Transcription Politics

I am busily working on transcription–my first foray into this process (complete with new recorder and foot pedal), and have already had the benefit of encountering some of the politics around transcription.

Politics, you think?

I started to think about this when there were pauses (not recorded, if we are literal), changes in thought mid-sentence (which in a written transcript seems like a scattered and brainless mess, though happens all the time in our common discussion), grammatical errors (do we embaress the participants by showing them what they actually said), chuckles, changes in tone and energy, body language, and the like. So many factors to consider, that I have started to think that an audio interview, while capturing what is said, may not adequately capture what is meant.

When sharing this with some colleagues, I was surprised to hear how uncritically or at time literal people could be, as if these issues were assumed to be outside of the research process, and should not be explored. Odd response from qualitative researchers, to say the least.

Into the literature I go yet again for some guidance on how to handle these . . .

11 thoughts on “Transcription Politics

  1. I have written a bit about these things along the way….pauses are important as well as other sounds (laughs, coughs) that people make. This becomes clearer when you analyse the texts. You want to paint as clear a picture as poss in words of what transpired during the interview.

  2. Hi Jeffrey:

    Chapter 10 in this 2009 Sage text discusses some of these same issues, so if you haven’t seen this resource, perhaps it will help you:

    The book is called:

    Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing Second Edition

    Steinar Kvale University of Aarhus
    Svend Brinkmann Aalborg University

    © 2009 376 pages

    SAGE Publications, Inc

    Paperback ISBN: 9780761925422

  3. I’ve certainly been thinking through these issues myself now that I’ve started transcribing interviews for my own doctoral research. In the end, I have had to think about how I will use the transcriptions.

    For the most part, I do not need to do a detailed conversation analysis, and I’m finding it easier to annotate rather than “perfectly” transcribe. In some cases, a few notes about a section rather than a transcription are all I need (saving a lot of time). Because I am doing my transcription on the computer I can always come back and add more detail to the text if I need.

    No text is ever a complete rendition of all that is said and unsaid. Indeed, no audio is a complete record of all that occurred in the interview or conversation. Something is always left out, and open to later (re)-interpretation. That’s why my own annotations are often more useful than carefully marked up text. It’s only ever going to be about my analysis of the event, and since I am producing my own text in response to the interviews, not a court document, I might as well start the analysis as I transcribe.

  4. BTW, this comment system sucks. It took about 5 guys to get the captcha right, and this tiny text entry area is not very conducive to clear writing.

  5. @Steve Murphy

    Steve, thank you for the comments.

    I think you raise a lot of important issues regarding transcription, especially to what extent an audio capture can possibly capture the mood, tone, and the like. I have found some research out there that I hope to discuss here a little, though it seems like an area that may benefit from some more dialogue. It does seem clear, however, that interviewers often work from their own frameworks without actively engaging in reflection or without challenging their own assumptions as to these issues–both their existence, as well as their resolution.

    What method of annotation do you use; is it during the interview itself, or after, when you listen to the recordings?


  6. @Steve Murphy

    BTW, sorry about the comment fields. I also find them a bit limiting, but not being a WordPress programmer, I feel a bit limited as to what is offered in the various templates and plug-ins. I know there is not an easy setting to adjust this box, but will be on the lookout for one.

    Regarding ReCaptcha, I agree that the words can be a bit confusing, and seem to be getting increasingly so as well. Even with this, there is still a lot of spam comments that get through, literally on a daily basis, that another tool I use then tries to handle as a last resort. Wish it were not the case, though have not seen anything else more effective out there.

    Appreciate your persistence, as your comments were rather thought-provoking.


  7. (just catching up now!)

    Re my annotation method, it is just during transcription — I find I don’t want to be distracted during interviews by trying to keep notes.

    And it is largely in the form of typed comments in the middle of the document. Sometimes it is a reflection, sometimes it is a summary of something I don’t think needs full transcription. But it’s all data. I think we need to be careful about privileging some textual representations over others.

    By the way, as for you most of this is new to me — I’m no expert, and it’s been interesting to see you reflecting on many of the same issues I am.


  8. @Steve Murphy

    That makes two of us who are not experts!

    Are you planning to send the transcripts back to the participants for member checking? If so, will you include your notes as well?


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