Tips on surviving transcription

by K.M.

I am nearly through with my fieldwork (29 interviews to date) and also coming to the end of transcription (hallelujah!). I’ve been doing it as I go, which, balancing as necessary with other demands, has meant my transcription productivity has been very up and down — sometimes I’ve had lots of time for it and other times I’ve fallen horribly behind.

Aside from the monotony of such a necessary but dull task, I’ve found transcription to be very physically demanding — you’re sitting in one place, stopping and starting commentary and typing, and you have to be very alert and concentrated. The intensity is different from other desk work because of this alertness.

Herewith, a few of my (humble!) random tips on surviving transcription (and yes some are quite obvious!):

  • The BEST tip I have is to use a key on the keyboard as your “pause/play” button. I’ve used CapsLock (one that I wouldn’t be using anyway). This can be done by writing a script and then turning it “on” when you’re transcribing (I’ve used AutoHotKey; for a basic tutorial on how to do this, see here). This decreased my transcribing time by about half. Pedals are also available and they’ve come highly recommended from a few colleagues, but this worked for me, and is more economical as well.
  • Contrast transcribing with something that engages and works other parts of your body. I am only half embarrassed to admit that there are times when I preferred cleaning to transcribing! Exercise, housework, anything that gets you moving is best, but even other types of academic work that don’t require you to be in so rigid a position can work too. Also: take frequent breaks. Your mind and body will need it!
  • Variety is key: changing your location, including sitting on the floor, is something I try to do when possible. This however is dependent on noise level – obviously you need a quiet space or good headphones – and comfort.
  • As you transcribe, many thoughts are going through your head about what people have said and how this ties into the bigger picture. I made notes of these in a separate document and also copied/pasted any quotes I found really interesting. This is obviously only the start of analysis and collating thoughts, but I’ve found it useful now that I’m almost finished transcription.
  • For what it’s worth, for me, I’ve found it much more sensible to transcribe as I go, rather than wait until the end. But this is mostly to do with the strung-out nature of my fieldwork: I’ve been interviewing for just over 7 months, in three different “rounds,” so at certain stages of the process I’ve had quite a bit of time between interviews.
  • Physiologically: heating pads, pilates, hand and arm exercises, and lots of cups of tea…. 🙂
View from my desk - captured on a particularly beautiful day.

View from my desk – captured on a particularly beautiful day.