How do I transcribe interviews?
Audio-visually recorded interviews are often transcribed manually. However, where audio recordings are of good quality with minimal background noise, it may also be possible to use automatic speech recognition (ASR) software to do an intial transcription, which is then further edited to ensure correct turn-taking, assign speaker tags, and checked for accuracy.
A standard transcription structure is recommended if transcripts are to be archived, or if Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis (CAQDAS) software is to be used to analyse the data.
Format for transcription
Various software packages designed to automatically transcribe text from an audio source are available. These softwares can require significant training and calibration to be able to recognise a particular voice, accent and dialect.
They can be useful if interviews are similar and avoid any peculiar jargon. It is best to use them with caution and always ensure checking of the whole text.
It is essential to establish data security procedures for the transcriber to follow when handling the data; a non-disclosure agreement can be drawn up with transcribers and files can be encrypted before transfer.
Transcription methods depend very much upon your theoretical and methodological approach and can vary between disciplines. A thematic sociological research project usually requires a denaturalised approach, i.e. most like written language (Bucholtz, 2000) because the focus is on the content of what was said and the themes that emerge from that.
A project using conversation analysis would use a naturalised approach, i.e. most like speech, whereby a transcriber seeks to capture all the sounds they hear and use a range of symbols to represent particular features of speech in addition to the spoken words; for example representing the length of pauses, laughter, overlapping speech, turn-taking or intonation.
A psycho-social method transcript may include detailed notes on emotional reactions, physical orientation, body language, use of space, as well as psycho-dynamics in the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee.
Some transcribers may try to make a transcript look correct in grammar and punctuation, considerably changing the sense of flow and dynamics of the spoken interaction. Transcription should capture the essence of the spoken word, but need not go as far as the naturalised approach.
Reference: Bucholtz, M. (2000) The Politics of Transcription. Journal of Pragmatics 32: 1439-1465.
Must I transcribe interviews if I want to archive them?
It is recommended that transcriptions of interviews are made. Full transcriptions significantly extend the potential for analysis and re-use of a research collection, both by the original researchers and by secondary users. Transcription should be seen as a step within the analytical process of research, rather than as a mechanical conversion of data.
If interviews are not transcribed, then recorded interviews could be archived alongside summaries, but it may be difficult or time consuming to effectively anonymise the audio files. See guidance on transcription.