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What Is Verbatim Transcription and When Is It Necessary?

If you have no idea what verbatim transcription is, well, it is the conversion of the spoken word from either a video or audio file into written text wherein the message is translated precisely as it was delivered verbally. It’s not as easy as it sounds. For an individual to land a profession in this art form, one must have distinct attention to detail and, needless to say, a very keen sense of hearing. It is not simply just typing what you hear, but conveying every single element through the typewritten words without losing the essence of the speech, keeping both the information and even the tone of delivery. All this can be conveyed through the proper use of punctuation.


Examples Of Verbatim Transcription

Below are two examples of the same conversation, read and observe the differences, we shall discuss their significance afterward.

Example 1:
Operator: 911, what is your emergency?
Woman: Hello, I heard a noise. There seems to be an intruder in my house. Can you please send someone to check it out?
Operator: Alright ma’am, please give me your address and we’ll send someone right away.

Woman: My address is 32 Goldleaf St. Canary Village. Please hurry, I’m scared.

Example 1:
Operator: 911, what is your emergency?
Woman: Hello? [heavy nervous breathing] I heard a noise. [whispers with a shaky voice] Th-there s-seems to be an intruder in my house. C-can y-you please send someone to check it out?!?
Operator: [Speaks in a calming and reassuring voice] Alright ma’am, please give me your address and we’ll send someone right away.

Woman: [takes a big deep breath] My address is 32 Goldleaf St. Canary Village. Please hurry! I’m scared.

Now, what are the differences that you observed between examples 1 and 2? Which one made you feel like empathizing with the woman? The second one, right? Why is this so? The reason is that there are details that convey the speakers’ feelings, thus painting a clearer picture of the situation.

While the first example has the complete spoken word, it did not have supporting details that help describe the tone of voice. Both are correct and valid forms of verbatim transcription but the second one is a perfect style suited for this situation because it captured not just the words, but how it was said in its specific circumstance. Next, we’ll take a look at the different types and their uses.

3 Types of Verbatim Transcription

There are many situations that require verbatim transcription. It can be used in quoting sources, focus groups, research studies, court reporting, legal documents, and statements.
There are three main types of verbatim transcription, each one has been created to fit different demands and needs, depending on the situation. Each kind differs in its benefits and specific use.

1. Intelligent Verbatim

This type is also known as “clean read” or “clean verbatim” is a transcription that includes detailed edits with slight and proper paraphrasing making it easy-to-read. It is a style recommended for those who need error-free and ready-to-print transcripts, which makes it perfect for business recordings. Everything is included except grammatical errors, fillers (uhm, you know, etc.), stutters, false starts, ambient sounds, redundancies, and non-verbal communications.

2. Verbatim

This next type is a bit more detailed than intelligent verbatim. With the verbatim style, every single word is typed as it was heard on the recording, even including false starts and grammatical errors. But it omits other details like repetitions, fillers, non-verbal communication, ambient noise, and stutters. This style is mostly used by journalists, students, and researchers because it stays true to its source without unnecessary speech clutter.

3. True Verbatim

True verbatim, like the 2nd example earlier in the article, is the most detailed out of all the styles. It involves transcribing every single word, sound, non-verbal communication and gestures, even laughter, stutters, and pauses, as long as they are relevant and help with painting a better picture of the situation where the conversation was happening and provided they don’t disrupt the flow of reading. This style is commonly preferred for academic research and analysis where every little detail counts.


4 Rules Of Verbatim & True Verbatim Transcription

If it is your first time learning about the art of verbatim transcription, here are a few simple rules to follow. If you’re looking to become a professional transcriptionist, you need to know these do’s and don’ts. These jobs are quite in demand abroad so that’s something to consider. Know when to include and omit details, know when you need to paraphrase, and learn how to transcribe non-verbal sounds and communications. These rules mostly apply to verbatim or true verbatim styles, depending on how much detail a situation calls for.

1. Transcribe Every Single Word, Do Not Paraphrase

Some transcriptionists get into a bad habit of paraphrasing, thinking that it makes their work more efficient time-wise, trying to keep the general idea of the message to be conveyed. It is acceptable only if they are requested to use ‘intelligent verbatim’, the first style, which in some cases is adequate. In situations such as business meetings, YouTube, and podcasts, this style is enough, but in journalism and research, wherein the tiniest details make a big difference, paraphrasing may cause transcriptions to lose significant information.

2. Include Non-verbal Communication And Gestures

People communicate not only through words but by body language, pauses, laughter, facial expressions, and actions. Including these in your transcriptions will give it more depth and will set the tone of the conversation.

3. Include False Starts, Stutters, And Fillers

Fillers might seem unimportant but they actually can give you a better understanding of the personality or current mental or emotional state of the person speaking. This can be used in legal documentation, such as transcribing interrogations, negotiations, and such.

4. Note External Sounds

Journalism and notable research may need the aid of fine points such as ambient noise, so the transcriptionist needs to type in detail what is happening in the speaker’s surroundings, as this may affect the situation. 

Not every situation requires the same amount of detail, in some cases, intelligent verbatim is adequate. Know when to use which style. Verbatim transcription is not just about capturing what was being said, but also how it was said.