How to Write an Interview Transcript in 4 Steps

May 19, 2021
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How to Write an Interview Transcript in 4 Steps

Transcribing interviews can be a challenging and time-consuming endeavor, but if done properly, it can help you tremendously with your research. So how exactly do you do it properly? Here’s a simple 4-step guide on how to write an interview transcript.

1. Know what you need

There’s a lot to consider before transcribing an interview. The most important one is that interview transcriptions can take a long time to do, depending on the length of the interview. But if you reflect first on what you need to get from it, you can save a lot of time and energy to do other tasks.

Use these questions to guide you before you start transcribing:

  • Do you need a full transcription, or do you only need to transcribe specific parts?
  • What details are you looking for?
    • Do you need a verbatim transcript?
    • Do you need timestamps or speaker labels? 
  • When do you need the transcript?

2. Prepare your equipment

Having the proper tools will make it easier for you to transcribe the interview. You don’t need high-end equipment; just having working ones will get the job done.

No matter what kind of transcription, these are what you need to have:

  • A quiet place: You need to be able to clearly hear everything, which is something you’ll have a hard time doing in a cafe.
  • Computer: Any desktop or laptop with an audio jack or Bluetooth capability for your headphones or earphones should do.
  • Keyboard: If you’re using an external keyboard, make sure it has a consistent key travel across all the keys to avoid hiccups during typing.
  • Headphones or earphones: Get working headphones that can pick up even faint sounds in the recording and are comfortable enough to be worn for hours.
  • The audio file of the interview: If you have control over recording the audio, make sure it’s recorded in the highest quality available to avoid lost or garbled sound data.
  • Media-playing or transcription software: Ideally, you should use software like Express Scribe that’s specially designed for transcribing audio. Using transcription software gives you access to nifty features like hotkeys or shortcuts as well as audio boosting presets for more convenient transcription. Otherwise, any media player will suffice.
  • Word processor: You can use a word processor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or even Notepad, but it’s highly recommended to use one where you can format the text easily after transcription.

Alternatively, you can simply use speech-to-text transcription tools to generate the transcript for you, but it's not always 100% accurate. Noise or heavy accents can easily throw off automated transcription, which is why human transcription is still more reliable.

3. Listen and transcribe

Now that you're all set, it’s time to hit the play button and type away. There are many ways to transcribe, though you can simplify the transcription process in two moves: 

  1. Segment the interview audio to make it easier to read back. A simple way is doing it by minute (e.g. 0:00 -> 1:00, 1:00 -> 2:00, and so on)
  2. Under each segment, write each spoken line with this format: [name of speaker]: [speech]
  3. Repeat steps 1 to 2 until you finish the interview.

Early on, you’ll face a lot of challenges as you make your transcript. This includes unintelligible speech, crosstalk, or times when the speaker talks too fast. You will probably find yourself backtracking a lot.

Take note of these challenges you may encounter:

  • Time: No matter how good you are, transcription takes a lot of time to do. Keep this in mind when planning out your day amidst your other tasks.
  • Patience: Expect a lot of going back and forth between timestamps to pick up what was said.
  • Focus: Transcription can be mind-numbing after a while, so be sure to come up with ways to keep your head in the game.

Just remember to keep focusing on the importance of transcribing interviews in your research to help keep yourself on track.

4. Finalize the transcript

This is the final stretch of the transcription. There are two things that you have to do:

  1. Review the audio recording and your transcript so you can pinpoint mistakes you might have made, including typos and errors in spelling or punctuation.
  2. Spruce up the transcript by ensuring consistent formatting to improve readability.

You can also add your notes in-text or through comments (if you’re using Google Docs or Microsoft Word), depending on your preference.

While rewarding, making interview transcripts is deceptively challenging and tiring. With so many other things you have to do, you may want to consider availing of a transcription service instead to do the job for you.

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