My research includes interviews. Since the exact words of the participant are important to my qualitative methodology, I wanted to audio record these interviews for later transcription. In addition to preparing my interview questions and scheduling appointments, I began to wonder how to do these transcriptions while still in the field? (Data analysis should start right away, right?)

I searched for freeware programs that I could download (on a Mac) from online. In the end, I found Express Scribe. It met my criteria to support my file formats (MP3 and WAV) and have the ability to vary speed of playback. I also found the customizable “hotkeys” very useful!

My audio files were already downloaded and organized on my Mac laptop. From there, I loaded the file to Express Scribe and hit play. Express Scribe allows you to type directly in its “typing pad”; you can export these “notes” later as a .txt file. You can also open Microsoft Word and type directly here. Even while typing in Word, I could use the hotkeys to stop or begin playback.

Express Scribe Screenshot

I apologize for the distortion, but I need to keep the words of my interviewees confidential.

I am not the fastest typist in the world and feared the hours it would take me to transcribe interviews that often lasted two hours. I began by slowing the playback. I found that slowing the audio below 90% distorted the voices too much for my ear. Still, for fast-talking respondents, slowing to even 95% gave my typing skills a chance to keep up. In all honesty, I often stopped the recording to finish typing the response, then resumed play. This is where the hotkeys sped up my process. With short cut keyboard strokes, I did not need to move my hand to the mouse. I set my own “hotkeys” for whatever functions I thought I would need repeatedly by clicking Preferences > Hot-Keys. I only used “stop” and “start”. For minute rewinding or fast-forwarding, I used the mouse to click the corresponding audio control button. After 15 interviews, my typing skills have improved tremendously! But alas I continue to frequently misspell “the” as “teh” and “because” as “becuase”.

Now that I’m back on campus, I know that the SSRL also has NVivo, which can also assist with transcription of audio or video files. This is not the primary purpose of NVivo, but if you are using it for your entire research project, it offers a few great perks. I’ll save that for a future blog post!

Transcribing is a daunting task. They say it takes about one hour to transcribe just 20 minutes of talk. This really depends on your methodology and analysis needs. If you need to capture every “um”, pause or laugh, it will take some time. If the intonation of the speaker is important, again it will take time to describe these small but important pieces of information. Express Scribe can do more than I asked it to, but it worked for my project and my situation. Perhaps you will find it a useful tool, too.

Check out their online introduction and tutorial for guidance.