Research Knowledge

How to get the best out of your Transcriber

Posted on Monday 27 July 2020

With thanks to ICG advertiser, Victoria Holland, Secretarial & Support Services, for this piece.

It’s a good idea to use a Transcriber, for several reasons. A transcription not only saves you time re-reading notes or having to listen again to video or audio files from interviews, conferences or focus groups; it frees you to conduct a better interview, paying closer attention to the detail of what’s being said, without the distraction of having to take notes.

When hiring a transcriber, communication is the key to getting the value you need from your transcript. Tell your transcriber how you plan to use it. Is there a format you find easiest to work with, such as Excel or Word, or even transcribing directly into a discussion guide.   Do you need time stamps (and how often) so that you can quickly find highlights in the original video or audio files, so you can include media clips in your report?  Do you need full anonymity, or reference details such as the name of the interviewee and/or organisation, location, date of recording, etc?

Then there’s the level of detail in the transcription itself. If you’re unfamiliar with research transcripts, you may not yet know how much detail to specify. As a rough guide, the detail is on a scale from ‘full verbatim’ where every utterance is noted, to ‘intelligent verbatim’ where the transcriber takes professional discretion to edit out any “um’s”, “ah’s”,  stammering, false starts and repetitions, to make the document easier to read.  Although full verbatim is the most accurate record of what was said, and is used (for example) by academic researchers doing ‘discourse analysis’, it also takes longer to transcribe; as a commercial user it wouldn’t be worth paying extra for a level of detail you don’t actually want or need.  Here is an example of the difference:-

Full Verbatim

INTERVIEWER: Um, well, first of all, um, uh, let’s talk about how you are, uh, feeling today. 

RESPONDENT: Uh, I’m okay, but just a bit, uh, tired.

Intelligent Verbatim

INTERVIEWER: First of all, let’s talk about how you are feeling today?

RESPONDENT: I’m okay, just a bit tired.

It’s also worth thinking in advance about the quality of recording.  A transcriber can only be as good as the audio quality.  If you are recording on a mobile phone set to ‘speaker’, the sound quality may be poor, making it hard for the transcriber to understand what was actually said.  Remember also to keep to a minimum any sources of background noise: many a good interview response has been drowned out by a fan or air conditioning unit, street noise through an open window, shuffling of papers, tapping a pen on a desk or the clicking of computer keys as someone takes live notes. A well-prepared quiet room will help to preserve your valuable research findings on the audio file, so you don’t lose valuable insights. 

Similarly with telephone interviews or discussions, sometimes the line can be distorted or cut in and out. If that happens, a good tip is to repeat what the respondent has said if you think that the audio may not have picked it up very well.   It’s also helpful if an interviewer and respondent can be mindful to avoid talking over each other – though in the era of online video conferences, this is a harder discipline to follow, partly because of different lengths of delays on the line.  In online focus groups the moderator can prevent an audio pile-up by inviting respondents to speak and using “hands up” functions on the conferencing app.  

Finally, turnaround time is an important consideration.  If you’re going to need to make use of a transcript quickly after the event, it is important to book this in advance. A good transcriber will always offer a tight deadline service, within say 24 or 48 hours, but this must be pre-booked.

Victoria Holland, Secretarial & Support Services

Leave a Reply