How To Transcribe a Focus Group Discussion

How to transcribe a focus group

  • Step 1. Transcribe verbatim
  • Step 2. Let the transcript be!
  • Step 3. Use timestamps
  • Step 4. Identify speakers
  • Step 5. Proofread

Focus groups are a great way to collect qualitative data. Because they comprise of a larger number of participants, up to 15, they provide a broad range of information. It’s always advisable to conduct at least a couple of focus group discussions with volunteers before conducting in-depth 1-on-1 interviews.

Transcribing focus group discussion differs from 1-on-1 interviews. Because focus group discussions usually involve a large number of participants it’s difficult to capture all of the voices, especially interjections and overlapping conversations. In addition, it’s very difficult to distinguish the speakers.

Thus, when conducting focus groups it’s important to consider these factors and take the following 3 steps to ease transcription.

3 Tips for Conducting Focus Group Discussions

1. Location.

How to transcribe a focus group

Conduct the focus group discussion in a quiet surrounding. If you have fans or AC in the room, make sure it’s switched off. And make sure the participants are sitting in a circle, round a table, or a large semicircle. This will enable you to easily record the conversation.

2. Recording focus group discussions

I’ve penned a detailed post on how to record focus group discussion, but here are the main points. You’ll need to get the right equipment (here are some recommendations) for recording focus group discussion. Your iPhone, though a great phone, wont cut it. And you’ll need more microphones to recorder larger focus groups.

A quick tip. Focus groups are best carried out by a pair of researchers. If you are a lone researcher, find an assistant or a friend/colleague to help you conduct the focus group discussions. Sometimes you can use a key informant to help you plan and manage the discussion!

3. Etiquette.

At the beginning of a focus group, make sure that you let the participants know what the focus group etiquette/ground rules are. If you want to be able to identify the participants, give each participant a pseudonym that they should use every time they speaker (to ease speaker identification). For instance, “This is participant 4, my thoughts on the role of women in the workplace are…” Keep in mind that the more structure you install into the discussion, the less open it’s going to be.

With that said, focus group transcription calls for patience, attention to detail and a lot of care. So what is the right way to transcribe a focus group? Below are the steps you should follow when transcribing your focus group discussions.

How To Transcribe a Focus Group Discussion

Step 1. Transcribe verbatim.

You have the choice to transcribe the focus group using a strict verbatim style, where each and every word of the participants, including all the fillers (um, er), background noises (doors opening, bangs) and non-verbal communication (sighs, laughter, claps, pauses, coughs) are recorded in the transcript OR using an intelligent verbatim style, where the fillers, background noises, repetitions et al are taken out. Whichever verbatim style you choose to use will depend on your study objectives. Unless you are looking to study participant interaction, intelligent verbatim style will be sufficient for you to achieve your study goals.

Step 2. Let the transcript be!

Avoid cleaning up a focus group’s transcript. Just don’t. If a participant uses colorful or expletive language (you can denote the f-word as f—), commits grammatical errors, misuses or mispronounces words, do not correct these while typing. If you are unsure of the accuracy of a statement made by a participant, place the statement inside square brackets with a timestamp.

Step 3. Use time stamps

It’s always helpful to insert periodic timestamps into the transcripts. For instance every 2 minutes (which we do at no extra charge). This helps you find and cross check a quote easily. If there are parts that are not clearly audible, you can quickly locate the part on the audio as time stamps provide a marker. This allows you to go back to specific parts without listening to the entire audio recording.

Alongside time stamps, if participants speak at the same time with an overlap of speech and it is not possible to distinguish what each person is saying, you can place the phrase “cross talk” or [CT]in square brackets immediately after the last identifiable speaker’s text and pick up with the next audible speaker.

Step 4. Identify Speakers

As recommended earlier, if the participants had use audio identifiers, it very easy to denote the participants. However, if no audio identifies were used you can identify the speakers using general identifiers. You could use “P” for Participator and “M” for moderator. An alternative is to use male [Male:] and female [Female:] designation for the participants and [Mod:] for the moderator(s).

A quick speaker identification tip, when transcribing focus groups it’s easier to first create a transcription key where each speaker is assigned a different symbol. It’s very easy to find and replace (in MS Word or other word processors) the symbols with the participants identifiers. Here’s a sample transcription key.

Moderator = =

Participant 1 = /

Participant 2 = \

Participant 3 =#

Participant 4 =+

 Step 5. Proofread

Finally proof read. When transcribing a focus group, the main idea is to transcribe as much detail as possible. Proofreading is important to ensure accuracy. At least 2 rounds of review are ideal for focus group transcription.

Focus Group Transcription Example

Here’s a short transcription example of a focus group discussion.

Mod: Right, so first of all, I’d like to understand your roles in the organization. Dan?

Male: So, I’m the director…

Mod: Great. Sherly?

Female: Well, I work with…

Mod: And you Mary?

Female: My role in the organization is to…

Transcribing focus groups is not an easy task. It requires a lot of patience and diligence to transcribe an accurate transcript. Hopefully, the steps I have outlined above will help you as you transcribe your focus group discussions. If you have any questions, leave a comment. If you’d like us to transcribe your focus group discussions for you, please get in touch.

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Justine Mirembe
Justine Mirembe
7 years ago

thank you very much. this is helpful. Am transcribing FGD interview and I can see it easier for me after reading these outlines.

destiny uchealor
destiny uchealor
6 years ago

what of when am transcribing two set of group ” can i use same key’

5 years ago

As I know, focus group transcription is quite difficult to transcribe properly because a group of people participates here and also sometimes its difficult to understand words that people were talked. But, you have explained very well above steps “how to transcribe focus group discussion” accurately which will help a lot.

Thank you,

5 years ago

Thanks. The tips were very useful and the step by step transcription methodology has helped me do a good job of my 1st transcription assignment. Thanks once again

Eddielinda Octaviano
Eddielinda Octaviano
4 years ago

this is very informative. Thank you so much for unselfishly sharing this information.

Isaac Binnay
Isaac Binnay
4 years ago

Thanks immensely. It has really expanded my knowledge on FGD transcription. I will be glad to receive more of your lessons.

4 years ago

This was so helpful. I didn’t know where to start with my focus group transcription, but after reading your notes, I got clues on how to do it.
Thanks so much

4 years ago

Thanks for these tips. I ‘d like to know if it is good to trancribe FG directly in pirgin english into standard english.

YANKA Abu Bakarr
YANKA Abu Bakarr
3 years ago

thanks very much for your guidance to transcription. I have learn a lot from it. I had done transcription once but I did find it very difficult. However, I did used the your first step “TRANSCRIBE VERBATIM” from my local language to English, it made it unreadable by any body. For E.g. ‘TAKE TWO STONES’. in my language, stone and the amount n have to come first before take. that is, “stone two take”. looking at these example, it is very obvious that verbatim transcription is very hard in some language

8 months ago

How do I reference this writup?
It has made my understanding quite easy. Thank you Isaac.

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