Transcribing interviews

Once you have recorded an interview, it must be transcribed – that is, the spoken words need to be typed up.

Most students find that transcribing takes far longer than they expected. So don't wait until the last minute (or last weekend) to do this step. Expect to spend 4-6 hours transcribing per hour of recorded interview. Fast typists may be able to complete the process in less time; very slow typists will need longer.

Frequently asked questions

How do I transcribe my taped interview?

Borrow a transcriber from your instructor. (You can transcribe an interview using a cassette player with a “pause” button, but a transcriber is easier and faster). Audiocassette transcribers have foot controls for play, pause and backspace functions, which free your hands to type. They also have a speed control to slow the playback speed somewhat, making it easier to type continuously. [back to top]

Why can't I use voice recognition software to create a text document?

While it would be great to avoid the time-intensive task of transcribing interviews, voice recognition software does not yet work well enough. The software has to be “trained” for each voice, and speakers must speak slowly and enunciate clearly. [back to top]

What if I used a digital voice recorder?

Audio playing software, such as Media Player, has pause controls that you can use to start and stop the recording as you type. A foot pedal controlling these functions can be purchased for about $150. None are currently available for loan. [back to top]

What do I type?

Because our interviewees' descriptions and phrasing provides windows onto the world of their work, try to transcribe accurately what you've heard them say. Thus, your primary focus is on transcribing the interview verbatim. Do, however, leave out the “ums” and “uhs.” Some researchers like to add a few additional comments, such as [laughs] or [points to _______]. You can do so when that clarifies what is being said. However, in general, you should record information about tone of voice and body language in your own notes about the interview, not in the transcript. [back to top]

What if I can't understand something they said?

If words are inaudible on the audio recording, you can indicate it with an * (or several *** if a phrase or entire sentence is inaudible). Or you can make your best guess about what you can hear and bracket it with a question to the interviewee. For example: [Chris, uncertain here. Can you help?]. Then you can call or email them later to see if they can clarify. [back to top]

What format should I use?

Transcripts should be double-spaced and paginated. Be sure to include the name(s) of the interviewers, interviewee(s), and the date of the interview on the first page. It's a good idea to include an abbreviated version of this information in the header of each page as well. [back to top]

Do I insert paragraph breaks?

Definitely. While you will think more about paragraphs during the editing stage, it is helpful to insert paragraph breaks into the transcription rather than typing long blocks of text. In general, using more rather than then fewer paragraphs will help your reader follow the story. Begin a new paragraph whenever your interviewee introduces a new idea. Also begin a new paragraph when a dialogue is being quoted; a new paragraph should begin with each new voice. For example:

The project came to a turning point last May. We didn't know what we were going to do. The council director and I sat down and tried to figure out how we'd proceed.

He said, “We have to find a way to handle all these conflicting views in the community about what we should be doing, but how're we going to do that?”

I said, “What if we try to bring the groups together face-to-face and help them to actually talk to each other?”

But the director had been burned before and couldn't see it: “That’s impossible; all hell's going to break loose if we do that.”

[back to top]