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Transcription rules from A to Z

What are transcription rules?

Transcription rules are scientific standards that dictate how to transcribe what is said - for example if you have a empirical bachelor thesis or one Writing a dissertation want. There are different transcription systems that are well suited depending on the research. Therefore, in the following, we will introduce you to the six most important systems and their transcription rules, whereby we focus on a simple transcription system.

So if you've decided that qualitative research is the best way to do your thesis, it's time to transcribe! Here you can rely on a professional Audio transcription fall back or, if you have the time and capacity, take matters into your own hands. For example, the Uni Regensburg in their guide.

Rules of transcription: a fundamental distinction

Before you get started, however, there is one important decision you need to make: should it be verbatim or spoken transcription? Verbatim transcription means that you transcribe the recording as simplified and legible as possible. Dialects, for example, are translated into Standard German, word duplications and gap fillers (such as "uh") are omitted and punctuation set accordingly. In the case of spoken language transcription, on the other hand, all linguistic features are typed in. Tones, accentuation or the length of pauses in conversation are also taken into account in the transcription rules.

However, there are not only these two possibilities, but also some transcription systems between the poles (cf. Kuckartz 2016, p. 166). This enables you to apply transcription rules that fit your research exactly. The spoken language transcription is ultimately the more complex and time-consuming variant. It is therefore more suitable for research that wants to capture the latent structures behind what has been said. The simple transcription system, on the other hand, focuses more on the content of what is actually said. The overview below shows how the two types of transcription rules can look in comparison.


Fig. 1: Verbal and spoken language transcription rules in comparison (source: Dresing / Pehl 2013)

The top 6 transcription rules

As already mentioned, there are several systems whose transcription rules are sometimes more based on literal and sometimes more on spoken language transcription. Six of the most important are the simple transcription rules according to Dresing / Pehl (2011), Kuckartz (2010) and Dittmar (2009) as well as the more complex transcription rules "GAT" (Selting et al. 2009), "HIAT" (Rehbein et al. 2004) and according to Jefferson (1984).

In Figure 1, transcription rules were used on the left, as they also apply to Kuckartz, Dresing / Pehl and Dittmar. On the other hand, the conversation analytical transcription system (GAT) was used on the right-hand side.

The system of semi-interpretive working transcriptions (HIAT) is then even more complicated. Here one uses, for example, the character ^ for a "rising-falling tonal movement" or an apostrophe for a glottal beat (this is an unvoiced sound that can be heard with certain sounds).

The Jefferson transcription rules are - although quite old - still widespread in English-speaking countries (cf. Kuckartz 2016, p. 168). You will probably fall back on them when you get your Bachelor thesis in English composed. Here, too, components of what is spoken are recorded down to the smallest detail, such as (hhh) and (.hhh) for audible exhalation and inhalation.

Overview of transcription systems

Here again all presented transcription systems are summarized:

Table 1: Overview of the most important transcription rules