Open access to published research is becoming more and more common, but what about the data behind the research? Why is it so important to be able to access researchers’ data and duplicate results, and what can be done to make this easier and more common practice?
I've transcribed a podcast from the National Centre for Research Methods called "Reproducing social science research: give up your code" where Professor Vernon Gayle of the University of Edinburgh is interviewed on this topic. It's a bit of a departure for us as it's more relevant for quant rather than qualitative research, but I thought it was interesting, so I decided to transcribe it and share!
One of the downsides to transcribing is that the constant typing can really damage your wrists if you don’t have your workstation set up properly. A few years ago, I started experiencing debilitating RSI. I had been typing almost entirely on my laptop for years, and realised that this (in addition to poor posture) was the source of my problems. I finally decided to take action and buy an ergonomic keyboard.
I'm a big fan of Graham Gibbs' YouTube videos, which cover a wide range of issues related to qualitative research and research methods. Previously, I've discussed his overview video on "Doing transcription for qualitative research". Today I'm looking at "Types of transcription for qualitative research", which looks more specifically at levels of verbatim and formatting for qualitative research transcripts.
If there's one thing I've become slightly obsessive about since starting to transcribe, it's correct punctuation. Nothing annoys me more than a misplaced apostrophe, missing comma, or misused quotation marks. This blog post - 10 common punctuation mistakes and how to avoid them - hits the nail on the head.
Here are the three in particular that really drive me crazy:
1. Extraneous Apostrophes
The Problem: People putting apostrophes where they don’t belong.
Example: It’s all your’s.
When I'm hiring new typists, this is a guaranteed way to get your application immediately binned. Unnecessary apostrophes seem to be everywhere: Monday's and sandwich's are a couple that I've seen on signs around town. In transcripts and articles, I've also seen a proliferation of apostrophes used for plural acronyms (such as MDG's) and decades (1970's). No, no, no.
3. Missing Commas
The Problem: Without commas, sentences become run-on blocks of text without any breaks.
Example: I went to the store but they were closed so I went home.
Absent commas can make a perfectly good sentence turn into an unreadable run-on sentence. One of the challenges of transcribing is that sometimes people DO speak in run-on sentences, so it's our job to add punctuation to indicate where the speaker took a breath (or perhaps should have taken a breath).
10. Quotation Mark Placement
The Problem: Sentence-ending punctuation marks often go outside of quotation marks rather than inside, which is where they belong.
Example: “I had a great day at work today”!
Placement of quotation marks - and the frequent lack of quotation marks despite the text obviously indicating something someone said - seems to be a common mistake. Apparently there's a difference between American and British English, but I think this is a fairly easy rule: if someone said something, use quotation marks and put the full stop or common inside the text. If the quote is a sentence fragment (as per this Daily Writing Tips example - the economy is starting from "a very strong position".) then the full stop is outside of the quotation marks. Or, as explained in a Guardian article:
The Guardian style guide, which reflects widespread practice in the UK, says:
Place full points and commas inside the quotes for a complete quoted sentence; otherwise the point comes outside -
"Anna said: 'Your style guide needs updating,' and I said: 'I agree.' "
but: "Anna said updating the guide was 'a difficult and time-consuming task'."
So you’ve just come back from a fieldwork trip, or you’ve got a long backlog of interviews that you’ve conducted for a qualitative research project. All of a sudden you realise you’ve got dozens of audio files, some field notes, some scraps of paper, and don’t even know where to begin on getting things organised to begin your qualitative analysis.
Through my own experience as a researcher, I have found myself in a situation where the sheer volume of data gathered can be a bit daunting, but being systematic from the beginning can help you feel a bit more in control. Here are five tips on getting started so that you can make the best of your data analysis.
We at Transcription Centre are pleased to offer a new service to our clients - telephone recording which is automatically sent to your account to be transcribed. All you need to do is dial our toll free number, enter your user ID, conduct your dictation and hang up. Your recording will immediately appear in our system so that we can get to work transcribing it. No more hassle with voice recorders, downloading, uploading to our site... Just make the call, and we'll do the rest. You can even use telephone recording for in person interviews, by putting your phone on speakerphone.
The service costs only £0.05 per recorded minute of audio (in addition to our normal transcription rate). Contact us today to set up a user ID!
Graham Gibbs at the University of Huddersfield has a number of very useful YouTube videos on research methods, particularly focusing on qualitative research. In this video, he discusses transcription for qualitative research and some of the issues involved in this.
"Given the nature of transcription, why do it? The reason we do it is because usually we find it much easier to work with a transcript rather than a recording. […] For analysis purposes, people still find it easier to work with a transcript, despite the effort that goes into creating transcripts. The reason has to do with the fact that you can move around transcripts – you can mark it with a pencil; you can shuffle the pages very quickly and find the bits you want. You’ve got very quick, random access to what you want. You can remember bits because you’ve marked them very easily. […] I’m afraid that transcription is still the norm for anything that involves interviews or recordings."
"What are key understandings and issues evident in the transcription literature between 1979 and 2009? and What are the implications of these for qualitative research?" This very interesting journal article seeks to answer these research questions, and illuminates some of the important aspects of transcription for qualitative researchers.
Transcription is a practice central to qualitative research, yet the literature that addresses transcription presents it as taken for granted in qualitative studies. In this article the author provides a review of three decades of literature on transcription between 1979 and 2009. The review establishes core understandings and issues that have informed the transcription literature, including the ways it is said that transcription is overlooked in qualitative research. Discussion of the literature raises the need for more empirical studies that examine transcription in qualitative research, and suggests specific questions that qualitative researchers might address in relation to transcription and its reporting.
This is a question that I think all qualitative researchers struggle with - how many interviews do you need to produce adequate, meaningful evidence? As a transcription company, we've dealt with projects with five interviews, and others with hundreds. There are certainly a lot of questions to consider, and Sarah Baker and Rosalind Edwards' very useful working paper aims to address these. Rosalind was interviewed for an NCRM podcast about this paper, which we've transcribed below for you.
This video provides a really useful overview of how to conduct qualitative analysis, by manually coding transcripts. Personally, I prefer to code transcripts in NVivo, but these instructions are a great starting point to getting to grips with doing this manually. I've transcribed the video and included the text below, so you have the option of either watching or reading.
I've just read an interesting blog post - "Recording focus groups: An interview with Will Wright" discussing various technologies that he uses to record focus groups, which I found really interesting. It made me think about the way I’ve conducted and dealt with transcribing focus groups in the past.
I would always recommend conducting interviews in person, in a quiet room, with a good quality audio recorder placed on a table between the interviewer and respondent… but we all know that in the real world this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to do interviews in noisy cafes or echoey boardrooms. And sometimes you can’t actually get in the same room, and you have to conduct your interview over the phone.
As a transcriber, I have but one requirement when it comes to voice recorders: Please, oh please, produce perfect quality audio recordings so that I can understand exactly what every speaker is saying.
As a researcher, I have quite a few more requirements on my tick list. I've been using the Olympus WS-450S recorder for several years now, and it's worked brilliantly for my needs.
I started transcribing over seven years ago because my exceptionally fast typing (over 80 words per minute) makes me pretty well able to keep up with normal talking speed of recordings. I receive enquiries every day from people hoping to become transcribers, but many of these seem to be from people with a fairly poor grasp of English. I’ve realised over the years that there’s more to being a good transcriber than just lightning fast fingers and I thought I would share some key skills that I look for in my employees.
1. A good ear for accents. Given that Transcription Centre receives a lot of work about international relations and politics, we listen to speakers from all over the world, some of whom don’t speak English as a first language. And this doesn’t just go for international speakers – obviously there are a myriad of accents within the UK! Having a good grasp of different ways of speaking is really important to getting good transcript accuracy.
2. An understanding of the audio’s subject matter. Part of the reason I founded Transcription Centre was because of the frustration I felt as a researcher reading transcripts by companies who rely upon average typists. I realised how important it was to me to hire transcribers with an education and background in the topics we cover, so that ‘VCS’ doesn’t get mistaken for ‘BCS’ and names like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are spelled correctly.
3. And – hopefully this goes without saying! – an excellent grasp of spelling and grammar. Call me a pedant, but there is simply nothing more annoying than mixing up it’s/its or there/their/they’re.
These are just a few things that most people don't really think about in regards to transcription ("how hard can it be?"). I've recently tried doing some transcribing in French as a language practice exercise, and I've realised just how much I take for granted when doing it in English!
When I tell someone about audio transcription, invariably the first question I get asked is, "Why can't you just have voice recognition software do it?" Well, unfortunately your computer just isn't that smart (yet). Here are a few reasons why having audio transcription done by humans is so important for accuracy and quality.
1. Background noise. Despite your best efforts, sometimes the quality of audio recordings isn't great. If you do an interview in a public place, there will often be some degree of background noise and interference. Often, this makes it a bit more difficult to understand what people are saying, and you really do need a human ear to do this.
2. Accents, slang, mispronunciation. There is a reason why you typically have to 'train' voice recognition software - there are so many ways of pronouncing the same word. A human ear can tell whether it's an Englishman saying "beg" or a Glaswegian saying "big", but a computer may not be as clever.
3. Speaker identification. The biggest problem with voice recognition software is that it cannot tell the difference between speakers, so it's fine for single speaker, direct, clear dictations, but any interviews or focus groups need to be done by a transcriber who can tell who's who.
4. Readability. When we do audio transcription, for most research we do 'intelligent verbatim', meaning that we transcribe exactly what is said, but take out all 'ums', 'ahs', stutters, and annoying repeated words like "kinda" and "sort of". It makes it much easier to read and analyse for researchers while still maintaining 100% of the meaning.