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Transcription Qualitative researchers produce and use a large number of different kinds of records and documents. These include textual records like reports or minutes, transcripts of unstructured interviews, evidence transcripts, historical or literary documents, personnel records, field notes, observation records, newspaper clippings and abstracts. Many researchers also collect non- textual records like musical scores, photographs, drawings, tape recordings, films, maps and plans. Consequently researchers and the writers of CAQDAS have developed ways of dealing with them. In recent years this has meant transcribing textual documents into electronic form using a word processor and digitizing other records such as images, video and sound recording. Digitized recordings are growing in importance in qualitative analysis especially with the growth of higher capacity storage media. However, for now textual documents remain the most important form of data used by qualitative analysts. Even before the advent of CAQDAS, qualitative researchers transcribed their interview recordings, observations and field notes. This was more common with interviews, because it created an easily accessible copy. The use of CAQDAS has made it more than ever attractive to have an electronic, word-processed copy. Most programs have the ability to show the full text associated with the results of searches, coding and other forms of analysis, provided the text is available at the start in electronic form. It is not necessary to transcribe all or even any of the information you have collected in your project in order to analyse it. The software covered in this book, NVivo, can be used quite productively without a word- processed copy of the interviews, texts or observations you have collected or recorded. You can type notes or summaries – or even a full transcription – directly into NVivo‟s own rich text editor. For some researchers this is preferable to using a word processor, since, as we shall see, you can code and annotate as you type. Alternatively you can use a proxy document to represent the tape recording and code and annotate the proxy. In fact some researchers advocate coding directly from a tape recording. That way you are more likely to focus on the bigger picture and not get bogged down in the details of what people have said. This may be possible for some types of analysis, but for others, such as discourse and conversation analysis, a detailed transcript is essential. Nevertheless, no matter what the analytic approach, there are good reasons for transcribing. Most qualitative researchers find it important to produce a typescript copy of their data for two reasons. It forces you to read carefully what is recorded on tape or in your notes and it provides you with an easily readable transcript that can be copied as many times as necessary. Having a transcript also makes it easier to work in a team, where tasks have to be shared and there has to be good agreement about the interpretation of the data. A typescript means everyone can read the texts and everyone can have a copy. These advantages are summarized in Table 1. Table 1 Advantages of transcripts A corrective to the limitations of intuition and recollection Enables repeated and detailed examination of the events of the interaction Extends the range and precision of the observations that can be made Permits other researchers to have direct access to the data about which claims are being made Makes analysis potentially subject to detailed public scrutiny Helps minimize the influence of personal preconception or analytical bias Data can be re-used in other investigations and re-examined in the context of new findings. (Adapted from Heritage 1984: 238) In NVivo there is an important, further advantage of transcribing. If you code a transcript, the program can retrieve all the coded passages about a particular topic. If documents are transcribed you can read the contents of these passages together, and review the range of data coded there and code to finer categories. This process of retrieving from documents all the actual text that relates to the same idea and then reviewing it in order to refine the coding or even to do further coding is called „coding on‟ and is a central and important feature of qualitative data analysis programs like NVivo. There are also drawbacks to transcribing. Not least is the time it takes (or the cost) to do it. Estimates vary from author to author and depend on what level of detail you transcribe and how talented the typist is. A common figure is that transcribing takes somewhere between 2 to 5 times as long as it takes to collect the data. Most researchers who are competent typists and transcribe their own interviews find it takes about 4 hours of transcribing time for each hour of interview. This means work can pile up, especially for lone researchers doing their own transcription. Many PhD students using qualitative methods have experienced the anxiety brought on in the later stages of their fieldwork by the growing “pile” of tapes waiting to be transcribed. The only real advice here, albeit hard to follow, is, if you can‟t pay someone to do it for you, keep transcribing “little and often”. Who should do the transcription? The researcher The choice of who should do the transcription usually comes down to either you, the researcher, or someone else who is paid to do it. Despite the nature of the activity, which can be tedious, especially if you are not a good touch typist, there are advantages to doing your own transcription. If your data are field notes, almost certainly you are the only person able to interpret them, so there is no choice. But if you have taped conversations or interviews, it may still help to transcribe them yourself. It gives you a chance to start the data analysis. Careful listening to tapes or reading of your field notes along with reading and checking of the transcripts produced means that you become very familiar with their content. Inevitably you start to generate new ideas about the data. Nevertheless, researchers usually do their own transcription because they have no choice. They have no funds to employ an audio typist or the content of the text is such that no-one else can do it. For instance, the interviews may be about a highly technical subject or, what is often the case with anthropological work, in a language very few others can understand. It is not necessary to transcribe all your interviews or field notes. You could, for example, only transcribe parts. For the rest, you could just type notes and use those for coding, or even code directly from the tape or your field notes. In some cases you may find that your memory of an interview or your research diary tells you that at certain points the respondent went off topic and so these parts can be ignored. Nor is it necessary to transcribe everything you need before starting analysis. NVivo is very flexible in this respect. You can start setting up nodes in the program and write memos on them before any transcription at all. Later you can import some transcribed documents (or even part transcribed documents) and start coding them, then import further documents (or complete the partial ones) and code them as well. If you are transcribing tapes yourself, try if at all possible, to use a proper transcription machine. This is a tape player that can play normal audio-cassettes. There are many types of transcription machines that can play mini-tapes of the kind used in dictation machines. However, qualitative researchers usually use normal audio-cassette recorders for taping interviews, so you will need a machine that can play these tapes. Transcription machines have two facilities that make them superior to simply using an audiocassette player. They have a foot control that allows you to pause the tape without using your hands. This is very useful if you are a good typist and especially a touch typist. Second, when the play is restarted after a pause the tape has rewound a little and play starts a little before the place where you paused. Typically the length of rewind can be adjusted to match your speed and accuracy of typing, and how difficult it is to make out what is on the tape. You could possibly use an ordinary audiocassette player, but you will find yourself constantly frustrated by having to rewind the tape a little each time you stop. Audio typist Employing someone else to do the transcription, if you can afford it, is a good option, but only if the tapes are easily understandable or the notes and documents are easy to read. It is best if the typist you are employing knows something about the subject matter and the context of the interviews. However, for general subject matter a good audio typist will be fine. The audio typist may have his or her own transcription machine or you may have to lend yours. Either way this is important when the typist is paid by the hour as anything you can do to make the typing easier will reduce your costs. Alternatively, you could negotiate with your typist to be paid by results. Work out a reasonable price per hour of tape and apply this to all the work. No matter who you use, you will still need to check through the document produced against the recording or original text to eliminate mistakes. However, this is not all lost time as, again, reading the transcript (and listening to the tape) will be an opportunity to begin your analysis. Don‟t forget that the typist will be listening to or reading all your data. As Gregory, Russell and Phillips (1997) remind us, they are „vulnerable‟ persons. If the content of your data is emotionally loaded and sensitive, you might want to consider including your transcribers in the scope of your ethical considerations and you may wish to offer some debriefing to support them. OCR and speech recognition software In recent years two new technologies have become available that can help the transcription process. If you have some typed or printed documents that you need to get an electronic copy of, then optical character recognition (OCR) software used with a scanner will help. Provided the original paper copy is good quality and that standard fonts are used, like Courier for typescript, then the software will work well in producing word processing files from the paper copies. Some of the most common packages are OmniPage from Ceare software and TextBridge Pro 98 from ScanSoft Inc and there are both PC and Macintosh versions. A more recent technology that is just getting to be usable by qualitative researchers is speech recognition software. This software can take speech spoken into a special, high quality microphone and convert it into a word processed file. With early versions of the software you had to speak with a mid-Atlantic, English accent and say - each - word - separately, with a pause between each one. Natural speech has very few gaps between words, and recent versions of the software can recognize such continuous speaking. The new software can also cope with other versions of English, such as UK English, S.E. Asian and Indian English, as well as a number of other languages. However, all of them still need to be trained to recognize the speech of one particular user and need very good quality sound. For these reasons they cannot be used directly with tape recordings of interviews. However, what some enterprising researchers have done is to set up a tape player with a pair of headphones with which they can listen to the recording of an interview. Then as the tape plays they dictate what they hear into their version of the speech recognition software. This is a little awkward to begin with, but the knack is quickly acquired. The quality of recognition is not as good as with OCR software, but it is generally good enough for a first draft transcription that can then be checked against the tape properly. Leading packages include Dragon Dictate‟s Naturally Speaking, and ViaVoice from IBM. Speech recognition is a computationally intensive task and all programs need fairly powerful computers. Check before you buy. Accuracy Transcription, especially of interviews, is a change of medium and that introduces some issues of accuracy. Kvale (1988: 97) warns us to “beware of transcripts”. When moving from the spoken context of an interviews to the typed transcript there are, he suggests, dangers of superficial coding, decontextualization, missing what came before and after the respondent‟s account, and what the larger conversation was about. As we shall see later, this change of medium is associated with certain kinds of errors that researchers must watch out for. No matter how the transcription is produced, OCR, speech recognition or human typist, it will need checking against the original recording. Errors arise for a variety of reasons. First there are simple typing errors, misspellings and so on. Most of these can be picked up using the spelling checker built into most word processors. Other, and often more significant errors arise because the transcriber has misheard what was said on the tape. Sometimes this is because the recording is „noisy‟ and it is hard to make out what is said. For instance the recording was made in a noisy place or it has picked up the sound of the recorder mechanism. In face-to-face speech humans are very good at filtering out such noises, but recordings don‟t and then we experience more difficulty hearing over the background. But even where the sound is good there are many cases where the transcriber has heard one thing whereas the respondent said something else. Hearing exactly what is said involves understanding and interpretation. Sometimes the right sound is heard but the interpretation is wrong, as in the common linguistics example of „ice cream‟ and „I scream‟ which both sound the same. More often than not, though, it is in the process of interpretation that something different is heard from what was actually said. Various things can be done to minimize these errors. It helps to have as good a quality sound as possible. Recording quality is improved significantly by using a good microphone such as a battery powered lapel microphone. A good quality recorder such as a mini-disk or high quality audio-cassette recorder will help as will a good transcribing machine with good headphones. Some transcription machines can be less sensitive to low voices than normal audio cassette players. Despite the advantages of transcription machines outlined above, you might find it is easier to make out what is on a tape using a good hi-fi cassette deck. But no matter how good the sound, there is always going to be a need for interpretation and understanding of what is heard. The best way to reduce errors here is to make sure that the transcriber understands the context and subject matter he or she is transcribing and is used to the accent, cadence and rhythm of the speakers. This is one of the biggest advantages of doing your own transcription. You will know the context of the interview, and we hope, be familiar with the subject matter. Table 2 lists some examples of the errors of interpretation found by a Canadian researcher using audio typists to transcribe interviews on trade union activities. If you are concerned that the transcription may be inaccurate, you could try taking it back to the respondents to check it with them. Of course you can‟t expect respondents to remember, word for word, what they said, but they should be able to pick up any nonsensical interpretations – the kinds of things they couldn‟t possibly have said. However, sometimes respondents will disagree with the transcript, even though it is clear from the recording what they said. What do you do then? There are two options. You can treat the respondent‟s statements as new data and try to find out why the interviewee may have changed her or his opinion. They could be embarrassed over what was said now that it is frozen on tape, or there may have been intervening events which have altered the situation, or they may have had a genuine change in opinion or they feel pressure from peers or authority figures to change their opinions. You could treat the transition in the opinion as interesting data itself. The second option is when the interviewee wants the previous statement removed and not used. This is the interviewee‟s right especially if you have used a fully informed consent form mentioning the right to withdraw. You have little option but to respect it. You could try to convince the interviewee that the change constitutes valid data itself, and so treat it as the first option. But if you are unsuccessful, then you should respect the wishes of the interviewee and throw away the data. Table 2 Transcription errors Transcriber's typed phrase What interviewee actually said Random interpretations layer market labour market reflective bargaining collective bargaining self-support soft support the various those areas leading relating certain kinds of ways of understanding surface kinds of ways of understanding you know the most general contact general context and our and/or delegates to hire bodies delegates to higher bodies generally gender lines new committees union committees mixed service lip service overrated overridden activism division it runs again it runs the gamut as a hole as a whole accepted committee executive committee denying neglect benign neglect obligated promulgated was a committee member Women’s committee member Opposite meanings ever meant to never meant to inversions to class analysis conversions to class analysis it just makes sense it doesn’t make sense there isn’t a provision for day care there is a provision for day care formal informal the union can take concerted action the union didn’t take a concerted action there's one thing I can add there's nothing I can add there's more discernible actions there aren’t discernible factions it wasn't like I had to take on new things [domestic it wasn’t like he [spouse] had to take on new chores] things [domestic chores] it was union activities [that broke up my it wasn’t union activities [that broke up my marriage] marriage] From e-mail from Carl Cuneo, Thu, 16 Jun 1994. Level of transcription As noted above the act of transcription is a change of medium and therefore necessarily involves some kind of transformation of the data. There are varying degrees to which you can capture what is in the sound recording and you need to decide what is appropriate for the purposes of your study. Sometimes just a draft version of what is said is sufficient. This is often the case in policy and evaluation research, where the salient factual content of what people have said is good enough for analysis. However, most researchers who are interested at least in respondents‟ interpretation of their world need more detail than this. They aim at a transcribed text that looks like normal text and is a good copy of the words that were used by the respondent. This may seem unambiguous, but even here there are decisions to be made. Continuous speech is very rarely in well-constructed sentences of the kind found in written language. Speakers stop one line of thought in mid sentence and often take up the old one again without following the grammatical rules used in writing. You may therefore be tempted to „tidy up‟ their speech. Whether you should do this depends on the purpose of your study and whether you intend to quote passages in your publication or report. Tidy, grammatical transcriptions are easier to read and hence analyse. If your study is not much concerned with the details of expression and language use and is more interested in the factual content of what is said, then such tidying up is acceptable. On the other hand it clearly loses the feel for how respondents were expressing themselves and if that is significant in your study you will need to try to capture that in the transcription. The downside is that it makes the actual typing more difficult to do. A similar dilemma arises when respondents speak with a strong accent or use dialect. The most common practice here is to preserve all the dialect words and regional terms and grammatical expressions, but not to try to capture the actual sound of the accent by changing the spelling of the words. Table 3 Examples of different levels of transcription Just the gist “90% of my communication is with … the Sales Director. 1% of his communication is with me. I try to be one step ahead, I get things ready, … because he jumps from one … project to another. …This morning we did Essex, this afternoon we did BT, and we haven't even finished Essex yet.” (… indicates omitted speech) Verbatim “I don‟t really know. I‟ve a feeling that they‟re allowed to let their emotions show better. I think bereavement is part of their religion and culture. They tend to be more religious anyway. I‟m not from a religious family, so I don‟t know that side of it.” Verbatim with dialect “„s just that – one o‟ staff – they wind everybody up, I mean, – cos I asked for some money – out o‟ the safe, cos they only keep money in the safe – ‟s our money – so I asked for some money and they wouldn‟t give it me – an‟ I snatched this tenner what was mine.” Discourse level. Bashir: Did your ever (.) personally assist him with the writing of his book. (0.8) Princess: A lot of people.hhh ((clears throat)) saw the distress that my life was in. (.) And they felt it was a supportive thing to help (0.2) in the way that they did. (Discourse example from Silverman 1997: 151) In some cases an even more detailed transcription is necessary. Not only is natural speech often non-grammatical (at least by written conventions) but it is also full of other phenomena. People hesitate, they stress words and syllables, they overlap their speech with others and they raise and lower both volume and pitch in order to add meaning to what they are saying. If your interest is in the detailed examination of language use, for example if you are doing conversation or discourse analysis, then you will probably need an even more detailed transcription. This can be done by adding in special symbols for stress, overlap, pauses etc. Table 3 gives some examples of different transcription styles and Table 4 shows some of the common transcription conventions. Table 4 Transcription Conventions Try to have the spelling of words roughly indicate how the words were produced. Often this i nvolves a departure from standard orthography. Arrows in the margin point to the lines of t ranscript relevant to the point being made in the text. () Empty parentheses in dicate talk too obscure to transcribe. Words of letters inside s such parentheses indicate the transcriberÕ best estimate of what is being said. hhh hÕ i The letter Ō s used to indicate hearable a spiration, its length roughly proportional to the number of Ō s. If preceded with a dot, the aspiration is an in- hÕÕ breath. Aspiration internal to a word i s enclosed in parentheses. Otherwise Ō shÕÕ may indicate anything from ordinary breathing to sighing t o laughing, etc. [ Left-side brackets indicate where overlapping talk begins. ] Right-side brackets indicate where overlapping talk ends, or marks alignments within a continuing stream of overlapping t alk. Talk appearing within degree si gns is l ower i n volume relative to surrounding talk. >< ŌGreater thanÕ a d Ōl ss thanÕsymbols enclose talk t hat is noticeably faster than n e the surrounding talk. ((looks)) s Words in double parentheses in dicate transcriberÕ comments, not transcriptions. (0.8) Numbers in double parentheses in dicate period of silence, in t enths of a s econd Š a dot inside parentheses indicates a pause of less than 0.2 seconds. ::: Colons indicate the lengthening o f the sound just preceding them, proportional to the number of colons. becau- A hyphen indicates an abrupt cut-off or self-interruption of the sound in progress indicated by the preceding letter(s) (the example here r epresents a s elf-interrupted ŌbecauseÕ ). He says Underlining indicates stress or emphasis. dr^ink AŌ or hatÕ ci rcumflex accent symbol indicates a marked pitch rise. = Equal s igns (ordinarily at the end of one line and the start of an ensuing o ne) indicate a Ō latchedÕ r lationship Š no silence at all between t hem. e (From Silverman 1997: 154) References Gregory, D., Russell, C.K. and Phillips, L.R. (1997) Beyond textual perfection- Transcribers as vulnerable persons, Qualitative Health Research, 7: 294-300. Heritage, J.C. (1984) Garfinkel and ethnomethodology. Cambridge: Polity Press. Kvale, S. (1988) The 1000-page question, Phenomenology and Pedagogy, 6: 90-106. Silverman, D. (Ed.) (1997) Qualitative research: theory, method and practice. London: Sage Publications.
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