Why use a transcriptionist?
When it comes to qualitative research, employing a third party to transcribe the initial data not only has benefits in terms of time and priorities in a study’s schedule or in a marketing exercise, but involving an intermediary could be a positive decision with regards to the quality and authority of subsequent research outcomes and findings.
Knowing what you are looking for possibly makes you more likely to find it. Selection in transcription can be an unconscious thing; like we read what we thought we’d written perhaps we hear what we think we would like to hear? For a researcher who is relying on transcripts from audio data as their source material for qualitative research, knowing what you are looking for could introduce subconscious and unintended bias, but bias nonetheless, if transcribing your audio data yourself.
Why use an independent transcriptionist?
If you decide that your methodology should include taking steps to explicitly avoid such potential bias (and potentially gaining you some useful distance from your initial data-collection interviews before you launch into your analysis) by using a third party, you are then perhaps presented with issues to do with consistency and quality if you decide to outsource the process beyond yourself and your department or organisation.
For instance, when you submit your audio to an agency, the work is allocated and distributed to a range of transcriptionists with varying levels of experience and skill, each with their individual styles. While a good agency will have a thorough proofreading process in place, this however is in most cases a proofread, not a check on the relationship between the audio and the text. So while this goes to the issue of quality in terms of the agency’s reputation with regards to what a good transcript looks like, it doesn’t address the issue of quality in relation to audio and text or consistency between transcripts in a particular ‘batch’ since multiple transcriptionists’ work may be checked by multiple proofreaders.
Using an independent professional transcriptionist can help you overcome these issues.
By asking one transcriber to work with you to produce your transcripts for a study, you can overcome many of the issues associated with not only consistency but also this methodological decision can increase your confidence regarding the transcribed data in relation to the audio recording. Through adopting a briefing-feedback-quality dialogue with one person, you can feel reassured that your transcribed data is presented to an agreed standard and can be ‘read’ in a consistent way so insights gained from within one transcript can be related to those gleaned between transcripts.
The only real drawback potentially of using an independent professional transcriptionist as an integral feature of your methodology and process is one of timing. This is really only an issue of planning. A transcriptionist can usually transcribe 80 minutes of audio a day. If presented with 30 one-hour interviews as one batch, they will need nearly a month to complete the task! If you are however conducting two interviews a week, engaging a transcriptionist at the start of the process, feeding the audio through to them as and when conducted, your data collection is achieved in a timely way in relation to the research events and the production of source material for analysis.
As an independent transcriber, I can offer competitive rates starting at 70p per audio minute. Agency rates vary, but £1 per audio minute is fairly average. If you are responsible for the judicious use of research grants or client money, using Sound Words may well be a good option. By employing me, you can also be sure that the person who is doing the work for you is being paid above industry standard, where agency transcribers can receive as little as 40p per audio minute (an average of possibly 60p), whereby even the fastest typist is earning below the living wage.
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