Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

Transcription, a very different sort of writing skill, may help you write dialog

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another of those posts I’ve mentioned in recent weeks which originally appeared a year or so ago — but was lost when I went through the webhost’s server crash a few weeks ago. I have rewritten some of it and I am “reposting” it because I think it has some useful information for writers. Thank you for your patience as I recover “old” posts like this as I run onto them on my hard drive.)

Do you transcribe? Do you transcribe professionally?

I know the idea of transcription brings to mind for many the word “secretary,” which has gotten an undeserved connotation of a sort of low-level office functionary. In fact, secretaries — as all honest office workers and supervisors, i.e., “bosses,” will admit — are the lifeblood of most offices.

Secretary or not, if you do transcription for a living, you know what I mean when I say it takes an entirely different set of writing skills to do it successfully. First and foremost, a good transcriptionist knows you must type/keyboard what you hear, not what you WANT to hear or think you hear. That is, you must learn to put aside that “editor in your head” who’s always working to keep your writing “correct,” and type exactly what was said on the tape.

My former day job involved a lot of transcription, and some of it was transcribing witnesses’ statements related to insurance coverage. In such cases, what I was transcribing was a legal document, admissible in court. I didn’t have the luxury of cleaning up the language, making it sound like “dialog.” If the person stuttered, stopped and started a word or sentence — whatever people actually did, that was what I was supposed to type.

Transcription can be a fascinating job. You might never have thought of it as a form of writing or related to writing skills. But it is. It is precise and demanding. My hat is off to all of you who do it. And, by the way, transcription is an excellent background skill for learning to hear and write dialog. Although, as I’ve said in another post, dialog that we think is realistic is NEVER, or almost never, a detailed transcription of what people really say. But certainly, learning to transcribe teaches you how to listen carefully.

May your writing — and your transcription! — go well today.
[tags]transcription, editing, keyboarding, dialog, writing tips at garyspeer.com[/tags]

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