What are the most common qualitative data collection and transcription errors? Read on and find out how you can avoid them.

Pitfalls and problems occur in every type of research, but rarely are they discussed in the realm of transcription.  Easton, McComish, and Greenberg’s article Avoiding Common Pitfalls in Qualitative Data Collection and Transcription, published in Qualitative Health Research, casts light on the common problems in transcribing qualitative research data, including three categories: equipment failure, environmental hazards, and transcription errors.

Equipment FailureCommon Transcription and Qualitative Data collection erros and how to avoid them

As a researcher, chances are in at least one research interview, there will be some type of equipment failure.  Whether the recorder or camera stops working, batteries die, electricity goes out, or any number of other issues, something is bound to happen at least once in numerous interviews.  Thus, researchers are forced to go back to the old standard of a pen and pencil in this case, if the problem is caught in time, or can lead to needing to cancel and reschedule an interview if the interviewee is willing, creating frustration in both the researcher and the interviewee.

There are ways to avoid this dreaded equipment failure and embarrassment.  Check all equipment before the interview.  Bring extra batteries and or a second and possibly a third recorder or camera in the event there are problems with the recorder itself.  Though the hassle of carrying around extra equipment may be a pain, losing data because of an avoidable problem would be worse.

Environmental Hazards

A second problem commonly encountered is environmental hazards.  These create horrendous problems for the transcriber in trying to determine comprehensible words out of the background noise.  Quite often, the background noise at the time would not seem that disturbing to the researcher, however the sensitive microphone of the camera or recorder amplifies that sound, blurring the conversation.  Even when recognized and dealt with by the equipment turning off and on, the constant interruption stops the flow of the interview.

To avoid environmental hazards, the researcher can arrange a quiet space ahead of time for the interview, which usually means avoiding office space.  Between printers, officemates, telephones, doors shutting, and other uncontrollable events, the office is not ideal.  Private homes can be just as disruptive with children running in and out, family members, pets, doorbells, phones, and other distractions.

Also, always make sure the recorder or microphone is close enough to record the conversation and give enough pause once it is turned on so it does not cut off any words initially spoken.  It may be helpful to designate a time frame for the interview and have someone else available to answer the phone, doorbell, or take care of other distractions. Here’s a post on three great tips for recording research interviews

 Transcription Errors

When transcribing, punctuation and mistyped words can entirely change the meaning of what the interviewee said.  This requires the elimination of the environmental hazards as stated above and a careful attention to the accent and dialect of the person talking.  A simple mistake of thinking “can’t not” is “cannot” changes the sentence completely.  If the transcriber is unfamiliar with the slang of a culture, jargon, or language barriers are present, he may unintentionally misinterpret a word or phrase and thus mistranscribe it.

To avoid transcription errors, the ideal is to have the researcher also be the transcriber as soon as possible after the interview.  However, neither of these are always possible, hiring a professional experienced transcriber assures transcription accuracy and the researcher should review the transcription and check it for accuracy.

Through careful diligence and patience, researchers with qualitative data and transcription needs can ensure that their research is as error free as possible.  Always consider what could be a potential problem and work to correct it as soon as possible.

Source: Easton, K.L., McComish, J.F., & Greenberg, R. (2000).  Avoiding common pitfalls in qualitative data collection and transcription.  Qualitative Health Research, 10, 703-707.

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