Three Tips to Make Transcribing Less Terrible

Transcribing is the most tedious thing I’ve done for my dissertation to date (disclaimer: I am starting to code, and that is considerably tedious as well). I conducted 10 interviews, one was a two-parter, and with the exception of a couple, all were at least an hour in length. Towards the end, I was transcribing about 15 minutes of audio per hour, so approximately 10 hours of audio took me about 40 hours total to transcribe.

Now, I could have paid someone to do it, but I have much better things to do with my money than spend roughly $600 on transcriptions. And, the good researcher in me thought, “if I transcribe my interviews myself, I will know my data better, be closer to it, get more out of it.” While that’s true, and even though at times, my present, transcribing self wanted to poke out the eyes of  my past “Oh, transcribing will be great” self, I am glad I saved the money and transcribed the interviews myself. Here are a couple of things that made my life less miserable while transcribing:

First, buy a transcription pedal. When I did interviews for my master’s, it took me
F O R E V E R to finish transcriptions. I think I was averaging something like 15 mins for every 1 minute of audio; it was taking me an hour to transcribe four minutes. Once I got the pedal though, I practically tripled my productivity time. I used this one, and it came with software that allowed me to slow down the tape, which helped tremendously. I set the audio to 52% of it’s normal speed, and I was still able to understand almost everything. There were times when I needed to speed the audio back up, because unless you or your interviewee are particularly articulate, there are some words that get lost in slow mode. I was also able to set the pedals (3, one main pedal in the middle, and one smaller pedal on either side of the main one) to whatever I needed them to do. So, I set the left pedal to rewind five seconds. I set the middle pedal to only play the audio when it was pressed, so when I lifted my foot, it stopped. And, I didn’t really need the right pedal, but it might have been helpful to fast forward a few seconds. Either way, the pedal significantly decreased the time I spent transcribing.

Second, while I was transcribing, I was reading Johnny Saldana’s book, The Coding Manual for Qualitative ResearchersHe suggests writing analytic memos while transcribing (and during other parts of data collection). Saldana suggests writing memos to record and reflect. Writing memos became really useful for me to stay interested in what I was doing. It did take more time (which, when you are transcribing, that’s just about the last thing you want), but it was really helpful. When I transcribed something that sparked my interest or made me think, I was able to reflect on it in the memo. These memos can be later used to code and / or potentially as a draft for chapters. Transcribing can become incredibly boring, and in my case annoying since I got SO SICK of hearing myself say, “right.” Using the chance to be reflective about the interview kept me interested in continuing to transcribe. Below is the template I use for my memos. It’s nothing super fancy, but I really like having a separate column for emerging themes – it separates themes out from the rest of the text, and I can start to see themes of themes emerge (how meta …).

memotemplate

Third, if possible, leave time between the interview and transcribing. Since there had been enough time between the actual interview itself and the transcribing of the interview, it was like being in the interview all over again. All of my interviews really charged me, made me excited. I felt so excited about my research after my interviews were done. Leaving the time in between helped me experience that all over again, as much as possible, so there were times when I was excited while transcribing.

Though, in the end, transcribing just seriously sucks. It takes so long, and by the end, your fingers feel like they are going to fall off, but it’s not forever, and at least I can check it off my “to-do” list. As I code and get deeper into my dissertation, I am having a difficult time having, let alone marking off, a to-do list.

 

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The Writing Center is Magical

Magic book

www.samanthababington.com

One important piece of my writing process is going to the writing center. I know a large number of faculty often oppose the idea of the writing center because of “plagiarism” concerns, but I am just going to ignore that that belief exists.

There are two main reasons why the writing center is critical to my writing process. First, it holds me accountable to someone other than myself to have a “deadline.” One thing I have finding difficult post-coursework is the complete lack of tangible deadlines. It feels like I never get anything done, that I have a complete lack of milestones (however small) to meet and pass. There is more incentive to read during coursework—the readings are due on date whatever, you read the readings, the class comes, and then the reading is past, but I digress. Weekly meetings with a writing consultant give me a tangible deadline again. If I don’t get anything done in between weeks, then I am just wasting the writing consultant’s time, and as a writing consultant myself, I know that it is more useful to come with something than not. So, even if it’s two hours before the appointment, at least I am back in the document writing.

The second reason writing center appointments are critical is the sounding board. I am lucky in that I work with someone I like, I get along well with, and who is familiar with my work. Though, that’s true of any regular appointment. The advantage to regular visits is that I can jump right in, and I often don’t even read my work (like writing center theory suggests we do), but I talk to the consultant about my concerns or a certain part I am stuck with. Because I know what I need from myself and my writing to move forward, I can tell my consultant exactly what I need from the session.

While my writing process is exploratory, so is my thinking process. However, if I don’t get my thinking outside of my head, it never evolves. The writing center is the place that I can move my thoughts into solutions.

There’s Only so Much Chocolate I Can Eat!

My anxiety is quickly rising right through the roof.

And, you know, this morning started off well. Yesterday (a Monday) was a snow day, and today the roads were a mess, so I worked from home. I put dinner in the crockpot, and I felt motivated to write. I thought to myself, “Man, I have so much room for writing activities today” (thanks, Stepbrothers). But, let’s be honest, the day just seems to get away. Here’s a quick run-down of what I did:

  • Wrote notes on an article I read last night for my dissertation
  • Took a shower
  • Put food in the crockpot
  • Did a writing center appointment (online as a coach)
  • Ate lunch
  • Cleaned up
  • Met online with a colleague to talk about a workshop we are planning
  • Went to a doctor’s appt with the better half (read for qualitative research coding methods)
  • Took the puppies out
  • Took about 45 minutes to work on my revise and resubmit (the thing really wanted to get to today … it’s nearly 5:00p by this point)
  • Ate dinner
  • Cleaned dinner
  • Now, I finally sit down to work on the revise and resubmit … and this is where my anxiety surfaces and starts to bubble over

Okay, so productive-ish day …but when I finally sit down to write the thing I actually wanted to work on, I feel like I’ve let yet another day slip past. And, I have had this revise and resubmit for months (because I have been SO anxious to, well, revise and resubmit – that’s for another blog on another day), which makes me anxious because it feels like I am running out of time.

I’m anxious that my work sucks. Really, I have to go to writing center appointments and have my coach talk me into the article every week (well, there’s more to it than that, but, you get the drift).

I’m anxious that I will be flat out rejected.

I’m anxious that I won’t even get it done.

I’m anxious that it’s not focused

… or relevant

… or contributes anything to the field

… or is any more than trash.

There’s not enough chocolate in the world to submerse this writing anxiety (delicious chocolate picture by jtawellness.com).

chocolate

So, I am taking a break to write this post, but then I have to go back to it. The only way I get my anxiety to stop is by plowing through some writing – however terrible that writing looks. I am going to try a trick with myself that I encouraged some graduate engineering students to do in a workshop this past summer. I am going to start a sand timer, and I have to write until it runs out. If I still HATE writing as much as I do right now when time runs out, I will stop. But usually, I keep going, because I eventually find myself on a roll.

I also know that I have to get something done because I have scheduled a writing center appointment to work on this exact piece tomorrow.That time scheduled really keeps me accountable for new material every week (more on writing center appointments to come).

So, sand timer, check. Writing center appointment, check. Butt in chair, check. Chocolate, obviously check. Less anxiety, hopefully I will be able to check off that box soon.

Nothing is Coming Out

I am sitting down to write. I have an outline to work from. I’m hydrated, fed, caffeinated, and I am in the library with plenty of ambient noise to help my brain work, except that none of this matters. I write a word, which inevitably turns into a sentence, but then nothing. I write one sentence, and nothing else comes out. I sit, and I stare, and I come back to try and cobble together a thought, and it just isn’t working.

I guess this is what they call writer’s block.

I have plenty to write about–I’ve been doing reading, research, all the things that give me plenty of fodder to write (and write a lot), but no writing is happening today. Not being able to write something when I have all of the writing to do is really, really frustrating. I know I need to write a dissertation, but how do I write a dissertation?!?

knew what to do

I can’t even blame writer’s block on other things happening in my life. Sure, I just burned the shit out of my arm on the oven last night while cooking mini-meatloaves. Sure, my dog just had surgery, but everything is just fine. My arm didn’t fall off, and my dog is still alive and well.

So, maybe it’s that I have so much other work to do? Okay, maybe. But, that can’t be an excuse since the dissertation is the top priority. Maybe we will chalk it up to brain farts. Either way, I need to walk away from the writing since nothing is happening, and I just keep getting more and more frustrated.

When I walk away, I need to keep the guilt at bay. This is the most difficult thing – letting go of the guilt. I think this is maybe why I am writing here – at least that’s something, right?

I need to put together a little bag of tricks to beat writer’s block (and I need to make sure I actually want to get through writer’s block).

Writing is Not Linear – In Fact, It’s a Mess

Notebook

One of my primary jobs while working in a writing center is to help instill confidence in other writers. Over the summer, our writing summer sponsored a weekly workshop series for Engineering Graduate Students. I created a number of workshops for them including: Getting Started with Your Writing, Revising Your Writing, Peer Review, Writing a Literature Review. In addition, we had weeks where they just wrote – and they knew I was there if they needed any “writing” “help.”

After the workshops were over and the feedback about the series was in, it surprised me that one of the things they gained most from the workshops was hearing about my own, personal struggles with writing. They thought that if I, a writing center consultant of 6 years, a writing teacher, and a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Writing, struggled with writing, than not only were they not alone, but struggling (and often hating writing) was okay.

A similar sentiment continues to come up with recent writing center sessions. I am often asked about my own writing process, but many think that perfect writing just happens. As writers, we know (and often resent that) this isn’t true, but especially for those writers across disciplines, there are rarely examples of what writing process really is – the messy, dirty, terrifying-to-show-people version of writing.

The picture above is one example I use as what writing “looks” like. The response I receive is, “That’s writing?” Yeah, that’s just one teeny piece of my writing. And, frankly, that’s probably the most put together piece yet. In some ways, it is comforting for others to know that writing sucks (all of the time). It also seems useful for them to know they are not alone and that just because they feel frustrated, they are not a useless person.

But, the writing process is not transparent. My goal over the upcoming (many, many) months is to chronicle my writing “process” – however terrible and messy and embarrassing that looks – for my dissertation. There are, of course, a number of other writing projects I am working on, and I will include those as well. I just think there is a lot of value in showing the (wo)man behind the curtain when it comes to writing. It will help my students, it will help those who seek help from the writing center, and maybe – just maybe – it would hold me accountable to get some of this writing done!

 

How to Relate to Students, One *Truth* At a Time

1.30.15 Pic-Spoon

What is it about writing that makes me want to tear my hair out … er, I mean  … since I am a PhD student, I love writing. So. Much.

Wrong.

Now, I don’t necessarily hate writing. I just have a number of obstacles to overcome when I sit down to write. As the typical PhD student, (or so I’ve read) I don’t feel like my writing is good enough, so why bother? I have too many other things on my plate and those things are more important because they are due tomorrow instead of two months from now. Writing is so time consuming and my attention span (while worrying about all the things) seems very short these days. And, oh yeah, did I mention it’s never going to be good enough …

While I do really struggle with writing – and often – I think these obstacles are interesting to learn from. Not just for me to identify and work on improving my process (which I am very diligently trying to do, by the way!), but to be able to articulate to my students that WRITING IS HARD. It always is – whether you are a first year writer in college, or a PhD student in a Rhetoric and Writing program. Whether you feel like you have something to say / contribute or not. I try to use my experiences (including strengths AND weaknesses) to help show my freshman composition students that I really do know what they are going through – to some extent anyway. I mean, the older I get, the weirder the looks get from my students when I mention some pop culture reference. But, where is the line between “relating” and looking incompetent? Of course I am not going to stand up and tell my students that I would rather scoop my eyes out with a spoon than start a new draft (that seems a little dramatic, doesn’t it?). But, there are some things, I think, that can help students better understand that their writing teacher struggles with the same issues that they do without seeming incompetent.

  • I share my writing process with my students – this process often includes brainstorming in my planner, running out of room in my planner and sitting down at my computer to write a draft, then suddenly remembering that the baseboards* in the bathroom need to be scrubbed (*insert any other mundane cleaning task here). But, the cleaning period often gives me time to really think about what I am struggling with. Maybe I cannot find a way to develop my argument or end that section or pick a title. Whatever the “stuck” is, doing something that gets me away from my computer, and thinking about something else, is often helpful. Now, the trick is (and I have to remind myself and students of this) to make it back to the computer!
  • I integrate practical ways to teach students – This sounds really, really obvious. But, I often try to frame writing struggles as a “trust me, I get it” sort of thing. Although, at times, this fails. A “starting a draft from scratch is really difficult, trust me, I know” is often useful, but is only successful if it is followed up with some kind of in-class workshop for students to work with partners (and often myself) to brainstorm ideas and get an outline going. It really isn’t helpful to pass back first drafts of papers with feedback at 4 pm and say, “I just HATE revising. It really is the worst thing ever. Trust me, I get it. Your final drafts are due tonight at 5 pm.”
  • I share with them “truths” about my writing struggles – For me, everything is more dramatic in the moment, so if my writing is going bad right now, it is the worst thing in the world. But, looking back, I tend to think, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Let’s start a new project.” So, if I have trouble getting started, I can probably assume that my students do as well. But, I don’t need to over dramatize it. Giving them a “cleaned up,” post dramatic “truth” is probably less jarring. That way, I can give them offer them tips that have worked for me in the past that might help them get started like: freewriting a mind dump, reading extra resources, using index cards and post-its to write down ideas and make them movable, etc.
  • I show them what I mean – What “revision” means to my students and what it means to me are at two opposite ends of the spectrum. I love assigning Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” because I think it gives students a sense of relief that what they write does not have to be perfect (and they get to say a swear word during discussion). But, I don’t want to just leave them hanging after that. I think students often wonder after reading Lamott’s piece, “so, I wrote a shitty first draft. Now what? Can’t I just change a couple of ‘grammatical’ mistakes and turn it in? That’s revision, right?” What I found has been helpful is to show them what I mean by my version of “revision.” I bring in a project I am currently working on or have worked on and show them the many, many drafts and all of the markings and changes in between. Now, I obviously don’t expect them to revise that much, but hopefully that helps them get a little closer to my side of the spectrum.
  • I try to build in process over product – The process matters to me more than the final product. However, students do not just naturally decide to write multiple drafts. So, I build in activities and workshops to help them develop a process that is more conducive to a recursive process than producing a one-off product. This means brainstorming with peers, drafting first copies in class, talking to their peers about what needs to be changed, peer feedback, my feedback, more revision, more feedback on revision … you get the idea. It is a lot of work – for them and me, but it is important work and well worth it.

While I am certainly not the poster child for writing advice, I do like to let my students know that the only way they can get better is by doing it – and practicing it. Now if I could just take my own advice!

Digital Environments/Pedagogies/Theories: Still To Be Categorized

What does it even mean to use technology in the classroom? I think most of us could (and do) make the argument that paper and pencils are technology. But, now with definitions and mentions of what it means to gain “digital literacy,” how and what we teach in the classroom with technology is changing.

And, I admittedly am hesitant to integrate new multimodal assignments into my writing classroom, and my business writing class. In fact, hesitant isn’t the right word … it’s more like avoidance. Except I really can’t avoid multimodal pedagogy. Especially when I teach business writing online. And I wrote a book review in the form of a podcast. And I did an virtual online writing retreat with the Writing Center Journal this past summer. Digital environments is seeping into my academic and personal life, and I have no way to stop it. Digital and multimodal pedagogy (this is how I am classifying it for now – only until I decide upon how I want it to be characterized in my classrooms) is there. It is everywhere. And, while I hesitate to bring it into the classroom, I know that it is a disservice to my students if I don’t.

A bigger question than why don’t I integrate multimodal compositions into my classroom is why won’t I? I think this picture really sums it up:

imagesWH1MHHSM

 

 

 

 

I know it’s a disservice to my students not to talk about digital environments, but what happens when I don’t quite know what I’m doing? I know I can’t do everything perfectly, but I need to know the theory before I put it into practice. The research I have been doing around gaming theory/pedagogy in the classroom suggests that it is beneficial to integrate gaming into the classroom (I don’t want to make this a research paper, but see James Paul Gee’s seminal work What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy). However, if that’s not necessarily feasible, the discourse communities students engage in outside of the classroom affects the language they use in the classroom (Tucker, From Gammers to Grammarians” in Online Education 2.0). Either way, how technology is taught (or not taught) in the classroom needs serious consideration – regardless of discipline. This is nothing new, but we need to be reminded. Because it will be hard. And, when it gets hard, we will feel like this cat. But, the benefits outweigh the risks.

One Year Later

8.10.14

This weekend marks one year since I moved to Virginia. One year since I started my PhD program. This past year has been … interesting – to say the least. Here are some things I learned this year, and plan to carry with me as I start my last year of coursework:

  • Don’t save my wine corks. They are just a constant reminder of how bad I am at this
  • Build a foundation. Even if one is started, build upon it. Build it with friends, morals, hobbies, a support system, and a life – a life that is separate from academia. This is the foundation that will need to be there when all else fails (or at least when all else feels like it’s failing)
  • Be all in. Half assing a PhD doesn’t work. Even when you don’t mean to, it’s easy to get side tracked on research, coursework, writing, etc. Just do it. Be in it.
  • My Amazon cart will always be full
  • I will never, ever, ever have enough time to read everything I want to read
  • As I’ve said before – writing is hard
  • I will never make everyone happy
  • Remember the reasons I came here in the first place and what’s important to me
  • Build new networks
  • Recognize and respect my limits
  • Write more / doubt less
  • Trust my instincts
  • Everything is not always as it seems

Some of these seem cryptic, and some seem pretty straight forward. Although I have some anxiety about starting my second year, I am kind of excited to see what it brings. I am learning more about myself than I ever thought I would. And, I am learning more about higher ed than I expected – I know this is weird – of course I am going to learn things about higher ed. But, it seems like everyday I am seeing interesting new angles and gaining new insights. This is good because the first year was hard, and it’s just going to get more difficult from here.

6 Reasons to Do a (Virtual) Writing Retreat

Last week I got the opportunity to be a part of a week long virtual writing retreat sponsored by the Writing Center Journal. Beyond being in the presence of people I very much admire in writing center theory and scholarship – it was a really great experience. The writing retreat was a week long, and there were several meetings we attended virtually (via Google Hangouts). There was a Monday morning group meeting, and then each of us got a chance to spend one-on-one (or one-on-three, rather) time with the editors to talk about our work and ask them specific questions. During other writer’s meetings with the editors, the rest of us were welcome to sit in, listen, and offer feedback about each other’s work. In between meetings, we wrote, read, and chatted with each other about our work. Since it was such a great experience for me, here are six reasons why I think you should do a (virtual) writing retreat:

  • Designated Writing Time – So rarely do we get to set aside designated time to write and read for a specific project and / or purpose. This week allowed me to focus in on one (or two) specific project(s) – which equals forward movement on these projects, and forward movement is always good. Although I was also teaching an online class, I made sure the week before the retreat started that I was up-to-date on my grading and planning so that I could focus on the retreat. One whole week of being immersed in a project is exactly what I needed to get it moving again.
  • Meta Writing Center Sessions – A writing retreat offers many of the same benefits writing centers do – you are with a community of people who genuinely want to see you succeed, and what’s more, they want to provide feedback for your work in meaningful ways. All week, the writing process was recursive. So, the first meeting was designated to talk about the project and our goals for the week, and each subsequent meeting progressed our projects further and further.
  • Inspiring Support – Virtually, the retreat worked for me because it allowed us time to unplug and digest if necessary. While I enjoyed being plugged in and sitting in on others’ sessions with the editors, if I needed to unplug to digest, that was an option. What was even better was that when I came back online with my thoughts sorted out, I was able to talk with others about my project, how it had changed, and how I needed to move it forward.
  • Generous Community – And, to that end, the retreat reminded me how generous our community is. The editors of the Writing Center Journal – Michele Eodice, Kerri Jordan, and Steve Price – were so honest and helpful with their feedback for all of us. As a hopefully emerging scholar in writing center theory – getting the experience to get feedback from the editors like this, in this casual, relaxed setting was so helpful and encouraging. It’s a little bit like seeing what’s behind the curtain – except this retreat showed me that there really is no curtain.
  • Networking – I am grateful for the connections I made with people during the retreat. I am so looking forward to reading the articles that come out of last week – and I feel comfortable circulating drafts of my own.
  • Love What You Do – And, honestly, it’s just really cool being around people who care about the same stuff you care about – and be able to talk about it for a week straight.

Now, several days after the retreat has ended, I feel really excited and motivated to move forward with my project, and to consider new ways to think about how writing centers serve diverse disciplinary populations. I was guilty of putting these projects off – because it is so easy to de-prioritize these things – especially when I didn’t have anybody to hold me accountable. Now, I still don’t have anybody holding me accountable, but I do have a big group of people and their support. And that’s even better.