Now that I am starting the interviews for the Dawson City Museum (DCM) Project, it is time to transcribe them.
Transcribing is interesting because I notice themes and intersections between interviews when paying such close attention to what people are saying. Unfortunately, transcribing is also really tedious, involving more decision-making and time then I ever thought possible.
This post explains why I am doing edited transcripts and describes some of those edits. It was originally an instruction sheet for my Research Assistant, but I think the information may be interesting to some interview participants and other students.
For my Masters and PhD interviews, I did verbatim-ish transcripts. They were close to what the person said with punctuation added and sounds like “um” or “ah” removed. This is not the approach I am taking for the DCM project because:
- People (myself included) do not like reading verbatim transcripts. The grammar is almost always awful. As a result, participants will often stop reading them or get distracted (they want to fix their grammar). For the DCM project, informed consent is incredibly important to the community partnership and related ethical concerns. I need people to read the transcripts they approve (or simply be very confident they stand by everything they said).
- The approved transcripts will be preserved in the DCM archives (with the participants’ consent). I may have an inflated sense of self importance about my work… but I think the transcripts will be relevant in the future. For example, in 40 years it will be the DCM’s 100th anniversary and they may want to do an exhibit about themselves.
For these reasons, my Research Assistant and I will create edited transcripts. The sections below illustrate the difference.
The interview excerpt I am using is from my first interview with Alex, the current Executive Director of the Dawson City Museum. I received consent to make this post and use the audio / transcript in this way.
Robin: If you could start by just telling me your name and your relationship to the Dawson City Museum right now, that would be great.
Alex: Sure. My name is Alex Somerville and, uh, right now I’m the Executive Director of the Dawson City Museum.
Robin: Great. Um, so, how did you become involved with, ah, community museums? Ah, how did you start in the museum sector?
Alex: Ah, my first job was in the community museum, was in a community museum. Uh, yeah. Yeah, my first job was in a community museum. And I guess had sort of a a first job later than a lot of people. It was in the summer between my first and second years of university. Um, and, ah, I’d never, never even, you know, beyond having a job, that first job, I had never been had any any contact or any role or any part in any community museum.
In my opinion, Alex’s second answer is a little confusing as a written response in the verbatim transcript. If you listen to the audio, the answer is not confusing at all:
The edited transcript, I believe, better communicates what he said even though it is not verbatim. I also deleted things that I said, which do not really enhance the document. Here is what I sent to Alex for approval:
Alex: My name is Alex Somerville and right now I’m the Executive Director of the Dawson City Museum.
Robin: How did you become involved with community museums? How did you start in the museum sector?
Alex: My first job was in a community museum. I had a first job later than a lot of people. It was in the summer between my first and second years of university. And beyond having that first job, I had never had any contact or any role or any part in any community museum.
Examining the Differences
What differences do you notice between the verbatim and edited versions? Which do you prefer?
Using the example above as a starting point, I created the following guidelines for the Project’s RA (Research Assistant):
- Remove stammering sounds (e.g., um, ah)
- Repeating words (e.g., “a a” or “any any”) do not serve a function and can be removed unless they are emphasis words (e.g., “very very very big”).
- After this, the editing involves more decisions and some people may make different choices. Here two choices explained:
- In speech people often change how they are going to say something (e.g., “my first job was in the community museum, was in a community museum”). In most cases, it is more readable to transcribe what the person decided to say (e.g., “my first job was in a community museum”).
- In speech people often overuse certain words (e.g., most conjunctions, you know, I guess, like). Sometimes, keeping these words helps preserve the person’s speech pattern. However, they can also make reading more difficult and the transcript is better without them (e.g., “Um, and, ah, I’d never,’d never even, you know, beyond having a job, that first job, I had never been had any any contact or any role or any part in any community museum.” became “And beyond having that first job, I had never had any contact or any role or any part in any community museum.)
Do you have experience transcribing interviews? If so, are there additional guidelines that you would recommend?