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 Researchers. He 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 …).
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.