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How to produce accurate transcripts of interviews and focus groups?

To produce accurate transcripts of interviews and focus groups, you need:

  1. suitable audio transcription software and equipment
  2. accurate touch-typing skills
  3. excellent ears (hearing and listening skills)
  4. excellent knowledge of spelling and punctuation
  5. follow the On Time Typing 3-point plan for perfect transcripts.

Suitable audio transcription software and equipment

To produce accurate transcripts, you need an audio transcription program and the right equipment.  For more information go to: Audio transcription programs and tools.

Accurate touch-typing skills

Although you don’t need to be able to type at 100 words per minute, a working transcriptionist needs to be able to type at least 80 words per minute with pretty good accuracy.

You need to be able to touch-type; that is, type without glancing down at the keys. Whilst you’re listening to what is being said in the recording (via your earphones) you need to be simultaneously typing what is being said and, at the same time, reading what you are typing on the computer screen and correcting mistakes (such as misheard words) as you go.

And you need to be accurate. If you make a few mistakes as you type that’s not the end of the worlds as long as you have a good eye for detail so that you can spot any inaccuracies that do occur, such as typos, missing or extra spaces, and fix them as you type.

Excellent ears

Your hearing needs to be excellent. You need to be good at hearing not only when people are talking to one another (which usually includes some interruption) but also when there are other conversations going on in the background, and you are trying to transcribe the people’s discussion in the foreground. You need to be able to transcribe accurately when there are air conditioners or car engines or other machines humming or roaring away in the background.

In addition, you need to be able to listen, and I mean really listen so that you understand what people are saying because you have to comprehend the meaning and context of people’s comments in order to accurately transcribe what they are saying. You also need to be able to understand what people are saying when they don’t speak English well or speak with a very strong accent and to do this, you need a bit of experience in talking to or transcribing people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Excellent knowledge of spelling and punctuation

The purpose of correct spelling and punctuation is to make the meaning of the text as clear as possible.

As spelling and punctuation are written, not verbal, tools, your job as transcriptionist is not only to accurately transcribe the words that are spoken; it’s also to make sure all the spelling is correct and that the text is punctuated 1) to accurately reflect the statements and intent of the person speaking, and 2) so that the text is as easy to read and understand as possible. With the right punctuation and presentation, even rambling focus group conversations involving multiple interruptions and red-herring comments can be presented as clear, easy-to-read transcripts.

Note: you should always type exactly what is said, even when people use incorrect grammar, so that the transcript accurately reflects the comments that have been made. A transcriptionist should only correct the wording of  transcripts where 1) they are transcribing dictation (which usually needs some editing), or 2) they have been asked to edit the transcripts to improve clarity.

3-point plan for perfect transcripts

Click on this link to read about the 3 point plan for producing perfect transcripts.

Sally-Anne Watson Kane has over 20 years’ experience recording research
interviews and oral histories; transcribing audio recordings of
interviews, focus groups, meetings, seminars and other events; and
editing and proofreading transcripts.

Keep posted for future articles about how to record interviews/focus groups and produce accurate transcripts.


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