Qualitative studies may involve data in the form of audio and video recordings of interviews, open-ended questions, conversations, discussions, focus groups and other interactions as well as written documents or field research notes. Many researchers rely on audio transcription service providers to get these recordings transcribed into text format so that they can be evaluated in detail, linked with analytic memos and notes, or coded into convenient categories and summarized.
Transcribing the audio into written words may seem straightforward, but it actually requires the content to be appropriately interpreted and represented to transform the written text into a readable and meaningful format. Here are the top factors to consider when transcribing audio into written text:
- Goals of the Research Study: The transcription process would be selective based on what the researcher considers relevant data and how data should be analyzed. This means that only certain aspects or features of the interaction would be transcribed. Selectivity would depend on the goals of the study. In fact, a transcript that contains information that is not relevant to the study would be difficult to read and might affect research goal clarity.
- Extent of Detail Required: Researchers need to select which data has relevance for the study. Only such data will be transcribed. It is impossible to record all features of talk and interaction from recordings. All transcripts are selective and the selectivity depends on the goals of the study. However, if a study is focused on providing an in-depth description of the knowledge, attitudes, values, beliefs, or experiences of an individual, a group of individuals, or groups of individuals, the transcript may need to include more details and descriptive text (www.sagepub.com).
- Transcription and Coding: Sound recordings may be coded using qualitative data analysis software. Coding involves finding themes in the qualitative data by reading the transcripts multiple times until the researcher gets a clear idea about the themes or categories that emerge. Each code in the final list should clearly define what the code means. But coding sound recordings will not work if the researcher requires written transcripts or the recordings need to be translated.
- Visual Elements: Communication involves both verbal and non-verbal data such as gestures, expressions, body orientation, unspoken (nonverbal) communication between people, room layout, change of scenery, etc. Transcribing and processing this visual information would take more time than audio.
- Capturing the way things are Spoken: For proper interpretation of the data, the transcription needs to depict features of the talk such as tone of voice, speed, emphasis, pauses and timing.
- Handling Confidential and Sensitive Information: Any decisions on inclusion of sensitive data that may be provided during interviews should be taken before the transcription is done. Interviewees may provide detailed information about their lives or other people’s lives. It is up to the researcher to determine whether the disclosure of such information will compromise the privacy of the interviewee or breach confidentiality. While in some cases, researchers may decide to remove such data, in other instances, they may decide to replace real names of people, organizations, or settings with pseudonyms.
- Timing: In qualitative research, it is important that the transcription is done soon after the interview or discussion. This will allow the transcriptionist to follow up with the interviewer for clarification if the recordings are incomprehensible or speech is muffled. Unintelligible silence should also be flagged and the approximate seconds should be noted.
The transcript is an important tool in qualitative study that allows researchers to understand respondents’ perceptions and experiences. However, as a paper published on ResearchGate notes, researchers should always remember that the analysis process is very much influenced by what is transcribed, what is not transcribed, and how the transcript is structured. For this reason, it is also important that the transcription is done by a digital transcription service provider with experience in the field. Leading companies provide accurate, timely and affordable transcription solutions for researchers.