Transcription symbols are text markers used to provide additional information about a written transcript of proceedings or recorded materials. Several different systems are in use around the world. Transcriptionists typically pick a single system and use it consistently, although if they handle radically different kinds of materials for clients, they may need to learn multiple systems. These symbols utilize common punctuation in a variety of ways to provide context in transcribed text.
In a straight transcript, the document should identify the speakers and what they said. It is common to number lines to make them easier to refer to. Transcription symbols add information about pauses, overlapping speech, and vocalizations that aren’t words. Sounds like sniffs, sighs, and laughs can be noted in the documentation with standardized symbols to make them readily understandable. It can take time to learn to use and read these symbols.
Lines of text can include transcription symbols to note that someone was speaking loudly or softly, and where the stress was placed on different words. Actions may be described in parentheses or italics, like (sniffs) or sniffs. Pauses can also be recorded with dots (.....) or parentheses noting the timing of the pause, like (2.3) to indicate a pause of 2.3 seconds. Overlapping speech is commonly recorded with brackets  and the = sign can be used to indicate that someone was cut off, differentiating from a word that trailed off unfinished, which is often recorded as wo-, with a dash.
Not all transcripts require such detailed markups. They can be particularly useful in the preparation of transcripts from therapy sessions and patient intake interviews. A psychiatrist might want to take special note of physical activities and speech habits in sessions because they could provide important clues to treatment. A soft voice, for instance, might indicate a reluctance to discuss a particular topic, while loud speech might happen when clients get upset or agitated. Transcription symbols record events in detail even after memory fades.
The use of transcription symbols can also be useful in court proceedings. Court transcriptionists are commonly trained to reproduce everything they hear faithfully and with extreme detail. If questions arise about a trial, it can be important to know exactly what happened and how. For example, if a witness was cut off while speaking by an attorney, this might mean that the jury didn’t hear a key piece of information. Likewise, verbal ticks might indicate that a witness was not speaking truthfully, and this would be important to have on the record if a witness is challenged later.