Punctuation in Transcription

Punctuation is vital to any document because a simple punctuation mark can say so much and can change so much.  My favourite example of how a sentence can be changed is as follows (source unknown):

An English professor asked his students to punctuate the following:

A woman without her man is nothing

All the males in the class wrote:

A woman, without her man, is nothing.

All the females in the class wrote:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

It is important to remember that, although you may know what you’re saying, an outsider does not have the same insight as you.  Because of this lack of insight, it is important to be clear in your writing.

Humorous Examples (sources unknown):

She finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dogs.

This sentence is very disturbing because of lack of punctuation.  Three commas will, however, change the meaning of the sentence from disturbing to heartwarming.  She finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dogs.

Unable to eat diarrhoea.  

I would certainly be happy knowing I was unable to eat diarrhoea.  As this is an obvious fact for almost all of us, this is obviously incorrectly reflected on the medical records.  Therefore, a semi-colon or a comma in this brief note would make a big difference.  Unable to eat; diarrhoea.

Employees must “wash hands”.

Employees must therefore pretend to wash their hands.  Employees must wash hands.  It’s that simple.

We remember all who have served hot breakfast.  

Remember the kitchen staff?  Because this has been taken from an American hotel sign, I don’t think this is the message they wish to portray.  We remember all who have served.  A wonderful sentiment.  Hot breakfast.  Because this hotel serves a hot breakfast.

Most of the time travellers worry about their luggage.  

In a science fiction novel, this statement would probably make a lot of sense, depending on the story of course.  However, in the real world, clarification should be given.  Most of the time, travellers worry about their luggage.

Let’s eat grandma.  

If you’re a cannibal, this statement could be true.  Under any other circumstance, we’re back to psychotic tendencies.  Use punctuation and save a life.  Let’s eat, grandma.

No trespassing violators will be prosecuted.  

This is good news for trespassing violators.  No trespassing.  Violators will be prosecuted.

Hunters please use caution when hunting pedestrians using walk trails.  

I hope the pedestrians also have a warning, just to make things fair.  Hunters, please use caution when hunting.  Pedestrians using walk trails.

I want to thank my parents, Tiffany and God.  

This sentence is obviously fine if my parents’ names were Tiffany and God.  The Oxford comma is a little-used punctuation mark that can make such a difference.  I want to thank my parents, Tiffany, and God.  I am therefore thanking three separate entities.

I’m sorry I love you.  

A sentence that can make or break a relationship.  I’m sorry; I love you.

Man eating chicken or man-eating chicken?  

I’m not afraid of the man eating the chicken but I would run from a man-eating chicken.  Hyphenation also makes a difference.

Another great example:

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about.  You are generous, kind, thoughtful.  People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me for other men.  I yearn for you.  I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart.  I can be forever happy.  Will you let me be yours?


What a lovely letter to a man Gloria clearly loves.

Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is.  All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you.  Admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me.  For other men, I yearn.  For you, I have no feelings whatsoever.  When we’re apart, I can be forever happy.  Will you let me be?

Yours, Gloria

Oh, dear.  Poor John.

Which letter do you think John would prefer to receive?

In transcription, incorrect punctuation can completely change the meaning of what has been said.  Such a change could compromise the integrity of your data.  Although you may know what was said and understand the context, anyone reading the transcript may misconstrue the meaning of what was said.  This can have dire consequences, depending on the nature of the transcript.  Remember, the person reading the transcript most likely has not listened to the audio.  What is put on paper should therefore reflect what is said on the audio.  Once again, I emphasise the importance of punctuation.

For this reason, it is vital that you select a transcription company who understands the complexities of the English language and who can translate the spoken words, meaning and all, to a typed document.  In that way, you will be able to “hear” what the speaker has said.  You will also understand the context.

Punctuation in documents

The same is also true for punctuation in documents.  When writing anything, you should ensure that your written word reflects what you wish to portray to the reader.

Always read what you have written and take into consideration the relevant pauses associated with various punctuation marks.  For example, a short pause for a comma and a long pause for a full stop.  This will almost certainly help you understand how others will understand what you have written.  Likewise, give it to someone else to read, either quietly or out loud to you.


To ensure you get the best out of your transcripts and written documents, contact us for a quotation for transcription, typing, and proofreading and editing.