CREATE & MANAGE DATA
FORMATTING YOUR DATA
Qualitative data collected as audio-visual recordings are ideally transcribed as textual files for archiving and sharing. Consider transcribing conventions, instructions, guidelines and a template to ensure quality and consistency across a data collection.
Transcription is a translation between forms of data, most commonly to convert audio recordings to text in qualitative research. It should match the analytic and methodological aims of the research. Whilst transcription is often part of the analysis process, it also enhances the sharing and re-use potential of qualitative research data. Full transcription is recommended for data sharing.
- have a unique identifier, a name or number
- have a uniform and consistent layout throughout a research project or data collection
- have a document header or cover sheet with interview or event details such as date, place, interviewer name and interviewee details
- use speaker tags to indicate the question/answer sequence or turn-taking in a conversation
- have line breaks between turn-takes
- be page numbered
- use pseudonyms to anonymise personal identifying information
Transcription work is a time-consuming process and often outsourced to external transcribers. It is vital to develop a standard transcription template for all transcribers to follow and to give written instructions or guidelines indicating the required transcription style, layout and editing, to ensure uniformity across the transcriptions.
The compatibility of transcription formats with import features of qualitative data analysis software may need to be considered before developing a template or guidelines. For some software headers and formatting may be lost when transcripts are imported.
Transmitting data safely
Data security when transmitting recordings and transcripts between researcher and transcriber, and when data are handled by transcribers must be considered when transcription is outsourced. A non-disclosure agreement can be drawn up with transcribers and files can be encrypted before transfer.
It is good practice to anonymise data during transcription, or to mark sensitive information for later anonymisation, especially in preparation for data sharing and re-use.
Where material is not in English, ideally full transcriptions in
the original language should still be produced. Where possible a
translation can also be provided, or at least a summary of each
interview in English.
Various software packages designed to automatically transcribe text from an audio source have come onto the market over the past decade. All require a great deal of training and calibration to be able to recognise a particular voice, accent and dialect. For this reason we do not recommend automation of the transcription of recorded interviews.
Transcription of statistical tables from historical sources into spreadsheets requires the digital data to be as close to the original as possible, with attention to consistency in transcribing and avoiding the use of formatting in data files.
How you carry out transcription depends very much upon your theoretical and methodological approach and it can vary between disciplines.
A thematic sociological research project usually requires, what Bucholtz (Bucholtz, M. (2000). The Politics of Transcription. Journal of Pragmatics, 32 (2000), 1439-1465) described as, a 'denaturalised' (most like written language) approach to transcription. This is because the focus is on the content of what was said and the themes that emerge from that. A project using conversation analysis would however use a 'naturalised' approach (most like speech). In conversation analysis, a transcriber would seek to capture all the sounds that they hear and use a range of symbols to represent particular features of speech in addition to the words that were spoken. This can include for example representing the length of pauses, laughter, overlapping speech, turn-taking or intonation.
A transcript from a psycho-social method may include detailed notes on emotional reactions, physical orientation, body language, use of space, as well as the psycho-dynamics in the relationship between the interviewer and interviewee.
Some transcribers may try to make a transcript look 'correct' in terms of its grammar and punctuation, considerably changing the sense of flow and dynamics of the spoken interaction. Transcription should capture the essence of the spoken word, but it may not always be necessary to go as far as a naturalised approach such as that used by conversation analysis.