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Oral History @ VT: Style

This guide brings together resources relating to conducting and transcribing oral histories, and includes the best practices for collecting oral histories and donating them to Virginia Tech.

Quick Reference

  • [Virginia] Tech ✔
    Tech ✖
    (When a speaker refers to Virginia Tech as "Tech," always add Virginia in square brackets)

  • okay ✔
    OK ✖
    O.K. ✖

  • a lot ✔
    alot ✖

  • et cetera ✔
    etc. ✖

  • yeah ✔
    ya ✖
    yea ✖

  • World War II ✔
    WWII ✖
    World War Two ✖

  • for a while ✔
    for awhile ✖

  • awhile ago ✔
    a while ago ✖

  • all right ✔
    alright ✖

  • until ✔
    til ✔

    'til ✖

  • nowadays ✔
    now-a-days ✖

  • apiece ✔
    a piece ✖

  • inasmuch as ✔
    in as much as ✖

  • insofar as ✔
    in so far as ✖

  • website ✔
    web site ✖

  • all together: The children were all together again for Molly’s birthday.
    altogether (wholly, entirely, completely): That is altogether unfair.

  • here (location): I like it here.
    hear (refers to listening): I can’t hear what they said on the tape.

  • every day: I eat lunch every day.
    everyday (common): I think I’ll use my everyday dishes for the dinner party.

  • its (possessive): The cat was chasing its tail.
    it’s (contraction of it is): It’s cold outside.

  • onto (upon, on): Paste the label onto the top.
    on to: Let’s go on to Dallas since we’ve come this far already.

  • they’re (contraction of "they are"): They’re going to play rugby in the fall.
    there (indicates location): Could you sit over there, please?
    their (possessive): The children took off their coats.

  • to: Are you going to school today?
    too (also): Did you graduate from Virginia Tech, too? (Note the comma.)

  • who’s (contraction of "who is" or "who has"): Who’s that girl sitting over there?
    ​whose (pronoun, possessive of who or which): Whose umbrella is that?

  • whenever (at whatever time, at any time when): Visit us whenever you like.

  • whichever: Do whichever is easiest. Whichever task you do, do it well.


In general, all stylistic choices for how to type something should follow the guides and guidelines provided by the University Brand Center. These Brand Center resources stipulate when to capitalize department names, employee job titles, how to abbreviate academic degrees, and other specifications for common terms related to Virginia Tech. Beyond this, the following guidelines also apply to oral history transcription:


  • In general, avoid abbreviation in oral history transcripts. There are some common abbreviations that should be used, however.
    • Do abbreviate
      • Honorifics when they precede a given name and/or initial(s) plus surname
        • Examples
          • Ms. Judy Jefferson
          • Rev. S. J. Milton
      • Jr. or Sr. after a given name and/or initial(s) plus surname (note: a comma is no longer required around Jr. and Sr.)
        • Examples
          • John H. Smith Jr.
          • I. M. Fletcher Sr.
      • NE, NW, SE, SW in addresses given in text (note: no periods)
        • Example
          • 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500
      • Points of the compass
        • Examples
          • N, E, W, S, NNW, WSW, et cetera.
      • Era designations
        • Examples
          • AD 70
          • 753 BCE
      • Time designations
        • Examples
          • a.m.
          • p.m.
      • Agencies and various types of organizations that are referred to by acronyms or that use an abbreviation from the organization's initials
        • Examples
          • NATO
          • UN
          • SEC
          • AFL-CIO
    • Do NOT abbreviate
      • A civil or military title unless appearing immediately before a person's full name
        • Governor Northam ✔
          Gov. Northam ✖
        • Gov. Ralph Northam ✔
          Governor Ralph Northam ✖
      • Names of countries, territories, provinces, states, or counties
        • United States of America ✔
          U. S. A. ✖
      • Doctor when used without an accompanying name
        • Dr. Smith said ✔
          The dr. said ✖
      • Senator, Judge, Bishop, General, Professor, or any other political, academic, civic, judicial, religious, or military title when it is used alone or when it precedes a surname alone
        • Professor Jones ✔
          Prof. Jones ✖
      • Terms of dimension, measurement, weight, degree, depth, et cetera
        • inch(es) ✔
          in. ✖
        • foot/feet ✔
          ft. ✖
        • mile(s) ✔
          mi. ✖
      • Parts of a book
        • Chapter 3 ✔
          Chap. 3 ✖
        • Section A ✔
          Sec. A ✖
        • Table 7 ✔
          Tab. 7 ✖
      • Word elements of addresses (except NW, NE, SE, and SW)
        • Avenue ✔
          Ave ✖
        • North ✔
          N ✖
        • South ✔
          S ✖
      • Portions of company names, unless the actual company name uses an abbreviation
        • Company ✔
          Co. ✖
        • Corporation ✔
          Corp. ✖
        • Incorporated ✔
          Inc. ✖
        • Limited ✔
          Ltd. ✖
      • Senior or Junior when following partial names
        • Mr. Miller, Junior ✔
          Mr. Miller Jr. ✖
      • The Reverend or the Honorable, when it is part of the title preceding the name
        • The Honorable John Doe, Mayor of Realtown ✔
          The Hon. John Doe ✖
      • Books of the Bible
        • Leviticus 19:18 ✔
          Lev. 19:18 ✖
      • Names of the months and days
        • I spent the whole of January shoveling snow. ✔
          I spent the whole of Jan. shoveling snow.   ✖
        • I took science classes on Wednesday because of the early lab times. ✔
          I took science classes on Wed. because of the early lab times. ✖


  • As a rule of thumb, when in doubt, do not capitalize.
  • Check the Chicago Manual of Style or the dictionary for capitalization guidance as necessary.
  • Refer to the University Brand Center for specific capitalization guidance regarding university-related topics.
  • Partial names of institutions, organizations, or places are usually written in lower case.
  • Do capitalize:
    • Names of particular persons, places, organizations, historical time periods, historical events, Biblical events and concepts, movements, calendar terms referring to specific days, and months
      • John Smith ✔
        john smith ✖
      • Blacksburg ✔
        blacksburg ✖
      • the American Civil War ✔
        the american civil war ✖
    • Titles of creative works
      • Gone with the Wind ✔
        gone with the wind ✖
    • References to athletic, national, political, regional, religious, and social groups
      • Virginia Tech Hokies ✔
        Virginia Tech hokies ✖
      • Congress ✔
        congress ✖
      • Daughters of the American Revolution ✔
        daughters of the american revolution ✖


  • Generally, commas should be used as they would be used in standard English grammar.
    • No, sir. ✔
      No sir. ✖
    • Oh, no! ✔
      Oh no! ✖
    • Well, I'm from California originally. ✔
      Well I'm from California originally. ✖
    • I mean, what are you gonna do about it? ✔
      I mean what are you gonna do about it? ✖
  • Direct address of a person is set off by commas
    • Pam, I know you will enjoy this. ✔
      Pam I know you will enjoy this. ✖


  • Always use numerals for years, even at the beginning of a sentence. Write full dates as in the MMMM DD, YYYY format.
    • January 10, 2020 ✔
      January tenth ✖

      1/10/20 ✖
      Two thousand and twenty ✖
  • If the speaker omits the century and just says the decade, write out the full year with the omitted numbers in brackets.
    • [19]67 ✔
      '67 ✖
    • the [19]50s ✔
      the fifties ✖​
  • Do not use an apostrophe when adding an "s" to a year.
    • the [19]50s ✔
      the [19]50's ✖
  • ​​Use numerals for days when they include the month and the year.
    • August 5, 1987 ✔
      August the fifth, nineteen eighty-seven ✖
  • Spell out the words for the day when the year is not expressed and the speaker uses the ordinal number.
    • My birthday is August fifth. ✔
      My birthday is August 5th. ✖
    • My birthday is August the fifth. ✔
      My birthday is August the 5th. ✖
  • Spell out the word for the day when the day precedes the month.
    • Example
      • the fifth of August ✔
        the 5th of August ✖

Ellipsis (…)

  • Use the ellipsis when someone trails off leading to a pause.
    • Example
      • D:      That was a long time ago, but…
        J:       Go on. What were you going to say?
        D:       I can't really remember that well because it was so long ago.
    • On Windows, enter an ellipsis by holding the ALT key and typing 0133 on the number keypad.
    • On Mac, enter an ellipses by opening the Symbol menu and locating the ellipsis.

False Starts and Repeated Phrases

  • These are judgment calls.
  • Only include a false start if it adds something to the content of the interview. 
    • D:      We were headed north for the skiing. ✔
      D:      We went—were headed north for the skiing. ✖
  • Only include a repeated phrase if it adds something to the content of the interview.
    • D:      I originally attended community college because it was less expensive. ✔
      D:      I originally attended community college. I originally attended community college because it was less expensive. ✖

Feedback Words and Sounds

  • Spelling common feedback and crutch words
    • uh
    • uh-huh (agreement)
    • um-hm (agreement)
    • unh-uh (disagreement)
  • Many interruptions in the flow of a speaker's remarks with feedback (such as "um-hm" and "yeah") are unnecessary. Include them only when they answer a direct question.
    • D:      That was the craziest thing I've ever heard. Don't you think so?
      J:       Uh-huh. ✔
      (The "uh-huh" response is necessary, as it directly answers a question)

      D:      That was the craziest thing I've ever heard.
      J:       Uh-huh. ✖
      (The "uh-huh" response is unnecessary, as it is not in response to a question)​​

Filler words

  • ​These are judgment calls.
  • If a speaker constantly uses filler words like "you know," or "uh," in speech, these should be omitted.
    • Sometimes, a dialect may incorporate such words as part of sentences, so try to pay attention to when they are filler and when they are part of a style of speech.
    • D:      I never thought about it that way, but I can see how some people might do that. ✔
      D:      I never thought about it that way, but, you know, I can see how some people might do that. ✖


  • Check the Chicago Manual of Style or the dictionary for hyphen guidance as necessary.
  • Hyphenate to indicate division or separation in the following:
    • Spelling out a name or words; capitalize only where appropriate
      • His name is Horace, spelled H-o-r-a-c-e… ✔
        His name is Horace, spelled h o r a c e… ✖
    • A fraction expressed in words
      • one-fifth ✔
        one fifth ✖
  • Hyphenate to indicate combination as follows:
    • Nouns made up of two or more nouns which imply the combination of two or more linked things or characteristics
      • singer-songwriter ✔
        singer songwriter ✖
      • AFL-CIO ✔
        AFL CIO ✖
    • When two essential adjectives describe a noun
      • He is a small-business owner. ✔
        (He is the owner of a small business, thus "small-business" describes the owner.)
        He is a small business owner. ✖
        (Is he the owner of a small business or a small owner of a business?)
    • ​Modifiers and adjectival compounds when used before the noun being modified, including those formed with numbers
      • a one-of-a-kind student ✔
        a one of a kind student ✖
      • a 56-year-old woman ✔
        a 56 year old woman ✖
  • Do NOT hyphenate:
    • A compound modifier that follows the noun it modifies, unless hyphenated in the dictionary.
      • Her argument was well balanced. ✔
        Her argument was well-balanced. ✖
      • She was good-natured. ✔
        She was good natured. ✖
    • Chemical terms
      • sodium nitrate ✔
        sodium-nitrate ✖
    • A compound modifier that includes an adverb ending in -ly
      • wholly fictitious ✔
        whole-ly fictitious ✖
    • Contractions
    • A proper noun except when absolutely unavoidable

Improper Grammar

  • Never correct a speaker's grammar. Transcribe the words as they were said.
    • Examples
      • I kinda think…
      • I was gonna get down there…
      • I kinda wanna…
      • I ain't never been…

Inaudible Sections

  • If you cannot guess at the inaudible word, note the segment as inaudible by entering "inaudible" and the audio timestamp in bolded brackets.
    • Example
      • J:      So when would you guys head down for a game on a typical Friday night?
        D:     Oh, I don't know. We'd wait until [inaudible 10:30] to head on down.
  • If you can guess, note that what you've entered is a guess by entering it in bold font followed by the audio timestamp in bolded brackets.
    • Example
      • J:      So when would you guys head down for a game on a typical Friday night?
        D:     Oh, I don't know. We'd wait until seven o'clock [10:30] to head on down.


  • Italics should be used sparingly, and typically only to refer to a title of a work.
  • Do italicize:
    • Newspaper names and the city names that accompany them
      • Do not italicize any articles preceding the newspaper name, unless the article is part of the newspaper name.
      • New York Times ✔
        New York Times ✖
      • the Collegiate Times ✔
        the Collegiate Times ✖
      • The Roanoke Times ✔
        the Roanoke Times ✖
    • Titles of whole published works, books, periodicals, pamphlets, long poems, motion pictures/movies/films, operas, musical comedies, oratorios, ballets, tone poems, concertos, sonatas, symphonies, suites, paintings, sculptures, drawings, mobiles, legal cases (include v. for versus when appropriate), and events
      • Have you ever read Plain Speaking? ✔
        Have you ever read Plain Speaking? ✖
      • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ✔
        Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas ✖
    • Names of spacecraft, aircraft, and ships, except for abbreviations preceding the names, such as designations of class or manufacture, as follows:
      • USS Lexington ✔
        USS Lexington ✖
    • ​​A foreign word or phrase when followed by a translation; enclose translation in quotation marks and precede translation by a comma
      • Example
        • J’ai mal à la tête, "I have a headache."

Long Dash (—) / "Em Dash"

  • Use a long dash before and after someone interrupts themselves.
    • Example
      • D:      That was back in July—no, wait, it was August—of 1960.
    • On Windows, enter a long dash by holding the ALT key and typing 0151 on the number keypad.
    • On Mac, enter a long dash by opening the Symbol menu and locating the "em dash."


  • In general, spell out whole numbers, whether cardinal or ordinal, from one to ninety-nine, and any of those numbers followed by hundred, thousand, hundred thousand, million, and so on, hyphenated or not.
    • Note: when there are several numbers in a sentence or a group of numbers includes numbers over one hundred, use numerals for brevity and consistency.
    • sixty-nine ✔
      69 ✖
    • seventy-fifth ✔
      75th ✖
    • twenty-two hundred ✔
      2200 ✖
    • 2,367 ✔
      two thousand, three hundred, and sixty-seven ✖
  • Do NOT spell out:
    • Street address numbers and highway numbers
      • 10 Downing Street ✔
        Ten Downing Street ✖
      • I took 295 ✔
        I took two-ninety-five ✖
    • Telephone numbers
    • Fractional sums of money above one dollar
      • $2.98 ✔
        2.98 dollars ✖
    • Dates
      • 1990s ✔
        nineteen-nineties ✖
      • February 24, 1997 ✔
        February twenty-fourth, nineteen ninety-seven ✖
      • July 1997 (note: no comma) ✔
        July nineteen ninety-seven ✖
    • Time of day
      • Use numerals with a.m. or p.m. or when typing a whole plus a fraction of an hour
        • 8:20 p.m. ✔
          eight twenty p.m. ✖
        • eight o'clock ✔
          8:00 ✖
        • 7:30 ✔
          seven thirty ✖
        • seven in the morning ✔
          7 in the morning ✖
    • Number elements in names of government bodies and subdivisions of 100th and higher, all union locals and lodges
      • Thirty-sixth Infantry ✔
        36th Infantry ✖
      • 139th Tactical Wing ✔
        One hundred thirty-ninth Tactical Wing ✖
    • Parts of a book, such as chapter numbers, verse numbers
      • Chapter 3 ✔
        Chapter three ✖
    • For consistency, any sentence which contains numerals pertaining to the same category should have all numerals.
      • The report stated that 7 out of 265 students voted in the campus elections. ✔
        The report stated that seven out of 265 students voted in the campus elections. ✖
      • The sentence begins with a number
        • Seven out of 265 students voted. ✔
          7 out of 265 students voted. ✖
      • Numbers representing different categories
        • In the past ten years, five new buildings of over 125 stories have been erected in the city. ✔
          In the past 10 years, 5 new buildings of over 125 stories have been erected in the city. ✖
  • Plurals of numbers
    • Numerals form plurals by adding "s" alone, with no apostrophe.
      • 1920s ✔
        1920's ✖
    • Capital letters of the alphabet are pluralized by adding "s" without an apostrophe (unless the apostrophe is needed to avoid confusion).
      • Zs ✔
        Z's ✖
    • Lowercase letters are pluralized by adding "s" with an apostrophe.
      • p's and q's ✔
        ps and qs ✖
    • Acronym abbreviations are pluralized by adding "s" without an apostrophe.
      • GREs ✔
        GRE's ✖
    • When periods are used, add an apostrophe.
      • B. K.'s ✔
        B.K.s ✖
    • Proper nouns
      • Add "s" to the singular if the addition does not make an extra syllable.
        • six Captain Steves ✔
          six Captain Steve's ✖
      • Add "es" to the singular form if the addition creates an extra syllable.
        • six King Charleses ✔
          ​six King Charles's ✖
    • Nouns, including names of persons, that end in "s" are pluralized with the addition of "es."
      • Note: Apostrophes are never used to denote the plural of a personal name.
      • The three Loises are friends with the three Marys. ✔
        The three Lois's are friends with the three Mary's. ✖

Quotation Marks

  • Generally speaking, do not use quotation marks. They can be distracting and confusing when used for too many purposes.
  • Only use quotation marks for speech that can be verified, such as presidential speeches, famous speeches, or quotes, and direct quotes from books or publications.
  • If the speech is NOT verifiable, then do not use quotation marks, even when a direct expression is used by one of the speakers. Instead of using quotes, set the expression apart with commas.
    • He said, you're fired, and I said, we'll see about that. ✔
      He said, "you're fired," and I said, "we'll see about that." ✖

      (This speech is not verifiable, and thus should be set apart with commas)
    • Martin Luther King Jr. once proclaimed, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up…" ✔
      Martin Luther King Jr. one proclaimed, I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up… ✖
      (This speech is verifiable, and thus should be set apart with quotation marks)
  • Use quotation marks for the names of articles, essays, radio programs, television shows, book chapter titles, et cetera.
    • Have you seen the article "Sharks" in National Geographic? ✔
      Have you seen the article Sharks in National Geographic? ✖
    • The television show, "Dr. Who," ran for several seasons. ✔
      The television show, Dr. Who, ran for several seasons. ✖
  • Narrators occasionally coin words, either humorously or to convey a meaning for which they cannot find an existing word. If you cannot find a word in any dictionary but can hear it clearly and can devise a reasonable spelling for it, transcribe it and place quotation marks the first time it occurs. Do NOT use quotation marks for every occurrence of the coined word, however, as it makes for tedious reading.
    • Example
      • D:      Oh, he was a great attorney. I constantly asked him to "lawyer" me out of trouble.
        (later in the transcript)
        D:      He lawyered me out of that one, too!

Scholastic Grades

  • Type letter grades in capital letters with no period following, no italics, and no quotations marks.
    • I got an A on my exam. ✔
      I got an "A" on my exam. ✖
      I got an A on my exam. ✖
  • Show number grades in Arabic numerals with no quotations marks.
    • I got a 96 on my exam. ✔
      I got a ninety-six on my exam. ✖
      I got a "96" on my exam. ✖
  • Plural should be formed only by adding "s" with no apostrophe, except where confusion with another word is possible.
    • I got all As on my exams. ✔
      I got all A's on my exams. ✖

Short Dash (-)

  • Use a short dash when someone else interrupts a speaker.
    • Example
      • D:      We wouldn't see them until-
        J:       You didn't see them?!


  • Use the spell-checking function of your word processor software, but do not rely on it to catch every error. Proofread using a dictionary and search the internet to verify proper spelling.

Transcriber Notes

  • Whenever you add something to the transcript, signify that it is your addition by placing it in square brackets.
    • Examples
      • [End of interview]
      • [Break in recording]
      • [Laughter]
      • [Crying]
      • [Telephone rings]
      • [A cat jumps onto the narrator's lap, causing them to laugh]