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Usage Notes

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Usage Note: all…what??

all right, usually pronounced as a single word, probably should have developed along the same path as already and altogether, but it didn’t.


“The form alright has never been accepted as a standard variant, and one who chooses to risk that spelling had best be confident that readers will view it as a token of willful unconventionality rather than as a token of ignorance.” — American Heritage Dictionary, 2001.

Turning complex or proper nouns into verbs—sometimes an apostrophe can help.

An expert witness has droned on and on, sinking ever further into complex jargon, and is finally interrupted when opposing counsel says:

Your Honor, now he’s just Ph.D.’ing it to death.

One could type PhDing, but readers may stumble with the “ding” part.   PhD’ing does solve the “ding” stumbling block, but remember that readers are used to seeing those pesky periods in that title abbreviation, so….
Or consider Were you cc’d on this letter?   Typing it as cced just doesn’t work.  If people need to read something two or three times before they “get” it, the construction needs attention.

Or consider We FedEx’d it yesterday.   Typing it as FedExed can work here, as the reader will likely not stumble over that construction.

Usage note:   anymore  v.  any more

Anymore refers to TIME, and means at some point in time, at the present, and also, in negative constructions, no longer.

        It’s an adverb, and needs to associate with a verb:

I don’t want to eat transfats anymore.   [associated verb eat]
Alice doesn’t live here anymore.   [associated verb live]
Any more refers to AMOUNTS of things, ideas, or concepts:

I don’t want to eat any more of these apples.
Any more stuffing, and I’d be stuffed.
Say any more [words], and you’ll just further incriminate yourself.

And putting them together in a single sentence:

 Any more of this nonsense, and I won’t like you anymore.

Usage note:   anyone  v.  any one

Anyone is wide, general, generic, or indefinite:

Anyone with a conscience would have refused.

Has anyone ever heard of such a thing?

Any one is more specific — still unidentified by name, yet existing within a known group of possible persons:

Any one of these three could have done it.
If I hear any one of you speak, I’ll know there’s cheating going on.

And putting them together in a single sentence:

 Anyone on the planet could have done better than any one of you did.

It’s the same with anybody and any body:

      Is there anybody in the morgue?  Is there anyone in there?
      Is there any body in the morgue still needing an autopsy?

Usage note:   anytime  v.  any time

Anytime refers to an INDEFINITE or UNSPECIFIED time, whether in the past or future.
        It’s an adverb, and needs to associate with a verb.

Come over anytime.   [associated verb come]
Anytime he came over, he wanted to eat.   [associated verb came]
Are you going to stop whining anytime soon?   [associated verb whining]
Any time is a SPECIFIC, although UNSTATED time, past or future, commonly used with the preposition at.

At any time that week did you observe her leave the building?
I don’t remember if I knew that at any time before I signed this.

Usage note:   awhile  v.  a while

Awhile refers to TIME, and means a short period.
        It’s an adverb, and needs to associate with a verb.

Awhile ago you said you hadn’t seen him.   [associated verb said]
Stay awhile.

It is NEVER used with a preposition.
Split it into two words after a preposition:
for a while,   in a while,   after a while.

Stay for a while.    —YES
Stay for awhile.      — NO

She will arrive in a while.    —YES
She will arrive in awhile.      — NO

After awhile the baby slept.      — NO
After a while the baby slept.    —YES

Usage note:   everyday  v.  every day

        It’s an adjective, and needs to associate with a noun.

We use our everyday dishes when they visit.   [associated noun dishes]
Telling lies was just an everyday thing for him.   [associated noun thing]
Every day means just that: EVERY DAY, at least VERY OFTEN.

She attended Mass every day of the week.
I saw him almost every day.

And putting them together in a single sentence:

 Every day she insisted on wearing her everyday clothes.

Format tip:  Witness called in rebuttal


A witness was called on the first day of a long trial and went through the standard DIRECT, CROSS, REDIRECT, RECROSS, and even FURTHER REDIRECT.  She was then excused.  Four trial days later, she was recalled as a rebuttal witness.  What examination should I start with?


Start the exam back at square one, but this time characterized as


Then continue with simple CROSS-EXAMINATION.  If the examination continues further, it would be REDIRECT EXAMINATION IN REBUTTAL, then RECROSS-EXAMINATION.

Why isn’t this cross-examination also characterized as being “in rebuttal”?
Because, although rebuttal introduces new testimony, the cross-examination process is the same:  the cross-examining party is just doing its standard job, attacking this new information, as usual.  (And, like the proverbial rose, cross-examination is cross-examination is cross-examination.)

A note on indexing:

And you won’t need to disturb the index page format on this rebuttal trial day — just let that page number fall in the DIRECT column, as with everyone else.  But when a reader gets to that point in the transcript, it’s helpful to see this “IN REBUTTAL” refinement as a reminder that the witness had also testified earlier — not critical, of course, but nice.

Usage note:   its  v.  it’s

Some words are inherently possessive:   oursyourshershistheirs.
As they are already possessive, they do NOT take an additional apostrophe.

Thus, you should NEVER see our’s,  your’s,  her’s, or  his’.

Its is in the same class, already possessive, and needing NO apostrophe:
Each opinion had its own merit.
Every dog has its day.

How to tell when it’s, WITH the apostrophe, is correct?   Remember that it’s is a CONTRACTION for it is.   Will the phrase still make sense if you substitute it is for it’s?

These make no sense:

Each opinion had it’s (= it is) own merit.
Every dog has it’s ( = it is) day.

Here are correct uses of it’s:

It’s (= it is) never going to happen.
When it’s (= it is) cold outside, wear a coat.

Transcription Tip:

Inaudible means “cannot be heard.”

Indiscernible means “unable to be discerned,” unknown.

Unintelligible means “incomprehensible,” akin to gibberish.

When you hear something being said but cannot make out the words, what is the best entry to make in your transcript?  Before deciding, consider the related case of seeing things, rather than hearing them:

Say we know two of the three people in this photo, but not the third.  Do we say the unknown person is invisible?  No, she’s quite visible — simply not identifiable, at least for now.  (Remember that someone else may know this woman and can tell you her name.)

With that example in mind, and now returning to audio considerations, you may find that inaudible is generally incorrect — (you’re hearing it, but just can’t make it out).  And because unintelligible is a bit insulting, we recommend indiscernible as the best general choice for those spots where you absolutely cannot transcribe what is said.

But it is always wise to get a second opinion before giving up!  Even sounding out the words to a colleague over the phone may result in a helpful “Oh, yes, that’s X Y Z” identification which will solve the problem.

Use either normal parentheses or square brackets to set off this remark:  (indiscernible) or [indiscernible].

Usage note:   no one v. noone — and their brethren

Although linguistic consistency is usually good, it’s not always possible because it can create awkward-to-read constructions.  Consider the easy ones first:

nobody = no person, not a single one (or, of course, an unimportant person)

no body = without a body, incorporeal



But what about no one and no place?  Can they, likewise, be joined together into a single word?

NO, apparently because noone starts getting confused with the word noon.
As for noplace, English simply hasn’t gotten those two together yet.  [American Heritage Dictionary]

Transcription Tip:   [sic] in transcripts.

Sic is Latin for thus.  It indicates that what the reader is seeing is what was actually said.  Use it when a speaker makes an egregious error that otherwise might be viewed as merely a flaw in the transcript.  In short, [sic] is a device which protects you from a charge of inept transcription.


Q.   How old are you, and when were you born?
A.   Well, I was born in 1897 [sic], so I’m . . .

But use it SPARINGLY.  Do NOT use it just to draw attention to a speaker’s poor grammar or misuse of a word — unless, again, the error would likely be viewed as poor transcribing practice, or a typing error on your part.

Do NOT use it to mark a simple mistake in facts.  People recite incorrect “facts” all the time.  Thus, you would not need to use [sic] if someone mistakenly says the U.S. capital is New York.
BUT it may be wise to use [sic] if he says the capital is Wastington

 perhaps sardonically.  Why?  Because otherwise, readers will assume that the unorthodox spelling is yours, not the speaker’s.

Usage note:   sometime  v.  some time

Sometime refers to an INDEFINITE or UNSPECIFIED time, whether in the past or future.
        It’s an adverb, and needs to associate with a verb.

Let’s do lunch sometime.   [associated verb do]
We had lunch sometime back in April, I think.   [associated verb had]
I saw this sometime in the ’90s.   [associated verb saw]
Some time refers to a SPAN, PERIOD, or LENGTH of time, past or future, often implying a long time.

It will be quite some time before I can trust him again.
It’s been some time since I last saw her.

And putting them together:

I saw this some time ago, probably sometime back in the ’90s.

Usage note:   The “non-speaking verbs” conundrum:

A regrettable trend in American speech is under way:  the gradual displacement of our good old “speaking verbs” — saysaidremarked — with words entirely unrelated to speech— gowentlike:

So I get mad, and I go “What are you doing?” and he’s like “Nothing.”
And then he went “Don’t bother me,” and I’m like “Why not?”

              (Of course, nobody is going anywhere, and nobody is like anything.)Question:
If these are replacing “speaking verbs,” should we treat them in the same traditional way, with commas before any subsequent quoted material?  There are two schools of thought, and either is acceptable here, although NOT using a comma had advantages:

And then he goes “Duh.”
And then he goes, “Duh.”Including a comma can draw unwanted attention to the original meaning of the word — in these cases best left unemphasized to avoid confusion.
NOT using a comma does no grammatical harm, and actually “reads” more smoothly.

But take care:

Hear on tape     an then i went u dirdy rat
Very unlikely A.  And then I went.  You dirty rat!
She’s not really saying she left and went somewhere,
nor is she calling the attorney she’s speaking to “a dirty rat.”
Clearly, this is NOT to be construed as two short sentences.
Proper forms A.  And then I went “You dirty rat.”
  A.  And then I went, “You dirty rat.”

Transcription Tip:

What we’re going to do now is,
        we’re going to deal with what people do a lot,
                is start everything with “What . . .

Standard English generally reserves What as an opening word for questions — What time is it? — or emphatic declarations — What foods these morsels be!

In recent years, What has assumed the onerous (and quite unnecessary) burden of starting every sentence anyone ever says — or at least it sometimes seems that way:

What we did is, John and I drove away.
What she said was, she said it didn’t happen.
What this is, is an apple.
To use a comma or not use a comma?   Watch for the red flags:  

(1) the subject is doubled / repeated:
            What he did was,  he lied.  —  comma preferred
            What we decide is none of your business.  —  no doubling, so no comma is needed
(2) the verb is doubled / repeated:
            What this is,  is an apple.  —  comma preferred
            What he said was that she left early.  —  an awkward construction, but no comma needed
(3) both subject and verb are doubled / repeated:
            What I’m going to do now is,  I’m going to . . . —  comma preferred
Consider how NOT using commas can make reading a chore:

            What this is going to do is this is going to make it possible for you to be able to . . .  — aargh!

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