Transcription Issues

I’ve recently started collecting data for my research. I’m using in depth interviews to develop case studies, which means lots of qualitative data. After initially being resistant and clinging to a stats book, I’ve grown to love qualitative methods. The depth of information and the more contextual approach really appeals to me and being able to look at why things happen instead of just what is happening is great. The only thing I dislike about qualitative methods is transcription. I know it isn’t necessary for all qualitative methods, but I do find it helps with getting to know the data (especially if you’re waiting for themes to “emerge”). But it is a boring and longwinded process. Especially if you are not a trained typist.

It can also be confusing to know what method of notation to use, as different forms of analysis look at different aspects of the language or speech. Some methods are highly prescriptive with specific notation and symbols for rising and falling intonation, stresses within words and the length of pauses to tenth of a second. Others are more relaxed, and simply ask for a verbatim transcript. It often depends on what you want to find out from the interview or discussion. The paying attention to intonation can highlight a person’s emotional state relation to particular topics of discussion, pauses and hesitation may show an unwillingness or hesitancy to discuss a specific issue. All of which are interesting to us as researchers. But it is a pain to transcribe them. Timing a pause to within a tenth of a second is flipping awkward, I’ll tell you that for nothing.

I’ve tried a few of the different programs to help with transcription and didn’t get on with a lot of them as they didn’t really do what I wanted. If you’re looking at things to help with transcription, don’t bother with the “Dragon Naturally Speaking” program it doesn’t really work for transcribing as you have to calibrate it to recognise one voice. I have found Express Scribe useful. It’s essentially an audio player but allows you to use keyboard commands to stop, play, rewind by five seconds and so on. So I have the number keypad set up with those and it makes the transcription a bit easier. I’m still not looking forward to transcribing the 30 or so interviews I’m hoping to carry out over the next few months though.

What tips do you have for transcription? Aside from finding a program that works for you my main advice would be to make sure there is ice cream in the freezer for when you give up for the day. It can be a pretty mind-numbing task and I usually end up with a tub of ice-cream and a comedy box-set afterwards.


About Jess Urwin

Lecturer in social work at De Montfort University, youth justice researcher, musician, crafter, constant reader.
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