Verbatim Transcription of Research Interviews and Focus Group Discussions

What is Verbatim Transcription

Verbatim Transcription Services

Poland (1995) defines verbatim audio transcription as the word-for-word reproduction of verbal data, where the written words are an exact replication of the recorded (video or audio) words. With this definition, accuracy concerns the substance of the interview, that is, the meanings and perceptions created and shared during a conversation. And also how these meanings are created and shared during the conversation. So verbatim transcription of research data not only attempts to capture the meaning(s) and perception(s) or the recorded interviews and focus group discussions, but also the context in which these were created.

Why Verbatim Transcription

Whether or not one chooses to get verbatim transcripts for their qualitative data depends on the purposes of the research. Research methods should always reflect research questions. As an important step in data management and analysis, the process of transcription must be congruent with the methodological design and theoretical underpinnings of each investigation.

Verbatim transcripts attempt to capture a word-to-word reproduction of the recorded data. In addition there are 3 distinct vocalizations and nonverbal interaction that verbatim transcripts aim to capture: involuntary vocalizations response/non-response tokens and non-verbal interactions. Transcribing these features of speech can add to the context, and offer clarity, of the discussion or interview.

The mechanics of Verbatim Transcription

In creating verbatim transcripts, it’s important for the transcriber to provide an exact match between what is recorded and what is transcribed into text. While the notion of an “exact match” is problematic given then “the intersubjective nature of human communication, and transcription as an interpretive activity,” (Poland, 1995, p. 297) it’s important to pay attention to:

1) Response Tokens. The common ones are hm, ok, ah, mmh, yeah, um, and uh. There are intentional and many a researcher use them as verbal probes to elicit more information from the interviewee. Research has shown that such vocalizations can provide a great deal of insight into both the nature of conversation and  also the informational content of the conversation (Gardner 2001).

Verbatim Transcription and barking-dog

2) Involuntary Vocalizations. Sounds such as coughing, sneezing, burping, sniffing, laughing and crying are considered involuntary noises. Background noises, for instance dog barking, sirens, phone ringing (which happens a lot) are also categorized as involuntary vocalizations.  Involuntary sounds that occur during an interview can be meaningful or meaningless to the analyst.

3) Non-verbal Vocalizations. Non-verbal communication includes actions, activities, and interactions of both participant and interviewer. Gesticulations such as pointing, thought checking, fidgeting, head nodding and hand gestures are included as non-verbal interactions. Non-verbal interaction are mostly relevant when transcribing from a video.  As with the other forms of noise, non-verbal interactions can add context and explanation, or create misunderstandings for the researcher.

In addition, it is important to pay attention to the pronunciation and irregular grammar that are essential parts of everyday speech. These offer important insights into a participant’s life and meaning-making that add richness that would otherwise be lost.

Here is a table summary of Verbatim Transcription  Conventions.

Verbatim Transcription  Conventions (Adapted from Tilley & Powick, 2002)

Sounds Thinking before someone speaksum , ah
I’ve never thought of that beforemmh[= ha, huh]
Affirmative soundsyup [=yep], yeah [=yah, yea, ya]
Listening + encouragementumm [=aha, uha, mmm]
Environmental sounds[tapping], [knock at door], [shuffling papers]
Tone of speaker LouderCAPITAL LETTERS
Demonstrative expressions :Words spoken while laughing[laughing]
Laughter when both parties are laughing at something[laughter]
Other[coughing], [sighing], etc.
Pauses +5 seconds[pause]
Interruptionsuse [inter.] where the break happens
Self-talk or repeating what someone else saidUse “quotes”
RepetitionType out the repeated words, words, words
Punctuation: end of thoughta period (.) at the end of the complete idea
end of phrase / clauseuse a comma (,)
thought not completeduse an ellipse . . . as the thought trails off
Cross-talk: two or more speakers speaking at the same time / over each other[CT]
Tape is unclear/ muffled and can’t make out word or phrase of one speaker[inaudible][timestamp]


Powick, K. D. and S. A. Tilley (2002). Distanced Data: Transcribing Other People’s Research Tapes. Canadian Journal of Education 27, 2 & 3, 291–310

Poland, B. D. (1995). Transcription quality as an aspect of rigor in qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 1, 290–310.

Gardner, Rod. (2001). When Listeners Talk: Response Tokens and Listener Stance. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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immigration translation
10 years ago

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Helena Sousa
Helena Sousa
8 years ago

Hello! Is it possible to let me know in which page Poland defines verbatim transcription as the “word-for-word reproduction of verbal data, where the written words are an exact replication of theVerbatim Transcription Services recorded (video or audio) words” ?
Thank you

5 years ago

Excellent information, many thanks for sharing.