7 Principles for Developing Transcription Rules

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Poor quality transcriptions can significantly delay the progress of a research project, so it is essential that best practices are kept in mind at all times. This post explores the intricacies of developing transcription rules that work for one’s specific research project before outlining seven principles that help guide researchers in this endeavor.

Developing Rules That Meet  your Specific Needs

There is no universal transcription protocol that will work for all research projects, theoretical frameworks or data collection approaches. However, thereTranscription Rules are a few practical considerations that can help guide the development of rules that fit your specific research project. Firstly, transcription rules should facilitate the systematic organization of qualitative data, thereby allowing systematic and orderly Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA). This is the primary goal of establishing transcription protocols and applies regardless of what specific analytical tools are being used.

The aim of establishing transcription rules is to ensure a high level of confidence that transcripts have been prepared in a systematic way, facilitating an iterative process that runs smoothly. Consistency is the name of the game. It is vital that researchers maintain an intellectual reflexivity when preparing transcripts. The preparation should be seen as an  important step to the final analysis as the initial data collection itself.

Seven Principles : Two Categories

The seven principles that guide the development of transcription rules fall into two general categories: those that preserve morphological naturalness of the interview and those that dictate the nature of rules themselves.

Morphological Naturalness

Morphological naturalness means preserving all possible contextual information about the interview that goes beyond the literal discourse between interviewer and interviewee. This means that 1) word form, commentary form, and punctuation should strive to capture the original speech presentation as closely as possible.

2) A transcriber must maintain the natural structure of the interview. Speech markers may be used for this; think of the transcript as you would the written form of a movie script.

3) It is also important to generate a verbatim account of the interview. One should not attempt to prematurely reduce the text and this includes mispronunciations, slang, grammatical errors and non-verbal sounds such as laughter or sighs.

The Rules

Rules should facilitate an easy and hassle-free transcription process. The four remaining principles speak to this need:

4) the rules should be universal and produce transcripts that are suitable for both human and computer use.

5) Rules should be complete, meaning that transcribers need only those rules to and knowledge of everyday language (not specialist linguistic theories) to prepare transcripts.

6) The rules should be independent of a specific transcriber and sensible to other researchers and third parties.

7) Finally rules should be intellectually elegant: simple, few in number and easy to learn.


Source: McLellan, Eleanor, MacQueen, Kathleen M., and Neidig, Judith L. 2003. “Beyond the Qualitative Interview: Data Preparation and Transcription.” Field Methods 15(1): 63-84.

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10 years ago

Great post, very informative. Thanks.