True story. Recently, I got this transcription request from one of my clients.

“Hi Isaac. How have you been? I would like to get information about how much it would cost to transcribe a 90 minute focus group discussion. Ideally, I’d like to have the transcript within the next day or so. I have attached the recording. Thanks so much! Rebbie [pseudonym].”

So I got back to Rebbie with a transcription quote and ended up billed her $270 to transcribe the focus group discussion. That’s 3x my normal rate! What could Rebbie have done to reduce her transcription cost? And what can YOU do to make sure you get the lowest transcription cost for your qualitative research data?

Here are 3 simple tips that are going to save you (at least) 50% of your qualitative research transcription costs.

1. Get good quality audio

The quality of the recorded interviews is one of the most important factors that determines the cost of transcription. Poor quality recording are harder to make out and thus take longer to transcribe. So, professional transcribers will charge you more to transcribe poor interview recordings. Transcribers will charge you up to 2x their standard rate for poor quality recordings.

What can you do to improve the quality of your recording? I have written a comprehensive post on how to record great research interviews, but let me reiterate the main points.

a). Make sure that you record the interviews in quiet surroundings. Avoid restaurants, cafes, and outdoors. You’ll generally get a poor recording if there is a lot of ambient noise.

b). Get the right equipment. Get a digital audio recorder and whenever possible an external mic. If you are recording the interviews in a library or in someone’s kitchen – where you have control over environmental noise, a good digital sound recorder is more than sufficient. However, if you are have no choice but to record the interview in a noisy environment, make sure you have a microphone. Obviously recording research interviews with a iPhone or other smart phone is a big no-no.

c). Finally, make sure that you record the interviews in the highest bitrate possible. Preferably using a lossless format like PCM. At a minimum, make sure that your interviews are recorded at 256kbps. Here is a good article that explain what’s audio bitrate. When it comes time to share the files with a professional interview transcriber, you don’t over-compress the audio recordings. 192kbps is as low as you should go. Nowadays, internet bandwidth and hard disk storage are so cheap there is no reason to sacrifice quality over file size.

2. Plan Ahead

Whenever possible, you should get your interviews to your transcriber as soon as they are recorded. This gives the transcriber ample time to transcribe the interviews and get the transcripts to you. Rush transcriptions will cost you a lot of money. For example 1 day turnaround will cost you 2x-3x the standard 3-5 day turnaround.

Planning ahead is one thing that you can do that is going to greatly reduce your transcription costs. I recommend you get in touch with a transcriber before beginning of your research study. It’s helpful to establish rapport with your transcriber. And it’s very easy to share files using , or Google Drive within a few hours of conducting the interview.

Here’s the advantage of getting your research interviews transcribes while you are “in the field,” when you are done collecting data, you will have most – if not all, of your interviews transcribe and ready for the next step in your research: analysis. So you will have a smooth transition from collecting data to analyzing data.

3. Determine the type of transcription that suits your research needs a priori

For instance, if you are conducting a focus group discussion and you’ll need the speakers identified, you need to have audio markers (“this is speaker 1”) for each speaker or a speaker log. Without audio markers or a speaker log, speaker identification for large focus groups becomes an arduous (and never 100% accurate) process.

A quick tip on focus group discussions. As with most researchers, you are probably only interested in the content of the discussion, rather than who made what comment. So indentifying the participants as male or female will suffice for your research needs and save you a bundle.

You also need to determine whether you need an verbatim or intelligent verbatim transcription of your research data. While I don’t charge more for verbatim transcription, other transcription providers do. You can expect to pay 30%-50% more for verbatim transcripts.

Do you need time codes in your transcripts? If you plan to use Atlas ti or Nvivo to code your research data, I’d strongly recommend you have timestamps inserted into your transcript. This will enable you to sync the transcript to the audio and video recording and get all the benefits of using a QDA software. Time coding your transcripts will incur an additional cost, usually $0.25 – $0.50/min. If you don’t need it, don’t get it.

Getting back to Rebbie, why did she have to pay 3 times the normal rate? 1) She carried out her focus group discussion in a restaurant. Throughout the discussion you could hear Counting Crows (August and Everything After – their only good album) in the background:1.5x. 2) At a certain point during the conversation the cappuccino machine was blaring away and she got the transcript within 36 hours: 2x. 3) The transcript was also time coded every 60 seconds with speaker identification: 3x.

If Rebbie had conducted the focus group discussion in the library, was willing to wait 3-5 business days for the transcript, and did not require speaker identification (or had a speaker log/audio markers) and time stamping, I’d have bill her $90 to transcribe the FGD for her.


To reiterate the main points of this long post, here is how you can reduce your interview and focus group discussion transcription bill: get a good quality audio recording, plan ahead, get a transcript that suits your research goals.

You know what you need to do.

…The rest is up to you.

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