Lost in transcription

lost in the translation transcription

When time is tight and research squeezed into whatever’s left of the working week, it’s a case of learning on the job. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! There’s little time for being pragmatic or always having pre-event reflection. It’s more act first, think later. When it came to the interviews and transcriptions I made some mistakes but hopefully learned from them too. In June I listed ten tips for managing p/t doctoral research  http://suewatling.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2014/06/05/ten-top-tips-for-managing-part-time-doctoral-research/  Regarding interviews I can now include – with confidence – the following advice:

  • Test the volume, speed and microphone connection – every time.
  • Don’t rely on the recorder to preserve your data – back up back up and back up again
  • No biscuits – eat and talking don’t pair well.
  • Allow for pauses; the verbal gaps are not spaces for you to fill.

Transcribing my interviews was also an action orientated process. I slowed the recorder speed and typed. For hours. Every repetition, deviation and hesitation all faithfully reproduced. Apart from aching hands and an overheating laoptop it was ok. A folder of MP3 files and transcripts felt like real progress. Then I started DIY NVivo and realised I’d done it again. Gone in head, hands and feet first without reading the literature.

NVivo was a good point to break the habit and do some preparatory reading on text analysis and coding. Here I came across guidance on transcription.  Steinar Kvale says beware of transcripts – or was that be aware. The change of medium from verbal to written means within the process things risk getting lost or taken out of context. Transcripts are not transparent but can mislead – which will come as no surprise if you’re of the interpretivist persuasion. What was surprising were attitudes towards the process. Tedious, boring, onerous, time consuming – 1 hour of interview often compared to 5-6 hours transcription. I heard one lecturer on You Tube advocating paying to get them done, claiming he hadn’t transcribed for the last ten years. Silverman lists common mistakes made by external transcribers, many confirming the need to be aware or beware e.g. ever for never, formal for informal, was for wasn’t etc. I didn’t mind the transcription at all.

There’s no better way to start the process of getting to know your data than transcribing an interview. If it’s tedious and boring then something’s wrong.  The transcript is the first read through and a valuable opportunity to begin the mental mind map. A transcript is a verbal snapshot of the moment so should be verbatim, include all repetitions, deviation and hesitations, and be carried out by the researcher.   In the way photo-shopping is frowned on for misrepresenting the truth, so transcripts should contain attention to detail.  The transcription process is the end of the interview and the beginning of the data analysis stage. Not getting anything lost in the translation from speech to text is critical. Researchers are in positions of power and have a responsibility to record with accuracy everything that was said.


Silverman, D. (1997) Qualitative research: theory, method and practice. London: Sage

Terrible tangents or interesting times ahead?

ammonite spiral

What’s an ammonite got to do with it? I’m thinking about my pilot phd interviews and wondering about the process. As a research activity, my PhD offers the chance to explore the interview in more depth. I’m adopting a postmodern standpoint which challenges traditional ways of working. Opens up alternative possibilities. Nothing is fixed in postmodernism. I need to think spirals not squares. I don’t do numbers very well but I know the ammonite is formed in a Fibonacci spiral. As the developer of Walking the Labyrinth circular thinking suits me. My mind is an unfinished map full of links and connections. If I’m researching my practice in teaching online, maybe I should be researching the practice of interviews online too.

The word interview comes from early 16th century French entrevue, from s’entrevoir ‘see each other’, from voir ‘to see’, on the pattern of vue ‘a view’ http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/interview  Their face to face nature is implicit but this is the digital age as well as a postmodernetic one. What’s interesting is I’ve been here before.

In theory, a truly postmodernist researcher would probably talk themselves out of existence but I find the mental gymnastics useful. The bricolage of postmodern ideas matches the eclectic nature of my thinking. Linkages keep appearing. In the way Teaching and Learning in a Digital Age brings together my work on open education and digital inclusion so the phd is bringing together a decade of teaching ICT in adult and community education with widening participation and my first Masters degree. In 1999 I used the internet – via a dial-up modem, dot matrix printer and 5 and quarter inch floppy disk – to collect first person narratives for my MA dissertation. I didn’t know anyone else doing this at the time. It generated in depth responses from people across the world. It also created ready made transcripts in digital format ideal for analysis; when studying part-time the pragmatics become significant.

I want to get personal. I’m interested in attitudes to technology for education. Like it or not, virtual learning is the future and I want to find out how to do it better. Explore the relationships between individuals and their machines. It may have more influence on engagement than has previously been acknowledged. Online interviews are flexible in terms of time and distance and the process would be more manageable for me as the researcher. The key question – and I don’t yet have the answer – is how participation through technology might compare with participation away from it? Would an email interview dilute or enhance responses?

It’s no secret how my own relationship with technology is fractious. I’m convinced the network conspires against me. My computer behaves inexplicably. I log on and trigger a fault switch. Irrational but true.

computer error message

Computer error message  computer error message


Yet I value the capacity of digital education to create meaningful educational endeavour. Virtual reality has limitations but so does face to face. How effective is a 50 minute lecture? A seminar group where no one’s done the reading? Group work with variable degrees of interest? I meet with Mike most weeks for 30 minutes. I test my ideas. Say where I am and how I’ve got there. Most of the time we don’t agree but it doesn’t matter so long as I can theoretically ground myself. We swap readings. My head spins. If I could lie down afterwards in a darkened room I would. You don’t get that sort of experience online – but you get a different one – equally valid – just different.

When it comes to postmodern research method, writers like Scheurich, Stronach and MacLure have useful things to say but they predate the internet. Classic action research texts from McNiff, Whitehead, Reason and Bradbury are great for method but have a focus on face to face. Where newer editions of these and of qualitative research manuals address the digital there is less about the postmodern. I haven’t yet found the published research into the links between postmodern theory and contemporary online educational and research practice. Which intrigues me. I’m either going off on a terrible tangent or have interesting times ahead 🙂