to die on.
posted by Dasein at 3:44 PM on June 28, 2012


this is not the hyphen to die on.
posted by violetk at 3:50 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, MeFi, if you've made it this far and haven't fallen asleep, can you tell me what the official rules are for typing stuttering dialogue? Any tips on how to actually bring up the official rule to management (and not get fired) are also appreciated.

Dude. You are so caught up in the right way to write a stutter that you are forgetting about the the right way to be well-liked by your colleagues and keep your job.

It sounds like your managers do not give a shit at all about the right way to write a stutter, or anything else. Here is what they care about: they have long-term employees. They want to keep those long-term employees. That's because they are known quantities. They show up to work every day. They come on time. They don't show up drunk. They do their work adequately. Your managers do not want to have to start hiring unknown people who could turn out to be problem employees, and that they will have to train. They want to keep the ones they already have. That is all your managers care about. Not this stutter issue.

Just type the way the older colleagues want you to and defer to them. If you want a workplace where more importance is placed on the quality of the workplace, you are going to need to find another job.

And if you know how to tame grumpy colleagues, that would be awesome to share as well.

Type the way they want you do and don't contradict them on issues that your manager doesn't care about and also don't affect you personally in any way.

BONUS: If anyone out there knows of some 'Universal Transcription Guideline/Manual/Rules' or something of that ilk, please send it my way.

Even if you found such a thing, everyone would still continue to not give a shit.
posted by cairdeas at 4:29 PM on June 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is not a grammar issue, nor does it have anything to do with accuracy; rather, it is a STYLE issue. As a medical transcriptionist, I am so very grateful that I DON'T have to transcribe stutters. On the other hand, count your blessings if you basically have one consistent style for all clients (disagreements among transcriptionists notwithstanding). Here in doctor dictationland, you would not BELIEVE how much style preferences vary from one healthcare facility to another, which means that if you're working for a big transcription service provider, the variety of style preferences is something you'd better get used to, fast. Many of these "rules" are things that have absolutely ZERO to do with meaning, content, or promoting good communication and patient care. They are just somebody's preferences. Who really gives a damn if there are 2 spaces or one following a colon?? ABelieve me, someone does, because that is what they are used to seeing and anything else is wrong in their book. I understand your point of view here in terms of clarity, but, as others have said above, your opinion doesn't matter. Which is not to say the customer is always right -- frequently they are stupid and wrong -- but they are paying for the service and it can hardly be considered unreasonable to ask for a certain degree of consistency. certainly reasonable to demand fervently believe that anything that doesn't look the same as it always did is stupid/ignorant/unclear/wrong.
posted by littlecatfeet at 4:33 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops, hit POST too soon; ignore the last fragment please. I was previewing and got distracted by this deeply insightful (as regards human nature) comment, which I am quoting for truth:
BONUS: If anyone out there knows of some 'Universal Transcription Guideline/Manual/Rules' or something of that ilk, please send it my way.

Even if you found such a thing, everyone would still continue to not give a shit.
posted by cairdeas at 4:29 PM on June 28 [+] [!]
Yeah, throw in the towel on this one; it is so totally not worth losing your job over.
posted by littlecatfeet at 4:40 PM on June 28, 2012


House style is the correct style. If the house style is not to use a hyphen, then it is correct not to use a hyphen.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:16 PM on June 28, 2012


I was trained to use hyphens in linguistics transcription. When working transcription, my boss was not trained in transcription, but preferred ellipses. So I used ellipses.
posted by yeolcoatl at 5:53 PM on June 28, 2012


When I read deposition transcripts, they're usually "gr, gr, gr, great" around here, if the stutter is transcribed. The hyphen is pretty restricted to word changes: "That's fantas-, great!"

I had honestly never thought about this before, but "gr, gr, gr, great" seems to read a bit faster than "gr-, gr-, gr-, great." Probably just because that's what I'm used to reading. The hyphen seems to indicate a harder and longer pause, like an actual hesitation rather than just a stutter. I'm sure there are issues of local preference, and I have definitely read depositions taken out-of-town that have significantly different style choices than I'm used to in local ones.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Choose your battles. There is no "right" solution here, only opinions and as a newbie, your opinion doesn't count as much as the older staff (not that is has zero value, but you have to pay your dues before people start changing established rules to satisfy your preferences).

This is a minor thing. Just do what your boss tells you. Keep your fighting energy for something worth fighting for.
posted by molecicco at 6:36 AM on June 29, 2012


They are paying you to do things a certain way - even if that way seems wrong or stupid to you, they are still the ones cutting the cheques. Say to yourself "this is my job, not my art" it helps!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:20 AM on June 30, 2012


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