6 Things to Consider When Transcribing Research Interviews

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Interviews are one of the most research important tools for collecting qualitative data. However, in their raw form, audio and video interviews are more difficult to analyze and share. Transcribing interviews into writing makes the information easier to work with. But what’s the best way to go about it? Here are six things to consider when transcribing research interviews.

Time Spent Vs. Cost Efficiency

The first thing to consider is time. If you choose to handle the transcription yourself, there’s a significant time investment involved. Expect to spend 3 hours or more for each hour of audio content you need to transcribe.

Some researchers feel that the time spent transcribing is worth it, that it gives them a greater insight into their data. Others feel their time would be better spent on other tasks.  In that case, outsourcing to a professional or to an app makes more sense.

The bottom line is this: Transcription is a skill. Sometimes, it’s simply more efficient to delegate time-consuming or difficult tasks to skilled professionals.

Accuracy and Avoiding Transcription Errors When Transcribing Research Interviews

You’re no doubt familiar with the saying, “Garbage in, garbage out.” If your interview data isn’t recorded accurately, your conclusions may not be accurate either.

So, obviously, accuracy is important. But when it comes to research interviews, what does “accuracy” mean? Does it mean including every hem and haw, every “ummm”, every grammatical error? Or is it better to “clean up” the transcription, removing vocal tics and extra words?

How much information is too much?

Fully verbatim transcriptions preserve vital information about the interview. But, if extraverbal noises aren’t handled correctly they can give an inaccurate impression of your research subjects. For example, in research interviews with HIV+ men, described here, one interview transcript showed the interview being interrupted by the participant repeatedly sniffing.  This gave some researchers the wrong impression of the participant:

 For example, in our work with HIV-positive men, the research team read a transcript where the participant’s statement was continually interrupted by his sniffling, indicated in the transcript by ((sniff)). When the team met to discuss this transcript, the sniffling became confusing and the subject of some debate. Some thought the participant was crying during the interview, whereas others made assumptions about drug use. The confusion was settled when the interviewer explained that the participant was sick and his nose was running.

The trick is to include the right amount of information to accomplish your project goals without creating unnecessary confusion.

Ultimately, the answer depends on your research goals and on the relevant academic guidelines. Learn more about your options here. But regardless, your transcription must accurately represent the interview.

That brings us to the downside of using automated transcription apps to save time: accuracy suffers. Professional transcribers boast a 99.9% accuracy rate. With an app, expect more like 60-80% accuracy. Accents and heavy use of dialect can throw this off even more.

Language and Translation

Sometimes, the interview needs to be transcribed in a different language from the original. In this case, the best practice is to first transcribe into the source language and then translate the resulting output into the target language. This allows for easy comparisons between the original interview text and the translation. Transcribing directly into the target language can save you money, however.

Like transcription, translation is a skill that takes time and training to develop. And just as with transcription, machines can help, but only to a certain extent.

To maintain quality across languages, your safest bet is to use a professional multilingual transcription service.

Culture and Context

Research interviews are designed to capture the individual views or thought processes of interviewees. That sounds simple enough. However, when the interview needs to be translated to another language, valuable cultural context can be lost, leading to misunderstandings. For example, if an open-ended question is asked, it may be understood differently depending on cultural expectations.

Using transcription services that use human transcriptionists and/or translators to translate the interview can help you preserve all of this important information.

Transcription Metadata and Formatting

No matter what method you choose to transcribe your interviews, it’s important to be consistent about what metadata you include and how you format the resulting transcript. Examples of metadata include:

  • The participants’ names or ID numbers.
  • Interviewer name.
  •  Date, location and time of the recording.

Being clear and consistent about this from the beginning will save you time in the long run.

Privacy and Security When Transcribing Research Interviews

Research often involves sensitive topics, such as medical histories. And interviews may include personal information that could identify participants. When this is the case, ensuring confidentiality is a must, for both ethical reasons and legal reasons.

Transcriptionists and transcription services can help with this. Completed transcripts can remove or obscure certain words, phrases, names, places etc., helping you protect the identity of your participants while still preserving all important information from the interview. Reputable transcription services should have specific technology and guidelines in place to protect your data and the confidentiality of your participants—and they’ll follow them without question.

Choosing an Academic Transcription Service to Transcribe Your Research

Selecting the right transcription partner can make or break your research. As transcription can be a laborious process, it’s important to choose the best transcription service that fits your budget and needs.

At K International, we have over 30 years of experience offering academic transcription services for professors, lecturers, students and researchers.  We can handle recordings in any medium and in any digital format. Our services are are secure, so you can ensure that sensitive research data remains confidential. And should you need multilingual transcription, our expert linguists have you covered in over 250 languages.

If you have a research or other academic project that would benefit from expert transcription services, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us to see how our team can keep your projects on track and on deadline.