So I have entered into a tedious, tedious phase of my dissertation research: I have something like nine or ten hours of focus group interview and classroom observation data that currently only exists as audiorecordings, and I need to turn it into text. The most direct way to do this is to manually transcribe it: listen to it all and type it in as I listen. (In extremely related news, if anyone knows of decent automatic transcription software for Mac OS X that is either free or inexpensive (I have no budget for this sort of thing), they should definitely tell me what it is called.)

There are a few things I can do to make this process marginally less painful. First of all, I use a media player called VLC to play the audio files. VLC has a lot of really nice features. First of all, there’s a slider in the playback window with which you can control the playback speed (without changing pitch!). I’m a fast enough typist that I can keep up with speech at 50 to 60 percent of normal speed, depending on how fast the subject talks, so if I crank the playback speed down around this level, I don’t have to keep skipping back to type everything. So what I do is, I close my eyes (so I don’t see typos and feel compelled to fix them immediately), kind of zone out, and type like a madman.

But on the topic of skipping back, VLC has another nice feature that lets you skip back five seconds by holding down the “skip back” media key. (EDIT: This length is even customizable; see here for directions!) Most other programs I’ve played with make you use some sort of crazy key combo (Option-Command-Shift-B or something stupid), which means that the media player window has to have focus to begin with, which, when you’re transcribing, it usually doesn’t, because your text editor is the thing that has focus. VLC will listen for media keys even if it doesn’t have focus, which is beautiful.

However, this feature sometimes backfires on me. See, if you don’t hold down the key for long enough, VLC interprets it as “go back to the beginning of the file.” Nothing is more frustrating than accidentally skipping back to the beginning of the file, because a) you lose your place, and if you haven’t recently put in a timestamp, you’ve got some guessing to do, and b) at the beginning of this file there is an annoyingly loud (even after I attenuated it a little in Audacity) noise from me putting the recorder down on the table. So basically what happens is, I’ll be in this sort of intense transcribing zone, and I push the media key not quite long enough, and suddenly CLUNKWHACKGHRACHKHGKGH, which makes me rip my headphones off my ears and spew profanity and go get a cookie.

So – now you know what I’m doing when I’m working on my dissertation for the next little while.


5 thoughts on “Transcribing

  1. Dear Spencer,
    Considering your answering rate to my mails, I have some suspect to get your idea about my question, but never give up to learn something:):) my question is that how do you analysis your quantative data, do you use any computer programme to analysis your data? By the way hope you fine…

    1. Hi Figen,

      Yeah sorry about being bad at emailing back. :)

      I don’t use anything fancy. Mostly I just print out the transcripts and start highlighting things I think are interesting. I know a lot of people use HyperTranscribe or HyperResearch for this sort of thing, but I’ve never tried them. I have used Evernote before, because it has a very nice tagging system; I’ll clip little bits of transcript out and tag them with the relevant code so that they are easy to search for.

      How is Turkey?


      1. Dear Spencer, thank you for your answer, everything is fine in Turkey, hope to see you and other friends of crmse in my country soon,
        A hug,

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