As any researcher or journalist knows, it is necessary to conduct interviews in order to get fresh or hard-to-find information.  However, to fully leverage the data that has been collected, a transcription of the audio-to-text is essential.

Simply put, transcription allows for an easier analysis of qualitative information.  

Why?

Because it is quicker to scan the written word instead of listening to hours of audio recordings.  Also, with the interviews printed out on paper, you can quickly shuffle pages to find story connections. You can’t do that with audio.

However, realising we have to transcribe interviews is one thing, but knowing the best way to transcribe an interview is quite another.

Let’s dive into these all important steps you should consider:

Step 1: Choose a Transcription Method

Once you have completed the interview, there are three main ways to get that audio to text: manually transcribe it yourself, use an automated transcription service provider - like Happy Scribe - or outsource someone else to do it (think Upwork).

There are lots of criteria to consider when choosing a transcription method. Ultimately, the option that will work best for you will depend on the complexity of your audio file, required accuracy, available turnaround time, budget, and level of confidentiality needed.

If you want an economical and fairly accurate transcription quickly, then an online automated transcription service provider like Happy Scribe is the way to go.

If you want a hands-on approach - and have tons of time on your hands - then the DIY transcription method is still an option.

The choice is yours!

Step 2: Edit and Format Your Transcription

No transcription method, even if you do it yourself, is 100% accurate.  Therefore after you get your transcription back or once it is completed you will need to check the transcription and correct mistakes where necessary.

How you edit the interview is somewhat a matter of personal style, but there are some important considerations and guidelines to follow.

First, you should determine what mode you want your transcription to be in.  The two dominant modes are naturalism, a very verbatim transcription where every utterance is transcribed in detail, and denaturalism, in which stutters, verbal tics (i.e. ‘like’, ‘uh’), and involuntary vocalisations (i.e crying or laughter) are removed.

As part of editing, you may also want to consider if the timing of when certain phrases are said are important.  If the the transcript is to be used for analysis or later turned into subtitles, then having timestamps inserted might come in handy.

Finally, consider the final formatting of your document. Reviewing a style guide for transcribing and editing oral histories will help determine how to deal with specific formatting questions particular to transcription (like what is the standard format for entering names).

Alongside this, you should also consider your document margins and line spacing. Wider margins and double spacing will be helpful as you make notes and start to code the material and make connections with other interviews. Having plenty of space to make comments about the information you’ve just gleaned is essential.

Step 3: Request an Interviewee Review

In this step, you go back to the interviewee and ask them to review and see if the transcription is an accurate recording of what they said or rather what they meant to say.

This one is a double-edged sword. On the one-hand you want to make sure that your transcriptions are accurate, yet on-the-other-hand there is a possibility that they might disagree.

They trouble is, in the moment of an interview, an individual might become so relaxed that they reveal information that they had wholly intended to keep to themselves.  This is also the exact material that you are trying to get. They may then want statements erased, and usually have a right to do that, which might leave you a bit stuck.

In this instance, you can remind the interviewee that their role is to check the accuracy of the transcription (i.e. to fill in any inaudible parts of the recording or to define an acronym used), not to rework the text by changing word choices or word order.

Step 4: Anonymise Your Transcript

If you plan to publish your research, it is common practice to anonymise your transcript so that the names of people and all the contextual names relating to them, like the organisations that they work for, the towns they live in, etc cannot be traced back to a particular individual.

Such anonymity is central to ethical research practice.

Generally, the original names are kept on the transcripts during the analysis and they only get anonymised at the publishing stage.

Step 5: Maintain a Log

At each step of the transcription process keep a log of who transcribed, edited, audited, and proofread the final copy and when.

The log should detail the nature and extent of changes in the transcript from the original tape.


Transcribing an interview can be a laborious process.  Happy Scribe’s audio-to-text transcription service can take some of the heavy load off of your shoulders, freeing you up time to perform more interview to collect further data or just take a nap.

If you find transcribing your interviews a chore, then get in touch.  We will be delighted to transcribe them for you.