The principal system of transcription used by conversation analysis and discursive psychology was developed by Gail Jefferson. It evolved side by side with, and informed by the results of, interaction analysis. It highlights features of the delivery of talk (overlap, delay, emphasis, volume and so on) that have been found to be live in interaction. That is, they are features of talk treated as relevant in one way or another by the parties to the interaction.
This is not the only system of transcription available. Another well known system used in some discourse analytic and ethnographic work was developed by John Du Bois (1993). However, the Jeffersonian system has become increasingly standard in the research literature (it is a requirement, for instance, in articles published in Research in Language and Social Interaction). Note that it is not ideal for all kinds of analytic task. For example, it does not encode the sort of features of speech delivery that a full phonetic transcription does, so would not be suitable for studies of speech therapy or the sorts of classic sociolinguistic research on accent variation.
In the broad field of discourse studies, and particularly where
researchers have been working with got up materials such as interviews and
focus groups, there has been disagreement about whether Jeffersonian
transcription is needed and, indeed, whether it impedes analytic clarity and
the analyst in unnecessary work (see e.g. the debate between Hollway, 2005; Mischler, 2005;
Potter & Hepburn, 2005a,b; Smith, 2005). Reasons for using the
(a) it attempts to capture the talk as it is heard to participants;
(b) it is necessary for performing an adequate interactional analysis;
(c) even if the analysis is concerned with features of lexical content (itself a potentially problematic notion in the abstract) the full transcript would most fully allow claims to be checked by other researchers.
Crucially, advocates of a straightforward orthographic or ‘play-script’ version of transcript, or even Jefferson Lite (e.g. Parker, 2005), fail to appreciate that they are not a more neutral or simple record. Rather they are highly consequential transformations. For example, orthographic transcript imposes conventions of written language which are designed to be broadly independent of specific readers. Such a transformation systematically wipes out evidence of intricate coordination and recipient design. It encourages the analyst to interpret talk by reference to an individual speaker or focus on abstract relations between word and world. Put another way, if talk were a relatively transparent medium for the communication of one person’s mind to another then more orthographic forms of representation would make sense; however, if talk is seen to be a medium for action, then forms of representation that try to capture elements of action rather than ‘just the words’ are what is needed.
Hollway, W. (2005). Commentary on ‘Qualitative interviews in psychology’, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2, 312-314.
Mischler, E. (2005). Commentary on ‘Qualitative interviews in psychology’, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2, 315-318.
Potter, J. & Hepburn, A. (2005). Qualitative interviews in psychology: problems and possibilities, Qualitative research in Psychology, 2, 281-307.
Potter, J. & Hepburn, A. (2005). Action, interaction and interviews – Some responses to Hollway, Mischler and Smith, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2, 319-325.
Smith, J. (2005). Advocating pluralism, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 2, 309-11.
The most authoritative summary of the
Jefferson, G. (2004). Glossary of transcript symbols with an introduction. In Lerner, G.H. (Ed). Conversation Analysis: Studies from the first generation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins (pp. 13-31).
Other relevant writing on transcription included:
Bucholtz, M. (2000). The politics of transcription, Journal of Pragmatics, 32, 1439-1465.
Hepburn, A. (2004). Crying: Notes on description, transcription and interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 37, 251-290.
(Click on link to request article)
Jefferson, G. (1985). An exercise in the
transcription and analysis of laughter.
In T. van Dijk (Ed.), Handbook of Discourse Analysis, Vol. 3.
Ochs, E. (1979). Transcription as
theory. In E. Ochs & B. Schieffelin (Eds.), Developmental
(1997). Reliability and validity in
research based on transcripts. In D.
Silverman (Ed.), Qualitative Research:
Theory, method and practice.
Psathas, G. & Anderson, T. (1990). The ‘practices’ of transcription in conversation analysis. Semiotica, 78, 75-99.
ten Have, P. (1999). Doing
West, C. (1996). Ethnography and orthography: A (modest) methodological proposal, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 25, 327-352.
It is hard to learn to use the system without comparing the symbols to actual speech. Increasingly there are good resources for this.
Emanuel Schegloff has a wonderful transcription tutorial on his web site. It is probably the first place to start:
The Loughborough DARG web site has some papers where the sound files are available along side of the transcript. If you go to audio and video materials you will find sound, video and transcript as well as the finished article.
If you want to transcribe from a digitised file, and if you want to digitise your recordings the ideal software for PC users is Adobe Audition (available from the Adobe website). However, there is an excellent and easy to use free piece of freeware called Audacity. It is available at:
You can use this to digitise sound using your PC soundcard, and for transcription it allows you to scroll through the file, cut and paste extracts, zoom in and out, time pauses, and save as MP3 to make the file compact for transporting between computers.
The transcription system uses standard punctuation marks (comma, stop, question mark); however, in the system they mark intonation rather than syntax. Arrows are used for more extreme intonational contours and should be used sparingly. The system marks noticeable emphasis, volume shifts, and so on. A generally loud speaker should not be rendered in capitals throughout.
[ ] Square brackets mark the start and end of overlapping speech. They are aligned to mark the precise position of overlap as in the example below.
¯ Vertical arrows precede marked pitch movement, over and above normal rhythms of speech. They are used for notable changes in pitch beyond those represented by stops, commas and question marks.
® Side arrows are used to draw attention to features of talk that are relevant to the current analysis.
Underlining indicates emphasis; the extent of underlining within individual words locates emphasis and also indicates how heavy it is.
CAPITALS mark speech that is hearably louder than surrounding speech. This is beyond the increase in volume that comes as a by product of emphasis.
°I know it,° ‘degree’ signs enclose hearably quieter speech.
that’s r*ight. Asterisks precede a ‘squeaky’ vocal delivery.
(0.4) Numbers in round brackets measure pauses in seconds (in this case, 4 tenths of a second). If they are not part of a particular speaker’s talk they should be on a new line. If in doubt use a new line.
(.) A micropause, hearable but too short to measure.
((stoccato)) Additional comments from the transcriber, e.g. about features of context or delivery.
she wa::nted Colons show degrees of elongation of the prior sound; the more colons, the more elongation.
hhh Aspiration (out-breaths); proportionally as for colons.
.hhh Inspiration (in-breaths); proportionally as for colons.
Yeh, ‘Continuation’ marker, speaker has not finished; marked by fall-rise or weak rising intonation, as when delivering a list.
y’know? Question marks signal stronger, ‘questioning’ intonation, irrespective of grammar.
Yeh. Full stops mark falling, stopping intonation (‘final contour’), irrespective of grammar, and not necessarily followed by a pause.
bu-u- hyphens mark a cut-off of the preceding sound.
>he said< ‘greater than’ and ‘lesser than’ signs enclose speeded-up talk. Occasionally they are used the other way round for slower talk.
solid.= =We had ‘Equals’ signs mark the immediate ‘latching’ of successive talk, whether of one or more speakers, with no interval.
heh heh Voiced laughter. Can have other symbols added, such as underlinings, pitch movement, extra aspiration, etc.
sto(h)p i(h)t Laughter within speech is signalled by h’s in round brackets.
For more detail on this scheme see Jefferson (2004).
°°help°° Whispering – enclosed by double degree signs.
.shih Wet sniff.
.skuh Snorty sniff.
~grandson~ Wobbly voice – enclosed by tildes.
Sorry Very high pitch – represented by one or more upward arrows.
k(hh)ay Aspiration in speech – an ‘h’ represents aspiration: in parenthesis indicates a sharper more plosive sound
hhhelp outside parenthesis indicates a softer more breathy sound
Huhh .hhih Sobbing – combinations of ‘hhs’, some with full stops before them to indicate inhaled rather than exhaled,
many have voiced vowels,
Hhuyuhh some also have voiced consonants.
>hhuh< If sharply inhaled or exhaled enclosed in
the ‘greater than/less than’ symbols (> <).
Mm:. hh (3.5) Silence – numbers in parentheses represent silence in tenths of a second.
The readability and usefulness of transcript is affected by a number of things, including layout, white space, font, and line numbers.
A good simple convention is to use 1 inch all round as the margin. Extracts should always be given an extract number (for ease of reference). You might also find it useful to have a memorably heading of some kind that will remind you of the source. Sometime you will want other kinds of specification here (tape or minidisk number, date of collection, or whatever).
2. White space
Single spacing is OK, but leave plenty of white space to the right of the transcript (for ease of reading and to write comments on). You might find it works best to do your own line breaks rather than to allow the word processor to do it for you.
Courier new 10pt is just about ideal. The value of a non-proportional font is that it makes it much easier to mark overlaps (really tricky in a proportional font like Times New Roman). You will find readability improved if you have a clear tab between the participant name and the transcript. It will also help if you put the participants’ names in bold.
4. Line numbers
Line numbers can be put in manually. However, you will find it quicker in the long run to let the word processor do it (although this can generate occasionally generate problems that take a little fixing). The simple way to do this in Microsoft Word is:
1. Put a continuous section break before and after your extract (use the Insert>Break menu).
2. Click inside the extract.
3. Go onto line numbers on Page Setup. That is: File> PageSetup>
4. Layout> Line numbers. Tick the Add Line Numbering box, and then
select ‘Restart Each Section’.
If you are familiar with Word you will find thing speeded up by making your own transcription button bar. This can have common symbols (all the arrows, the degree symbol), insert section break, and then a button that runs a macro that inserts the line numbers.
1. CPO: Is that o[ka:y.]
2. Caller: [ Fine.] =yes.
3. [°that’s fine.°]
4. CPO: [¯Brilliant ] okay,
5. Caller: °.Hh° (0.2) u:m (0.1) >I’m sorry
6. I’m a little bit< emo:~tional
7. tod[ay~ .hih]
8. CPO: [Tch Oh::] go:sh I’m so:rry,
9. Caller: ~I’ve got a little four year old grandson,~
11. CPO: [Yea]h:,
13. Caller: ~My son w(h)as s(h)ixtee:n~ (0.5) er fif¯teen when
14. he was bor:n.
16. Caller: .Hhh [And um (.)] he and his er (0.2)
17. CPO: [ °Mm::.° ]
18. Caller: girlfriend split up.
20. Caller: ((swallows)) ~and since then um:~ (0.2)
21. she’s had (0.4) several boyfriends, (0.6) .hh but since
22. the baby was bor:n
23. I’ve had him (0.3) every week
25. CPO: [°Ri:ght° ]
26. Caller: [I have him] from em (0.4) ((swallows))
27. Thursday through to Sundays.
29. CPO: Ri:ght.
30. Caller: Erm (0.1) she doesn’t come from a very
31. good family,
32. CPO: [ M m : . ]
33. Caller: [((sniffs))] Her (0.4) step-dad (0.2)
34. abused her (0.4) sister.
36. CPO: Ri:ght=
37. Caller: =And er (0.6) I just don’t feel my grandson’s
38. being looked after properly
39. CPO: Tch °oh: [ g o : : s h°]
40. Caller: [An he’s had a] black eye:
41. la:st weekh,
42. CPO: Did he:?
43. Caller: An a cigarette bur:n .hh hh
44. CPO: Oh my g[ o : : s h : : ]
45. Caller: [She’s now got a n-] a new boyfriend
46. ((sniffs)) (1.1) and er hh .hh they live in Sawley
47. CPO: Yea:=
48. Caller: =which is like (0.3) three quarters of a
49. mi-e-three quarters of an hou:r away from
50. where we live
51. CPO: Oh [I s e e: ]