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Jeffersonian Transcription is a term used for a scheme for annotating traces; speech, performance, acts, texts, even observed enacted events which comprise vocal utterances, movement, interaction between actors, content and context.

If you are engaged in the activity of collecting, collating, and carefully annotating such documents you are led in some sense inevitably to satisfy two things;

  • 1) a demand for an efficient scheme to classify the material, and
  • 2) for a concise dictionary of notation or symbols which might be used as shorthand to encode events or happenings which are more-than-just-the-words.

The first demand could be satisfied by a suitable filing system, many abound, use one that suits your (and your group's) work style and circumstances. The second may be personal and idiosyncratic but should be described nonetheless. If you collaborate and share transcripts with others then consider adopting an accepted notation style like Jeffersonian Notation.

Gail Jefferson is accredited in the Conversation Analysis (CA) community with developing this systematic scheme for encoding transcripts. Jefferson's technique is connected with the research of Harvey Sacks with whom she worked.

The unreflective use a scheme like Jeffersonian Notation for basic transcription coding/annotation should be cautioned against. The user should be aware of its limitations, that it cannot unambiguously represent situated and embodied conversations, such a goal is bound to fail. Even the most densly annotated literal text cannot realistically be used to script the performance of conversation with its many and subtle nuances. The idea of an authentic reconstruction (perhaps in the mind of a reader) is appealing but unattainable. The original performance is past, even automatic recordings are incomplete, taken from an angle and position which both includes but also excludes something. Recordings (and transcripts even more so) are at best partial representations of a situation. the embodiment and situations of these actions; of context, how the conversation progressed, was perceived, and is remembered by the different actors present (observers and even those absent). Traces like recordings, scripts, memory, feeling, time, and place, are always attached to subject's and reader's different awareness of what goes on. Traces themselves are evidence indeed, but neither definitive or obvious; these objects and artefacts aren't autonomous though they might be spoken of and employed as their existence and use encodes knowledge and at times power.

Jeffersonian Transcript Notation

The following annotation conventions are adapted from G. Jefferson, Transcription Notation, in J. Atkinson and J. Heritage (eds), Structures of Social Interaction, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. A copy is also provided in Transana's Help:Transcript Notation section.




[ text ]


Indicates the start and end points of overlapping speech.


Equal Sign

Indicates the break and subsequent continuation of a single utterance.

(# of seconds)

Timed Pause

A number in parentheses indicates the time, in seconds, of a pause in speech.



A brief pause, usually less that 0.2 seconds.

. or down arrow

Period or Down Arrow

Indicates falling pitch or intonation.

? or up arrow

Question Mark or Up Arrow

Indicates rising pitch or intonation.



Indicates a temporary rise or fall in intonation.



Indicates an abrupt halt or interruption in utterance.


Greater than/Less than symbols

Indicates that the enclosed speech was delivered more rapidly than usual for the speaker.


Less than/Greater than symbols

Indicates that the enclosed speech was delivered more slowly than usual for the speaker.


Degree symbol

Indicates whisper, reduced volume, or quiet speech.


Capitalized text

Indicates shouted or increased volume speech.


Underlined text

Indicates the speaker is emphasizing or stressing the speech.



Indicates prolongation of a sound.


Audible exhalation

•or (.hhh)

High Dot

Audible inhalation

( text )


Speech which is unclear or in doubt in the transcript.

italic text [+]

Double Parentheses

Annotation of non-verbal activity.

Aside: Thomas Jefferson (the third president of the United States of America), bequeathed a large archive of documentary material authored by himself and others of his era (e.g. seeThomas Jefferson Digital Archive). This body of material ranges over primary documentation through to ephemera of the day and is enhanced through his habit of annotating what he thought interesting or important; underlinging, writing in the margins, between lines, facing or back pages in longhand.

Compare Thomas Jefferson's habit of marking the documents he read, and the systematic annotation system developed by Gail Jefferson when transcribing Harvey Sacks' interviews.