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Notes on transcription

July 28, 2011
As a qualitative researcher, I  rely on interviews.  As someone who relies on interviews, I furthermore rely on transcripts for analysis. There are different ways of managing the fact that transcription is a total drag.  I know there are people who listen to the transcripts and take notes, or just transcribe bits and pieces of interviews that seem essential, but I like having full transcripts (this could be because my projects tend to involve 10-20 participants rather than hundreds).  I do not, however, like transcribing.  It is tedious and dull and you get sick of your own voice and not being able to do anything else, like listen to music or watch Law and Order, two staples of mitigating the dullness of activities that are sometimes required of scholarship but not all that interesting (switching citation styles from APA to Chicago comes to mind).  After spending a little time this week talking to people about transcription, I thought I would share a couple of options for transcribing that have made life easier for me.
-If I have funds, I can pay someone to do transcriptions for me.  As of this summer, I started using Casting Words.  The quality is pretty good (not perfect) but I have to issue a warning on the budget level transcription, in that the timeline on this seems to vary from two weeks to over a month.  If you have the time line for this, terrific.  If not, pony up for the six-day option, by which they really mean six days or fewer – I’ve received transcripts within 36 hours using this plan.
-If I don’t have funds, I’ll do it myself, and be consoled that it gives me a chance to become better acquainted with my data.  I’ve also taken to using Express Scribe to make the process a little easier.  It’s free and (among other things) it lets you control the speed of playing your audio file.  On the positive side, it means I can adjust the speed of the file to the speed of my typing, such that I rarely have to stop and start my file.  On the negative side, whereas listening to my own voice on normal speed is annoying, listening to my own voice on slow speed is a whole other level of terrible (I sound sort of like an upbeat-but-easily-perplexed surfer under the influence).
There are probably other tools and tips and tricks that people have found to make this process easier.  If so, feel free to share with us in the comments!
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