To transcribe or not to transcribe

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    What are everyone’s views on full or partial transcriptions of interviews in ethnography. 

    I have had two supervisors for my research. The first, an ethnographer, felt it was fine to only transcribe the important parts of the interviews. The second (and current) is from a phenomenological background and feels that it is vital to transcribe all interviews in full. I will end up with between 25 and 31 hours of dialogue (11 interviews, 9 hours case studies, and around 4 hours from focus groups). I have calculated that this will take me at least 5 months to transcribe (not factoring in the breaks i need every hour to stop my brain melting) up to 8 months.  

    My new supervisors main arguments are;

    This is the only way to fully immerse myself in the data. They will expect it at viva and know if i have paid someone by the way i answer my questions. 

    What he hasn’t said but I acknowledge is that when only transcribing the important bits I might be accused of taking things out of context. Since, for ethical reasons (people may be identified by their voice) I can’t present my recordings to the viva panel i can present a transcription.


    My arguments against:

    As an ethnographer I fully immerse myself in the data by living the experience of the participants. This is further compounded by the fact that i an a ‘native’ or ‘insider’ researcher. Yes I know that i might not understand things like my participants but this is where probing during interviews comes in (i wrote a paper on getting the best from being an insider already) and asking questions to appeal tot he subject naive. 

    I have come across many people who have simply paid for transcription services. throughout the process of thematic analysis one will become deeply familiar with the dialogue. 

    And finally simply transcribing does not protect against things being taken out of context. Turning audio into text removes inflection, pace and many other subtle nuances that underpin meaning. My ‘protection’ would be to transcribe enough each side of the illustrative point to show it’s context. or at least make reference to the proceeding discussion.

    My main fear here is that I am diverting valuable time from data analysis and reading (i’m using grounded theory so much of my reading comes after the data analysis stage). It took me an entire day today to get through 30 mins of an interview. I am an already time poor, part time student. 

    Has anyone got any views on this? What has been your approach. Am i being foolish? what’s the most that anyone here has transcribed? 



    Hi Kerry,

    I go with your new supervisor and you need to fully immerse in the data as you’re using GT and for that transcription is a must. There is a way not to lose “inflection, pace and many other subtle nuances that underpin meaning” in translation if you use some QDA. As I know, ATLAS.ti does it best and in combination with f4 ( I was also thinking in your line of second thought not to transcribe in full but after doing it (though unwillingly at the beginining), I realize the importance of whole transcription as you avoid skipping something which might contribute significantly in your analysis. Time is important factor but I would have factored that in before doing the field work — research planning at the earliest. There is no quick and short-cut way to do the qualitative analysis using GT. 



    For what it’s worth, I agree with your second advisor on one point. I’ve always found that complete transcripts help me pick up nuances I might not have picked up otherwise. However, I believe if someone else transcribes for you, if you read thoroughly and immerse yourself in the data after that, you will be able to draw strong conclusions.

    If you take good notes during the interviews and have interviews transcribed as you go, you should be able to read valuable content matter and plan next steps during the time of transcription fairly effectively. Both having someone else do transcriptions and that shared process might help you save time and still produce some strong work.

    I hope this helps.


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