Data Transcription in Qualitative Research

How to transcribe data with ATLAS.ti?

Data Transcription with Atlas.ti

Figure 1: Transcript and associated video file in synchro mode

ATLAS.ti has built-in transcription tool. The way it works is as follows: You add a new text document and the audio or video file that you want to transcribe. Then you open both documents side-by-side on your screen and associate them. Now you are ready to begin with your data transcription. In order to facilitate transcription you can set a rewind interval as short as 1 second or as long as 5 seconds. This means that the audio or video file is rewound 1 to 5 seconds when you press the play button again after you have transcribed a section. This allows you to review what you have just transcribed. You can enter a time mark (called anchor in ATLAS.ti) after each section that you transcribe or automatically at the end of a paragraph. The anchors allow you view your transcript and the audio or video file synchronously. This means you can read your transcript and listen to the audio file hearing the original tone of voice or viewing the segment in the video file. While in the midst of your data analysis, you can mark a segment or a quotation of an associated document and instantly listen to the original audio or view the video. The audio/video file stops at the end of the marked segment. You can also use the association points as navigation device, e. g., to enter at a particular point in the file or to easily jump around. If you already have a transcript, which however does not include time marks, you can still enter them in order to make use of the above described functionality. In order to do this, you add the transcript and the multimedia file; associate the two and go through the text document and set anchors at the desired positions.

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Best-Practice Rules for Transcription

Mark all speakers unambiguously and enter an empty line between each speaker in turn. This helps you quickly recognize the different speakers and speaker units in a transcript. In transcriptions of group interviews or focus groups, it lets you automatically code all speaker units by adding attribute codes. If one speaker talks for a long time, break the speech into multiple paragraphs (see sample transcript). This will help you later in identifying quotations precisely as quotation references are based on paragraph numbers. In the sample transcript below, the paragraph marker is visible, indicating when the ENTER button was pressed. The two speakers in the transcript are marked clearly with unique identifiers.
INT: is used for the interviewer and AL: for Alexander, the interviewee. ‘Interviewer’ or ‘Alexander’ would be impractical as markers because those words might appear in the text itself, but the character combination INT: and AL: is not likely to be found anywhere else. This is essential for using the auto coding tool.

INT: Ok. So how, how, how did you actually um meet him? You met him in class I guess?

AL: In class yeah, and we were in the same form as well so.

INT: How, how do you sort of um … how do you sort of pass the time with him, you know when you guys are together?

AL:  Both, well I suppose we just sat about sometimes, we also sort of played footie as you do and uh um … he um, after our GCSEs, we um he had a villa in er Minorca um so there was a group of us planning to go out so we basically, we sat in er, during lunchtime planning what we were going to do, and we just sort of went to the pub.

This way of organizing the transcript can be used for any documents that include structuring elements, like dates in historical documents, emails or letters. The automatic coding tool can also be useful, and even though you may not know at this point whether you will want to use it, it is sensible to get used to all the above formatting rules as early as possible. Although neglecting these ‘best practice rules’ will not have a negative effect in the initial phase, you may later regret not having used them from the beginning.

Summary of best practice rules

  • Clearly mark speakers or other text features by using unique identifiers.
  • Separate the change of speakers and other divisions with blank lines (= two hard returns).
  • Break long paragraphs into smaller units (but keep the units together by not entering a blank line). This facilitates auto coding and results in more exact quotation references.