Self-identification with Narrators

Raheleh Saboorri

Interviewer: seyyed Shasem Ya-hoseini

An interview with Mrs. Raheleh Sabouri, War Writer

Q: When did you start working on war literature seriously?

A: I got to know about the Studies and Researches Center for Resistant Culture and Literature through my husband in 1992 by accident. Back then, he cooperated with the center in some projects. I remember, when Mr. Asghar Kazemi was conducting interviews for the book of Bamu, I was in charge in transcribing the interviews of the book. I was not working directly for the center for a long time. In December 2001when the center needed a new staff I started cooperating with them more seriously and actively.

Q: Do you remember the problems you faced transcribing the first tape were?

A: I did not know much about the war then. However, the literature of war was not new to me. The first tapes I transcribed were narratives of discovering Bamu altitudes. The narratives were interesting and exciting. I've never had any major issues with transcribing the tapes, but sometimes, the cassettes were so old and had such low quality that I had to use headphones or turn up the volume and listen to a tape several times in order to be able to understand what they were saying. Some tapes were recorded at war zones, inside fortifications or tents. In tapes such as the ones from radio transceiver or military base meetings, because of too many noises, the main voice could hardly be heard.
Several people talked simultaneously in radio transceiver conversations or the military base meetings. It was hard to recognize the main voice and follow the conversations. In such cases, there was no way to achieve the favorable result but to listen to the tapes over and over again.

Q: Was transcribing the tapes a difficult task or an easy one?

A: In general, transcribing the tapes could be categorized among difficult jobs. But if the quality of the tapes is at standard level, transcribing them will be much easier; especially if, the transcriber has a little background knowledge in the subject.

Q: Should we transcribe the tape word by word or sentence by sentence?

A: I think, it is better if the transcriber transfers the exact words of the interviewee. It is possible that a point or an idiom which does not look significant to the transcriber is critically important from the viewpoint of the interviewer. So, it is better for the transcriber to use his/her short-term memory, listen to the tape, memorize a sentence, press the pause button and then write the sentence down on paper.
In addition, the transcriber getting less tired with the word by word method can, speed up the transcription process and the accuracy level. Meanwhile, when he or she does not understand a word or an idiom, can listen to it once again. Of course, there are different theories and methods about transcribing. An interviewer, who transcribes the tape by himself or herself, knows well what subjects to extract from the heart of the interview. In this case, perhaps there is no need to transcribe the interview word by word. But if a person other than the interviewer is transcribing the tape, then he or she is better to transcribe it accurately.

Q: Do you ever come across unfamiliar proper nouns?

A: Certainly, every transcriber has to deal with words such as the name of the places and people which are not familiar to him/her or whose correct spelling he/she does not know. The transcriber is better to have an encyclopedia like Moeen or Dehkhoda to refer to when coming across unfamiliar idiom.
For example, if a transcriber is transcribing a tape of "Operation Valfajr 8", he or she is better to have several reference books about Valfajr 8 or Faw to find the correct spellings of words and idioms. In other words, an experienced transcriber can create transparency in the transcripts by referring to authentic sources. For instance, if the narrator talks about the left side of the road, the transcriber writes in the bracket: the left side of (Faw-Basra) road, because the main Faw-Basra road was the main road to "Valfajr 8 Operation".

Q: What solution do you use concerning similar names?

A: About similar names, we should also refer to the books or even to the narrator (about the name of that person) in order to write the complete and correct form of the names.

Q: Should we use only one side or both sides of sheets for transcriptions?

A: The subjects are better to be written in blank and lineless papers. We should also write them with black and bold pen.  The transcriber's handwriting should be readable and there should be at least two centimeters space between the lines so that the rewriter and transcriber can have enough space to complete their works. Also, we'd better to leave blank the upper side and two sides of the papers for more durability so that the subjects are kept completely safe.

Q: Should the transcribers add punctuation signs like dot, and comma or not?

A: Yes, punctuation marks help the transcriber rewrite his or her work. With these signs help the rewriter to find out the most significant arguments. The signs also help the rewriter to realize the beginning and the end of the sentence or paragraph.
When a transcriber transcribes a tape with the correct understanding of narratives and interviews, he or she will be more successful in transferring the concepts and the narrator's intention. Putting comma or three dots is necessary when the narrator pauses.

Q: If the narrator gets upset and starts crying while talking and remembering a memory, should these sentiments be registered?

A: Transferring such emotions from cassette onto paper and registering the sentiments of the narrator' help the rewriter write the memories better and transfer it to the reader. The impact of such incidents and memories are different on the narrators. They can be included in the following forms: [Crying], [laughing], [shouting], [silence].

Q: What is the average of the number of pages which cover an interview?

A: The number of pages depends on the narrator's paste and the questions asked by the interviewer. Some narrators speak fast while others speak slowly. Both ways directly affect the quantity of transcriptions. Sometimes, the question of interviewer is longer than the narrator's answer.

Q: What is your advice for the narrators who speak fast?

A: The cassettes speed can be slowed down by pressing a special button and then it can be transcribed very easily.

Q: Is it necessary to compare and adjust the transcribed text with the cassette in normal oral history interviews?

A: If there is an ambiguity in the transcription and a word or some words are eliminated, readjustment of the tape and the transcribed text can help remove the ambiguities.

Q: How do you mark the ambiguous part or phrase in the transcript?

A: If a sentence or an idiom is unclear to the transcriber, we should write the phrase [unclear] inside bracket so that the sentence or idiom is completed by referring to the narrator or reference books.

Q: The tapes are usually turned into CDs in new models and concurrently when the voice is played from a PC, it is typeset. Do you choose this method?

A: If both speed and accuracy are observed, it will be a good method.

Q: Do you number the text for adjusting the tape with the text?

A: Certainly, because these tapes and their transcriptions are placed in the archive in the long run, and accessing and referring to the transcribed texts or tapes will be difficult. We can consider symbolic marks and codes like the initial of the narrator and write them behind and on the papers to find them easily. In this case, every transcriber has his or her own method and there is no definite principle. 

Q: Should we keep the transcriptions?

A: The transcript of an interview is the first important element for writing and formulating a historical and documented work. It is a text in which we do not see the stepping-stone of the writer; it is raw and not tampered. The documentary maker can refer to it again and again, to find out what has really happened. Therefore, archiving and maintaining these handwritings is necessary.

Q: Do you keep them next to one another or separately in the archive?

A: I do not suggest any special method regarding this issue. It depends on personal preference of the one in charge of the archive or the interviewer. At any rate, the method should help the historians to access these documents and tapes easily and without problems.

Q: After, typesetting the texts do they need to be adjusted with the handwritten text?

A: If the writer sees an ambiguity or error in the text after typesetting, he or she can refer to the transcript once again. This happens a lot with numbers, dates and proper nouns.

Q: Some transcribe a tape and rewrite it. What is your advice?

A: The novice transcriber would better to transcribe a tape with pencil in order to correct it and clean up the scratched lines after listening to it for several times.

Q: What do you do with the accents? Some talk in Turkish, Arabic or Lori [a local accent] with strong accents.

A: Transferring local dialects to written forms depends on the method and style of the rewriter or writer. The writer may be willing to put more stress on some catch-phrases or local idioms. These catch-phrases and idioms are transcribed into such cases. Otherwise, we write them with a simple style.

Q: Isn't it better if the Latin form of some of the words is written above them to help the rewriter?

A: This is necessary and helps the quality of the rewriter's performance.

Q: DO you thin that the Persian meaning of the Latin words should be mentioned in the transcript or is it better to use the original forms? For example, what do you do with RPG7 or C130? 

A: If a word is unclear or has a symbolic significance and the reader or rewriter is likely to make a mistake, it will be better if the Persian meaning is written in parentheses.

Q: The subjects we write and hear about, on the oral history of war mainly consist of killings, bleeding, and trauma. What kind of mentally negative effects these tapes have on someone who transcribes and listens to them? 

A: Talking about the bitter incidents of a war makes any man upset and devastated. A transcriber, who always deals with such incidents, is naturally disturbed and hurt. He or she accompanies the narrator most of the times and may be forced to hear a narrative several times and this affects the transcriber's mind and soul. Some of the narratives remain in the transcriber's mind for a long time and preoccupy him or her, because the transcriber sort of identifies with the narrator and feels for him/her.
Sometimes, the transcriber is forced to stop working for a few days or hours due to the sorrow and grief of hearing the remarks of the narrator in order to feel better. 

Q: Is it ok for the transcribers to talk about the things he they hear from narrators among friends or family?

A: It's better if this is done with the permission of the narrator or the writer. The rewriter or editor may want to keep the narratives secret from others until the end of the process of editing.

Q: In some interviews the interviewee asks for some parts of the interview not to be published. What do you do with such cases?

A: In such cases, we circle the original text with a pen or a marker. Thus, the rewriter understands what should not be mentioned in rewriting. Since, we usually highlight the important parts, it's better to circle the parts which are not going to be published.

Q: What methods do you usually use to separate the questions from answers?

A: The transcriber is better to write the questions with a color different from that of the answer so, that they can be differentiated in print. For example, they can be in black and red. It is better if there is a space of some two or three centimeters between the narrator's questions and answers.
In the past, the questions and answers were determined by Q and A. Today, they are determined with marks like squares or circles or dashes like the following:
.. What is your name?
….My name is Raheleh.

Q: Is there any physical pressure on the transcriber?

A: Transcribing the tape may look like such an easy task, but if we look at it more carefully, we see that the transcriber should sit behind the table for hours while not only, all his/her mind is engaged but also, all of his or her fingers, spine, and neck are under pressure. The job's tedium, pressure and time will have serious effects on the transcriber.
The transcriber is better to take a short rest while working, massage his or her fingers, hands and neck gently and walk a little. The environment in which the transcriber is working and the space of the workplace is very effective in decreasing physical harms. The transcriber should use comfortable desk and chair. They should not bend over the papers too many times and do not stick their eyes close to the texts. It also influences the nerves. Sometimes, the transcribers get anxious and wrangle. The capacity of individuals and their capabilities are different. This job can have different impacts on people. So, it is advised for people to choose this job only of they have strong nerves. Like many other jobs, transcribing the tapes demands interest and willingness.
It is among hard and low-income jobs. At the same time, since transcribing the tapes is the second main stage after interviews for conducting a book, it is of great importance.

Q: Why are most of the transcribers female?

A: Because it is a job that does not demand the individual's physical presence in the office. The tasks can be done anywhere and at anytime. 
Another reason is that women are more patient than men.

Q: And at the end, do you have any advice for your colleagues?

A: My advice is that the tapes should be kept in dry places in order to be maintained better.
After the interview is completed, the bottom of the tape (write protect) should be broken so that they are not erased mistakenly while transcribing.

Translated by: Mohammad Baqar Khoshnevisan

Soureh Monthly, No. 36

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