• Dr Emma Hewitt

5 reasons you don't need a research specialist to transcribe your data

There are various kinds of transcription options on the market, many of which are significantly cheaper than using Word Bee. To help you evaluate your options, I have listed five circumstances where hiring a research specialist to transcribe your qualitative data might not be right for you at this time.

1. You plan to immerse yourself in your research data by doing the transcription yourself, analysing in tandem with transcribing and interviewing. Just be aware that transcribing one hour of audio takes between 4-6 hours on average, depending on your typing speed, the level of detail you require in your transcripts, and the quality/nature of your audio. So, whilst this approach undoubtedly has its merits, it requires a significant time investment and at times it can feel like a feat of endurance.

2. You’re willing to use ‘off the peg’ transcription from one of the larger transcription companies. There are some relatively inexpensive options out there with some of the bigger companies who can provide a speedy turnaround, receiving your completed transcripts within 24-48 hours (e.g. Rev.com). Just make sure that all factors are taken into account in the price you’re quoted so that you don’t get any unexpected surprises when you see your bill. And do bear in mind that you will more than likely need to listen back to the audio afterwards and edit the transcripts so that they meet your specific analytical requirements. A tedious task, but this is definitely an option if you are strapped for cash, and overall it will definitely save time compared to Option 1.

3. You know exactly the outcome you want from the completed transcripts and are willing to take a chance on a freelance general transcriptionist(s). Sites like Upwork give you direct access to a pool of freelancers from around the world, often doing the work for a fraction of the price of alternative options. However, do proceed with caution if you opt for this strategy. Transcriptionists will bring their own interpretation of what a “good” transcript looks like, and these might reside in notions of (written) correctness (Powick & Tilley, 2002). It is a good idea to give them a small trial sample of audio to transcribe before commissioning them to take on your entire project. I would suggest as little as 10 minutes initially to get a feel for the quality of their work, and to give you the opportunity to clarify expectations. You might be lucky and find a gem of a transcriptionist who can be trained to your way of working, with a little time investment (and patience) on your part. Although a freelancer is unlikely to be able to devote themselves entirely to your project, so you may encounter delays in receiving your completed transcripts. If you’re working with an overseas freelancer, bear in mind that you will definitely need to factor in time to fine tune language subtleties, even where English is their first language (e.g. distinguishing ‘I don’t, no’ from ‘I don’t know’).

4. All of your audio is of a high quality, with no more than two speakers, each of whom are talking directly into the microphone, and there are no regional accents in the recordings. In this case, you might use an automated voice recognition service instead of a human transcriptionist (such as Trint.com). You will definitely still need to allow a significant amount of time to comb through the transcripts for accuracy and to ensure speakers have been identified correctly. As with the other ‘off the peg’ solutions mentioned above, you might need to play around with the formatting if you have specific requirements, and also add further detail to ensure it meets your analytical requirements. This is another excellent starting point if you need a speedy turn-around, receiving rough and ready transcripts within 10-15 minutes of uploading them on the site – regardless of the time of day or night (provided there are no technical glitches). But do make sure you factor in significant additional editing time for each transcript.

5. In addition to the factors above, you don’t need a research specialist to project manage your data or support you with your specific requirements and help you manage your overall time scales.  

Most of the above options require a significant time investment so although you might make financial savings, it’s crucial to consider whether these are appropriate for you and your specific project and circumstances at this point in time.


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

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