So, I want to write a bit later on today about the content of the first focus group interview that I am currently transcribing, but first off I want to think a little bit about the actual process of transcribing interviews.

Since last Sunday, I have been slowly transcribing the recording of the first focus group interview that was held on 10th May. When I say slowly, I mean, s…l…o…w…l…y. I admit, I had been putting off starting this task. I had listened to the interviews again, and found them really interesting, but the idea of sitting down and typing them out word for word, well, it didn’t fill me with enthusiasm.

I’m pretty good at putting things off and not feeling bad about it, but by Sunday afternoon it was weighing on my mind so I forced myself to sit down to the task. But, I ended up thinking about the task instead of actually doing it (a great way of procrastinating while still being able to tell yourself that you’ve started). ‘How long will it take?’ I thought about it and settled on an hour or two. Its obvious now, but at the time I wasn’t considering the fact that if it took everyone an hour and a half to say what was on the recording, it wasn’t a task that would be completed in less time than this. So, to delay things further, I turned to Google and ended up on a site called Virtual Assistant Forums. The news wasn’t good:

“I heard one hour of audio takes 4 hours to transcribe!”

“As a general rule I figure 1 hour of audio = 5 hours of transcribing”

“I average about 3 to 4 times typing to audio too – hope that helps?”

Why did they all sound so happy about this? I have over three hours of audio recordings that need transcribing, so I quickly calculated –  worst case scenario: 15 hours. My desire to start this task decreased even more. I felt that things were better when I didn’t know what was waiting ahead. Then I realised, these people were reasonably experienced transcribers. My worst case scenario estimate of five hours was probably optimistic

So, I obviously needed to do some more thinking (rather than just getting on with it). My thoughts moved on to the subject of how interviews are actually transcribed. Should I type every ‘um’ and ‘erm’ and ‘you know’ or should I aim to make it easy to read, at the risk of losing the integrity of the recording. Once more I turned to Google. This time I sought advice from that well known authority on academic interview transcription –

“Start the tape.”

Easy enough. But it continued:

“Use the foot pedal to stop and restart it as you work. You can use a regular tape player and simply hit pause to stop the tape, but keep in mind that the process will take much longer this way, and be more tedious.”

Great. Who has a foot pedal unless they do this for a living? Nobody does this for a hobby right? It looked like  I would would be stopping the tape frequently. By hand. Moving on:

“You won’t be able to type as fast as people speak — even professional court reporters use shorthand — so you’ll have to stop the tape each time you fall behind.”

I can confirm, this happens a lot. I can type three words before falling behind. As soon as I hit a word consisting of more than two syllables I’m done for. To combat this Ehow helpfully suggest:

“You may want to listen first to a sentence, then pause the tape and type it.”

Which is great, except people don’t tend to talk in whole, complete sentences. Instead sentences swerve, stop, change tack, turn into questions, pause and generally often don’t make much sense when written down. For example, this is a excerpt from the focus group interview:

“What I would like to know really is, if you can obviously tell us who you are, um,  a rough indication of where you live in relation to the coast here, and (pause) I won’t say ‘what do you do for a living?’, ‘how you usually spend your time?’ shall we say and, um, and also, what made you want to take part in the project if you wouldn’t mind, so, if anyone wants to take that and  go with it? Whoever wants to go first…”

This isn’t an answer given on the fly by a participant. This is a transcription of my first question! It’s a question I had planned out and written it down, so all I had to do was read it, and still, it’s a bit of a garbled mess. What it should say is:

“Could you please tell the group a little about yourself and where you live in relation to the coast here. Can you also tell us a bit about how you spend most of your time and what your reasons were for wanting to  participate in the project. Who would like to go first?”

So what I actually meant is best expressed by the second passage, but what I actually said in the first passage is how it came out. Is the difference important? I think it is. According to the ever dependable Ehow I should:

“Transcribe the interview exactly as you hear it. There will be time later to edit grammar and content.”

So, I decided to type exactly what I hear, including the ‘ums’ the ‘ahs’ and all the pauses. Thinking about it a little more, I think that it is best to try and capture the interviews in the most accurate way I can, as it will be easier to edit ‘out’ than ‘in’ later on should I decide the manner in which somebody says something is equally as important as what they say.

Fast forward to tonight, and I am proud to announce I have so far covered 41 minutes and 31 seconds of the first interview, and have been working on it for roughly eight hours. The irony isn’t lost on me however that the hour I’ve spent working on this entry could have possibly been better spent transcribing more of the interview, about 11 minutes of the interview in fact. So it looks like I’m still indulging in procrastination, but at least I’ve made a start.