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.

Research Interview Transcription Issues

TranscriptionI am nearly finished with my transcription, and as I mentioned last week, I am quickly becoming aware of the politics around transcription, namely those where people assume (uncritically, of course!) the way they handle these issues are done in the same way by everybody engaged in transcription.  Into the literature I went for some guidance, and what I found was somewhat surprising.

One of the articles I read when I searched the literature, Transcription in Research and Practice: From Standardization of Technique to Interpretive Positionings, raised a number of important points that invited me to pause for reflection on how I am handling myown research project:

  • transcription is theory-laden, and there are not uniform conventions or standards for how to make decisions
  • language and meanings are inherently situational and contextual; the theory and method for handling transcription needs to be addressed and clarified by the researcher
  • transcriptions seem to be interpretive constructions arrived at by choices by the researcher

How often I find research papers that gloss over or do not even acknowledge the transcription of the interviews, without addressing any of the concerns or issues that fundamentally influence the direction of the research?

While this article is a bit dated (1999) and I have located some more recent works that I will try to process later this week, I found Lapadat’s and Lindsay’s concluding paragraph (p. 82) inciteful, leaving me with the feeling that I need to know more:

Unlike Kvale (1996), we believe that the problematic issues cannot be avoided simply by omitting the step of transcription. The hard work of interpretation still needs to be done. Researchers across disciplines for many years have found transcription to be an important component of the analysis process. We want to emphasize that it is not just the transcription product—those verbatim words written down—that is important; it is also the process that is valuable. Analysis takes place and understandings are derived through the process of constructing a transcript by listening and re-listening, viewing and re-viewing. We think that transcription facilitates the close attention and the interpretive thinking that is needed to make sense of the data. It is our contention that transcription as a theory-laden component of qualitative analysis warrants closer examination.

Yes, I do indeed need to closer examine these (and other) issues I am confronting now in my research.