Product Management

After the interview the historian's task is that of product management: summarizing, transcribing, editing, publishing, and storing. The historian's job is not complete until the information contained in the interview is available and accessible to other historians.

a. Label cassettes and digital storage media upon completion of the interview. List the names of the interviewer and interviewee, the date, the place of the interview, and the classification. Digitally recorded interviews should be backed up either on a CD or DVD or on a separate hard drive. If an interview is recorded or stored on multiple cassettes or CDs, indicate that as well: writing "1 of 2" or simply "1 /2" on a label sufficiently identifies part one of a two-part interview. Use soft-tip pens to label CDs and DVDs. If using cassettes, press in the two tabs at the top of each cassette in order to prevent accidental erasure of the interview through re-recording. Documents pertaining to interviews should be listed in the interview notes and stored along with the interview.

TIP: Sufficient digital storage memory is a must for historians in the field. Historians should have, in addition to their own laptop computers, flash drives or external hard drives. Use these to store audio files and for backup copies of interviews. For additional security, backup copies of interviews can also be made on CDs and DVDs and sent to a different location.

b. Prepare the word-term list. This is a list of words, jargon, and terms requiring identification. Then identify them. This is very important if the interview is going to be transcribed by someone other than the interviewer. This is also important because knowledge of acronyms and jargon (such as terms, operational names, and nicknames) .is perishable and can be lost unless recorded at the time they are used.

c. Prepare an abstract of the interview. The historian should use the interview notes and word-term list to write the abstract while the interview is still fresh in the historian's mind. An abstract is a brief summary, approximately one to three paragraphs in length, that provides a reader with an overview of the interview. It should cover who was interviewed, the date, the location, and provide a general overview of the interview that includes the major topics of discussion as well as the historian's assessment of the strengths of the interview. Given the number of interviews that are conducted during operations in the field, the likelihood is that many interviews will not be transcribed for a significant period of time. Interview abstracts, therefore, provide the crucial tool for anyone seeking to use the interview collection because reading the abstracts will tell the reader whether the interview is likely to contain enough information to warrant reading or listening to the entire interview. Moreover, properly prepared, the abstracts can provide enough information to serve as the basis for a command report or a narrative account of an operation. Historians’ intent on producing a written account will find the practice of preparing abstracts to be of great value. Remember that the job of a historian covering an event is not complete until the information that has been collected is available to other historians. Abstracts are an important tool for achieving that goal. Reading an abstract should enable a historian or researcher to determine whether or not the interview is a useful source for a project. (Sample abstracts are in Appendix D.)

d. Review the interview notes. The interviewer should review the interview notes and compare them with the original topic-question list while the memory of the interview is still fresh. Were all the topics covered? Is another interview session warranted?

e. Duplicate the interview to prevent loss if something should happen to the original. With cassettes, the duplicate should be clearly labeled as such and used as the working copy in order to preserve the original.

f. Enter the interview information into the appropriate oral history index (for a history office) or oral history log (for an MHO or historian in the field). All interviews conducted by Army historians should be reported to the U.S. Army Center of Military History twice each year with the semiannual report. AR 870-5 lists the required interview information. This reporting system enables the Center to update its index and finding aids in order to assist Army historians and researchers interested in Army oral histories. All historical offices, of course, should maintain indices of their own holdings. Additionally, revised and edited transcripts should be sent to the appropriate Army historical agencies. AR 870-5 directs that copies of all transcribed interviews be sent to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, ATTN: DAMH-HDS, 103 Third Avenue, Fort Lesley J. McNair, D.C. 20319-5058; to the Military History Institute, The Army Heritage & Education Center, 950 Soldiers Drive, Carlisle, PA 17013-5021; and to the Center for Army Lessons Learned, ATTN: ATZL-CTL, 10 Meade Avenue, Building 50, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, KS 66027-1350.

Transcribing and editing an interview can be an arduous process. It can take up to ten hours to transcribe and edit one hour of tape. The first step is to decide whether an interview should be transcribed. Ideally, every interview will be transcribed, edited, and reviewed by the interviewee-thereby creating a true oral history. Nevertheless, not all interviews are worth the commitment of time, manpower, and money, nor will the historian always have the ability to transcribe every interview. The historian will have to decide whether to transcribe interviews based on available resources and the value of the interview. (The means for transcribing interviews, particularly for deployed or deploying historians, should be addressed in the oral history plan.) The following questions will help determine whether an interview should be transcribed or if a summary (that is, a detailed abstract) will suffice:

a. Is transcription mandated by regulation or official tasking?

b. What is the significance and quality of the interview? Is the interview with a particularly noteworthy individual, or does it contain useful information (such as a detailed account of an operation)?

c. What is the purpose of the interview? Is it intended to be read in the near future (as with, for example, an exit interview)? Does the interview support a current project such as an official history? Is the interview itself intended for publication?

d. Are resources (both financial and personnel) available to transcribe the interview?

Transcription is time-intensive and demanding work. Ideally, the individual who conducted the interview will transcribe it soon after the event. This practice produces the highest quality transcript. Historians who conduct many interviews, however, seldom have the time to transcribe all of their own interviews. The primary options are to use other individuals in the agency or unit or to employ outside contractors to produce the initial transcripts of interviews.
In-house transcription offers certain advantages such as the ability to closely supervise the transcription process and the opportunity to develop trained transcribers who know the subject matter. Few offices or units, however, will have enough people to transcribe large numbers of interviews. Use of outside contractors, therefore, often becomes a necessity, particularly when large numbers of interviews are involved. Outside transcribers offer the benefit of speed, but there are other considerations. Cost can be an issue. (The cost of transcription usually is related to how quickly the transcriber is required to produce a transcript.) Letting a contract for transcription services will involve a significant amount of paperwork and administrative oversight requirements, yet a contract can be an efficient means for dealing with large blocks of interviews. Today, the accepted use of government credit cards to pay for transcription services, particularly when the requirement is sporadic, makes obtaining outside transcription services a much easier process than in previous years when contracts, with their lengthy lead-time and administrative paperwork requirements, were necessary.
Although some companies specialize in transcribing oral histories, most large transcribing firms function primarily as court reporters who only transcribe interviews as a sideline. They may subcontract to other organizations or randomly assign transcription jobs to any available worker. Thus it may be hard for a transcriber working for a large contractor to develop expertise with military interviews, which often have a unique vocabulary of words and acronyms. Preparing a word-term list for each interview to assist the transcriber will lead to transcripts that require significantly less editing than ones for which the transcriber had to guess at the spelling of strange words, terms, and place names. Smaller companies or individuals also will require word-term lists, but often offer the advantage of working with the same transcriber.
When using outside transcribers, decide upon a simple standard format for interview transcripts and pass the appropriate instructions, along with the word-term list, to the transcriber. Instructions do not need to be extensive. For example:

a. On the first page of the transcript, identify the interviewee, the interviewer, their respective organizations, the date and place of the interview, and the interview number.

b. Use one-inch margins on each side of the page with double-spaced text and number each page.

c. Identify each speaker at the start of his or her comments by typing the participant's name in bolded capital letters, followed by a colon.

d. Provide a verbatim transcript.

e. Use standard symbols within the transcript to convey specific messages. Within parenthesis place a question mark before and after a word or phrase to indicate any uncertainty about what was said. Example: (?destroyed?).

f. Place in brackets details explaining why the interview was interrupted or why the tape recorder was turned off.
Example: [Interview interrupted by a telephone call].

g. Garbled or inaudible portions of an interview should be indicated. If one word is inaudible, the transcriber should indicate the gap by underlining (example: "_"); if multiple words are inaudible, use" _+." If a significant passage is inaudible, the transcriber should estimate the elapsed time by underlining and estimating the length of the passage. Example: "_ .... (# of seconds)."

h. Indicate recording breaks in capital letters. For example (for a cassette recording): END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE: BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE. For digital interviews, indicate the conclusion of a sound file and give its name. For example: END OF OIF-XX-SMITH-PT1: BEGIN OIF-XX-SMITHPT2.

TIP: It is important for historians to maintain an oral history index or log in order to have visibility of the status of their collections. Methods range from simple Word documents and spreadsheets to databases. Use the index or log to track the status of individual interviews as they progress toward being a completed oral history. Simple annotations, or codes, noting the status of each interview-such as "at transcribers," "transcribed," "edited," or "out for review"-will prove of great value in managing the historian's oral history collection.

Whenever possible, MHOs should transcribe an interview before sending it to CONUS. If time does not permit this-and, generally, it will not-then the abstract, the interview notes, and the word-term list should be sent along with the interview. If an index sheet of topics covered in the interview has been prepared, that should be sent as well. The information on an index sheet is listed in the order that it would be on the interview tape, together with the corresponding counter reading or an estimate of the elapsed time.
While some interviews will warrant transcription in the field (for example, the commander of the unit to which an MHO was attached), it is likely that historians in the field will lack the time and resources to carry out much transcription. This should not be a cause for alarm because the collection of information is the primary objective of historians in the field. (To make a point again, proper preparation of abstracts will resolve most requirements for information in the field. Abstracts enable the historian to identify which interviews require transcription or should be listened to when preparing a report.) Historians deploying to the field are advised to locate sources of transcription support prior to deployment. Interviews can be mailed or emailed from anywhere in the world with relatively brief delays. If arrangements have been made ahead of time, a historian can mail interviews with supporting materials (the interview notes and the word-term list) to CONUS for transcription. The interview transcript then easily can be mailed or emailed back to the historian for editing and use in preparing reports. This is an option that previously did not exist, but that has been tested and proven effective during recent operations. The primary requirement, however, is planning ahead to secure both a receiving office and transcription support (to include funding for the transcription).
MHOs periodically should forward their oral history log or inventory, with interviews and related supporting materials, to the U.S. Army Center of Military History, Attn: DAMH-FPR, 103 Third Avenue, Fort Lesley J. McNair, D.C. 20319-5058. The Center's Oral History Team will catalog all interviews and, as necessary, endeavor to transcribe tapes. The Center of Military History will provide storage space for all wartime oral history materials.

Once a transcript has been produced, the historian/interviewer should read and edit the text while listening to the tape. Editing an interview transcript invariably will require the editor to exercise his or her judgment when deciding just how much to modify the verbatim transcript. While there is no single "right way" to edit, being consistent in making changes is important.
Because the nature of an interview is conversational, sentences often are disjointed or run on for many lines. Decide whether to leave them alone or to form several sentences out of separate or incomplete phrases. Be sure to check spelling and the use of acronyms. The transcript, however, should reflect what actually was said. Contractions should be transcribed as spoken. Do not change "I'm" to "I am." Acronyms, jargon, and similar expressions should be left as they were said. Similarly, the transcript should not use rank abbreviations if they were not spoken. For example, "General" should not become "GEN." If the speaker said, "Colonel," the transcript should not show "LTC" or "COL." If a Lieutenant General is called "General," that is what the transcript should reflect (not "LTG").
Any recorded conversation will contain a number of ''filler expressions." Omit filler expressions such as "urn" or "ah," unless they suggest confusion or hesitancy or something similarly substantive. Change such expressions as "uh-huh" or "urn-hum" to "Yes" when the interviewee is responding to a specific question. More fine-tuned changes, such as substituting "yes" for "yeah" will be the editor's decision; again, consistency should be the rule. Expressions of disagreement should follow the same rule. False starts, which often represent a change in thinking, should appear in the transcript separated from the rest of the text by two dashes (--) when the change is abrupt; when the change in thinking results in a sentence trailing off, use ellipses (....). When reviewing the transcript, the interviewee may recall the original train of thought and perhaps clarify or expand upon his recorded remarks. If a false start is insignificant, it may be deleted during editing.
Speech patterns and styles (for example, the dropping of pronouns such as in "Deployed to theater," or the use of phrases like "you know," etc.) should be transcribed, whenever possible. These phrases may reveal something about the interviewee's personality or conversational manner. Some filler expressions with "you know" being a prime example-actually serve as punctuation during extended conversation. Thus, an interviewee may indicate the start of a new sentence or a change of topic with "so" or "you know." Sometimes extensive use of filler expressions can dominate a transcript; some individuals are simply more articulate than others. The historian will have to judge how extensively to edit out such filler expressions, although they should not all be deleted in order to avoid dramatically changing the flavor of the interview. If they add to the substance of the interview, however, they should remain in the text. Remember that the interviewee should have an opportunity to delete these expressions during his or her review of the edited transcript.
Interviews that are intended for publication as an oral history are likely to be edited more thoroughly than the average interview. Published oral histories will differ significantly from the original interview and transcript. Editorial changes-for reasons ranging from clarity and readability to interviewee review-are part of the process. As long as the editorial process does not alter the substance or meaning of the original interview, the historian has remained faithful to the task. Published oral histories that are broadly disseminated should include the word-term list as a glossary. Glossaries are useful to readers, particularly when the oral history is long or laden with jargon. Annotating names and terms the first time they appear in the interview is also helpful to the reader. Material inserted into the transcript should be placed within brackets. Similarly, the historian may include explanatory footnotes to briefly explain to a reader, for example, the meaning of a term or to clarify a reference that is not clear in the transcript.

TIP: When editing a transcript, write the corrections and changes on the paper copy of the transcript. Use standard editorial or proofreading marks, such as those found in the Center of Military History's Style Guide. Maintain a record copy of the edited transcript that documents all editorial changes made to the transcript.

Some historical offices publish interviews in order to reach the widest possible audience. These interviews may be published individually or as part of a series or anthology. Examples of published biographical interviews include the Military History Institute's Changing an Army: An Oral History of General William E. DePuy, USA Retired; and Engineer Memoirs, which cover the careers of senior engineers and are published by the Historical Office, Corps of Engineers. The historical offices of the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command and the Army Materiel Command routinely publish exit interviews. On occasion the Center of Military History has published end-of-tour interviews and other general officer interviews. One such publication is Air Assault in the Gulf: An Interview with MG J. H. Binford Peay, III, Commanding General, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).(7) To merit publication, an interview should contain information that is unique and important, appeal to a substantial audience and be able to stand as a separate publication.
After editing the interview, send a copy of the edited transcript to the interviewee for review. Be sure to note any passages that may require the attention of the interviewee as well as passages about which the historian has questions. This review is an opportunity for the interviewer to ensure the accuracy of the transcription and for interviewee to edit, revise, or supplement the text with additional information. Discourage deletions from the text. Providing interviewees with a professionally edited transcript often reduces the amount of time they will hold on to it. When the interviewee returns the transcript, make the requested changes, edit again for errors, and then print a clean transcript. The process is now complete.

Before storing interview recordings and transcripts make sure that recordings are properly labeled and encased. (This should have been done immediately after the interview or after the interview was duplicated.) Ideally, cassette tapes should be stored in a dust-free environment that is not subject to great fluctuations of either temperature or humidity. Digital recordings should be stored away from items with magnetic fields that could disrupt the stored electrons. Rewinding can create uneven tension within a tape; therefore, do not rewind tapes before storing. All interview tapes, transcripts, and supporting materials (maps, photographs, documents, and access agreements) should be stored together.

TIP: Store duplicate copies of recordings separately from the original. Let researchers who wish to listen to an interview use the duplicate copy.

Digital recordings also should be duplicated and stored separately from the original. Although storing recordings and other digital records (such as photographs) on storage media (CDROMs, DVDs, and external drives) will work, the best long-term solution is to store such records on a server that is regularly backed up.


(7) Conducted by the XVIII Airborne Corps historian, then-Maj. Robert K. Wright, Jr. The General Peay interview is a good example of how to conduct an operational interview with a senior commander.

End of part IV
To be continued…
By Stephen J. Lofgren
Center of Military History, United States Army
Washington, D.C, 2006

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