Novice Interview Skills > Novice Transcription Issues

In continuing to work on my transcriptions for my research, I have started to realize that these issues that I am working through (namely, that there are not universally accepted guidelines and practices for transcription) are not only my own issues, but rather they are faced on a larger scale.

Roulston, deMarrais, and Lewis (2003) found in their research Learning to Interview in the Social Sciences, that conducting interviews was not only a tedious process for novice researchers to learn, but that many of the issues they encountered were not adequately handled in the course of research training unless they were directly confronted within their program. Regarding transcription, which is my focus right now, they stated:

Our investigation of the transcripts and audiotapes showed considerable variation of practice in transcription. Although some students provided close and detailed transcriptions with keys to conventions used, others missed sections of talk. For example, one participant’s tape stopped midway, a story appears to have passed unrecorded, and the gap in the interview was not acknowledged in the transcript or reflection. Although there is a considerable variety of thought represented in the literature with regard to transcription practice (and students’ journal entries were representative of these views),we urge students to pursue detailed transcriptions. We encourage this practice not as a means of ensuring that students capture the “truth” of what happened during the interview but rather to ensure that the transcript provides a thorough account of the oral record in keeping with the theoretical assumptions underpinning the study. Interview data is generated through a socially
constructed investigation of the research topic and as such, is open to multiple meanings.We argue that accurate and detailed transcriptions are particularly important froma pedagogical standpoint because within the context of a course designed to develop students’ interviewing skills, aprima ry purpose is to examine the transcriptions produced not so much for the content of what was said but how accounts were coproduced by speakers (the process) (Poland, 2002). More important, we believe class discussions concerning the implications of the types of transcriptions undertaken by researchers for ensuing analyses is an important component of any interviewing course. Through such discussions, students might gain a deeper appreciation of the  theoretical and empirical implications of any particular transcription practice and what analyses are made available (pg. 657).

It seems that allowing students to go forth, interview, and then transcribe–without peer and faculty review during the critical learning-how-to-research stage–may simply perpetuate some of the problematic issues, rather than critically reflect and evaluate on practice, through its own sense of practice improvement. I particularly like how they mention discussing issues around transcription to highlight the theoretical and empirical implications of making various decisions. In one sense, this should now be surprising–how else will learners learn without planning, then doing, and processing and improving, and then doing again?

While this makes sense to me, it does not necessarily guide me to identifying and working through my own issues around interviewing and transcribing the results. However, knowing that my increasing hypersensitivity around these issues is indeed shared by others on the path to solid research is comforting. 

Now, on to some research that addresses some of those more specific transcription issues and how they can be critically examined and resolved.