UPDATE: Here’s a 2-part comprehensive guide on how to transcribe your dissertation interviews.

For whatever reason you may not be able to hire me to transcribe your research interviews for you. In that case, here is a simple guide on how you can transcribe your research interviews and start analyzing your data.

What you need to transcribe your research interviews

There are a number of items you are going to need.

  • Obviously, you are going to need the recording of the qualitative interviews in a digital format. Mp3 is probably the most popular and is supported by most transcription software. You may need a software to convert your audio interviews from the recorded format to a format that is supported by your transcription software.


  • You will need access to a desktop computer. If  you plan to use a laptop, I suggest getting an external keyboard and mouse.


  • You are going to need a transcription software that allows you to playback the thesis interviews and supports global keys. Global keys are important as they will allow you to play and pause the recording without having to switch back and forth between your word processor window and the transcription software’s window.  F4 is my transcription software of choice. Until a year ago it was free (as in beer), but now retails for about $35. I do have an older (free) version of F4 that I’m more than happy to share.  An alternative to F4 is Express Scribe. It’s free and you can download it at www.NCH.com.  I’ve also used InqScribe, it is a good software but pricy at $99.


  • You will also need a word processor. I personally use MS Word, but Pages or Open Office works. The advantage of a word processor software is that it has additional features, for instance autocorrect, that you can use while transcribing. Also note that most transcription software allow you to directly type into a text window, but they usually don’t have basic functionality (spell check please!).


  • You are going to need a pair of headphones. Get a pair that comfortably fits around your head. Not too tight or loose.


  • You will need a USB foot pedal.  This is a device that allows you to play and pause the transcription software using your feet. Pretty cool.


  • Finally, you need to be a good typist. You should be able to type at least 40 words per minute.  You will also need lots of time. It takes about 6 hours to transcribe, edit, and proofread an hour of audio.  Transcription requires patience and tenacity.Transcribing your research interviews


Once you have acquired all the necessary material, you’ll need to install them onto your computer, and set up your workstation.

Transcribing Mechanics

It is time to begin transcribing. The first step in my workflow is to open an MS Word document and save it. I usually give it a name identical to the audio file. It helps keep me organized.  Then you will need to play the recording of the research interview using your transcription software. Make sure your headphones are plugged in and listen to what you hear and type. That’s it.

Here’s a video of me transcribing. I couldn’t use one of the many research interviews I’ve transcribed because of confidentiality. But you can see me transcribing an interesting, publicly available content.

 A Few Tips

The trick to effective transcribing of interviews is trying to listen and transcribe at the same time. This leads to a seamless workflow that is very efficient.  A few tips I can share. You will want to set your autocorrect options to change character like i (small letter) to a capital I. The fewer the number of keys you need to type, the faster you will be.

Transcribing is all about the rhythm.  Try as much as possible to get into a “flow.” At the end of the video you can see that I was starting to get into my groove. That’s where you want to be. Endeavor,  as much as possible, to not use the mouse. Keyboard shortcut keys are a godsend. Use them as much as possible.

And if it’s get to be too much for you, get in touch. I’ll be happy to transcribe your dissertation interviews for you.

Happy transcribing.

14 thoughts on “How to transcribe your research interviews; a DIY guide

  1. J R Williams

    I have a Sony ICD-B600 digital recorder. It is not MP3. Will it work with ExpressScribe?

    1. Isaac Post author

      Hi Williams, it’s not impossible but it’s going to take a bit of work to get the audio from the Sony ICD-B600 into your PC, which is what you need to do to transcribe your recordings. I will write a more detailed post in the future but here are the steps. First, you will need 3 things, a computer or laptop that has an 3.5mm mic jack. You will need to find a male to male 3.5mm audio cable (here is an amazon link), you can also get a similar cable from your local electronics store. Finally you will need Audacity or a similar recording software. Here are the steps. 1) connect the 3.5mm cable to your recorder’s earphone jack (not the mic jack) and on your computer to the mic jack. The earphone jack on the recorder is the out and the mic jack on your computer is the in. 2) Open up Audacity and select record from the mic jack. Hit Record. 3) Press playback on your recorder. 4) After the recording is done, export the file as an .mp3. Obviously if you have a 1 hour recording it’s going to take 1 hour to record it to your computer.

      If you are starting out on your research, it’s better/easier to just buy a recorder with a PC output (usually mini-USB). It will save you a lot of time and hassle.

      Hope that helps, and let me know if you are successful. All the best.

  2. Bojan

    Dear Isaac,

    Will you be able to send me that old and free version of f4 as it is really important for my work.
    Thanks in advance 🙂

    1. Isaac Post author

      Hi Bojan, email me at contact @ (websitename) and I’ll send you a link to download.


      1. Ana

        Hey, can you e-mail me an old version of f4 as well? I really need it. Thank you!

        1. Isaac Post author

          Hi Ana, email me at contact @ (websitename) and I’ll send you a link to download.


  3. Ana

    Thanks! I contacted you, not sure if I got the e-mail right though.

  4. J

    What are your thoughts about using Dragon Diction software to initiate the transcribing process, then cleaning it up?

    1. Isaac Post author

      Really depends on the audio quality and type of qualitative data you want to transcribe. For instance, Dragon Dictate is okay for conferences, lectures – instances where there is only one person speaking. If you can get high quality audio of these types of data, it might be worthwhile to try Dragon Dictate and see if it’ll handle the accent/speech speed.

      For interviews and focus groups, at best, you’re only going to get about 50% accuracy and the speakers will not be identified. And cleaning up that transcript will take longer than transcribing from scratch. Learned this the hard way.
      So, one speaker, good quality audio, no accent, definitely worth trying it out.
      1-on-1 interviews, focus groups, speakers with accents, not so good audio – not worth the time or effort.

      My 2 cents…

  5. Debbie

    If you are still offering the old version of f4, I would love to get a link for the download.

    1. Isaac Post author

      Hey Debbie, sadly I’m not. The older version no longer work on windows 8 or 10..

  6. Peyman

    Hi. How can I transcribe an EFL class a.s.a.p.
    It is bilingual.

    1. Isaac Post author

      Have you had a look at the more comprehensive 2 part guide?
      Link at the top of the post.
      I don’t think there’s much more I can add to that…

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