How to Transcribe Interviews for Qualitative Research

Collecting numerical data is as easy as clicking copy and paste. But what about the unique feedback, comments, and descriptions of qualitative data? Not so much. Once you’ve figured out your research objectives and conducted your interviews, everything else feels intimidating. How do you transcribe entire interviews if every participant talks about something different? How do you even measure answers in natural language with unique viewpoints?

I feel you. When I managed customer support for an online company a few years ago, a lot of our valuable feedback didn’t come from scores out of 10 on product surveys, but rather from customer emails, reviews, and social media comments telling us what they loved and where we could do better. I think that’s why transcribing interviews for qualitative research like this is so important. It’s the first step in organizing all kinds of information into groups and themes you can actually use.

Keep reading because I’ll explain more about how to transcribe an interview (and why you should), plus using transcription software for qualitative research to speed things up.

What is Qualitative Research?

Qualitative research is when you ask open questions that prompt people for descriptive answers. It encourages feedback and observations that you can’t measure with numbers. If quantitative research finds out the facts from numbers, qualitative research is the reason why people make specific choices or behave a certain way.

What is an Interview?

An interview is a great qualitative feedback method whereby you ask a series of open-ended questions to an interviewee to gain answers, feedback, and opinions in their own words. You can conduct interviews in person, over the phone, or on video, solo or in groups.

How to Prepare an Interview for Qualitative Research

1. Decide Important Information for Your Interview

  • Start with your research objectives and create questions based on these - what do you want to learn?

  • How will you structure your interview? For structured interviews, prepare a list of questions to ask. For unstructured interviews, list topics you want to talk about.

  • Use open-ended questions to help the interviewee express their thoughts in their own words.

  • Ask your team to review and approve the interview questions before you begin so you can tweak them if needed.

2. What You Need from Your Research Interview Transcription

  • How will you extract answers and comments from your transcripts? Coding answers for specific questions and connecting themes can help categorize the data.

  • Will you read through the entire transcript or condense the conversation into bullet points? You can format your transcript in three ways:

    • Full Verbatim: The conversation in a raw, unedited state including slang and false starts

    • Intelligent Verbatim: A cleaned-up version of the full transcript, written in a grammatically correct way without false starts or stuttering

    • Detailed notes: Summarizing the conversation into scannable notes that cover the main points of conversation

3. Have Your Tools Ready

  • Choose a good quality microphone and noise-canceling headset that provides clear audio for easy communication.

  • What device will you use to conduct the interview and write the transcript? Have your PC, Mac, or tablet up to date with software installed.

  • Settle on the transcription software you’ll use. If you’re typing the transcript manually, have your preferred text editor installed. For automatic transcription, set up your Notta account and log in.

How to Transcribe an Interview for Qualitative Research

Manually Transcribe Your Interview

  1. Listen to the recorded interview all the way through to familiarize yourself with the content of the conversation.

  2. Open your favorite text editor such as Microsoft Word or Notepad and begin writing the speech while you listen to the recording. Don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time, just write as much as possible.

  3. Go through the transcript again while listening to the audio, this time adding in timestamps in [HH:MM:SS] format and speaker tags every time the interviewer and interviewee speak, with a tag such as [Rachel] or [Interviewer]. If the interviewee wishes to remain anonymous, you can use a general tag such as [Interviewee].

  4. Save your document to your device and share with your research team. Repeat these steps for every interview.

Automatically Transcribe Qualitative Interviews with Notta

Upload an Existing Recording to Notta

  1. Log into Notta and go to your Dashboard.

    The Notta Dashboard

  2. Click ‘Import files’. You can drag and drop your audio or video file or paste a Google Drive, Dropbox, or YouTube link in the ‘Import from link’ field.

    Upload your interview recording

Record a Live Meeting or Live Audio with Notta

  1. Click ‘Transcribe live meeting’ and paste your meeting link from Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Webex, if you’re conducting your meeting virtually. This invites Notta Bot to record and transcribe your conversation.

    Paste your meeting liShare your transcript with your teamnk into Notta

  2. Click ‘Record an Audio’ if your interview is in person. This starts recording using your microphone and transcribes in real time.

    Record interview audio using your microphone

Edit, Export, and Share Your Transcript

  1. Click on the interview transcript under ‘Recent Recordings’ on your Notta dashboard.

    Click your transcript title to view the full transcript

  2. Read through the full transcript. You can adjust the blocks of text by clicking your cursor and pressing ‘Enter’ or ‘Delete’ to join or separate transcript text.

    Separate lines of transcript text when different speakers talk to correct the format

  3. Click a speaker’s name to change it. You can type their name and then decide whether you want to adjust it for this block of text only, or for the entire transcript. Remember, if an interviewee wants to remain anonymous, you can type a generic tag like ‘Interviewee’.

    Correct the speaker names in your Notta transcript

  4. Correct transcription errors by typing directly into the transcript text. Click the highlighted words or phrases in blue and the audio playback will jump to this point.

    Adjust your transcript by typing your corrections

  5. Add written notes and images to specific points in your transcript using the floating toolbar. This is helpful if you want to add observations you made during the interview.

    Add notes and images to your transcript

  6. Click the ‘Download’ icon at the top of your transcript page and export in a variety of formats. Notta exports in MP3, TXT, SRT, PDF, DOCX, and XLSX. You can toggle timestamps, speakers, and more.

    Export a wide variety of formats

  7. Share the transcript with people in your team by clicking the ‘Share’ button, then managing group and team permissions with the drop-down menus. Create a shareable link by toggling ‘Share’ on and copy the link provided.

    Share your transcript with your team

How to Analyze the Interview Qualitative Data

At first glance, you might feel daunted by the prospect of arranging your qualitative data. After all, numerical and factual data is easy to organize. But what about unique answers, observations, and feedback? Don’t worry—here are some simple steps you can follow to analyze your findings without pulling your hair out.

Organize the Information You Collected at Interview

To study your interviews effectively, use the same method of collection for every interview. This means transcribing each interview in the same way and asking the same or similar questions to each participant. This way, you can stick to the same process when analyzing what data you’ve collected.

Summarize Insights Using Your Transcript

Reading through full transcripts takes a lot of time, so you may find it easier to condense the information into a summary. Use Notta AI to create a summary in a few moments.

  1. Click the ‘Magic wand’ icon in your Notta transcript and then click ‘Generate’. Notta AI uses machine learning to create an AI summary with three useful parts:

    • AI Summary: A condensed version of your full transcript, highlighting the basic points

    • Chapters: A list of key moments and themes during the conversation

    • Action items: A list of next steps to take, according to the conversation

Explore the Data

Creating a coding system helps you categorize the data and make it easier to understand. Codes can vary and come in a variety of formats but here are some examples:

  • Descriptive codes: Providing context for the data such as ‘interview setting in coffee shop’.

  • In-Vivo codes: A verbatim phrase the interviewee used to describe a product or service such as ‘I couldn’t live without it’.

  • Themed codes: Describing an overarching theme or pattern relating to the interview questions such as ‘accessibility issues’.

  • Process codes: Identifies what stage of the process the interviewee is currently at in relation to your product or service, such as ‘canceled subscription’ or ‘I’ve heard of your product recently’.

It’s vital that everyone involved in research sticks to these pre-agreed codes to organize data efficiently. It’s okay if you need to revise your methods as you go, but keep everyone informed so there’s no confusion.

Present Your Research

To make your research findings easier to interpret, you can organize them in several ways. Here are some common methods to share your data:

  • Spreadsheets: arrange your data into a table

  • Graphs: Displays themes and patterns using their codes in visual graphs

  • Word clouds: Using In-Vivo codes, displays the most commonly used language by participants

Are There Any Other Qualitative Research Methods?

Interviews aren’t the only way to collect useful qualitative data. If you’re pressed for time or need a deeper understanding of a culture or group, you can try other options.

  • Observations: Observing peoples’ behaviors in their natural setting without directly interacting with them. Take detailed field notes to describe what you can see, hear, and encounter in terms of interactions.

  • Focus groups: Taking a small group of people and asking questions. Their answers and interactions with each other can provide verbal and non-verbal insights.

  • Ethnography: Immersing yourself in a culture or group of people to understand their behaviors, rituals, and perceptions. This is similar to observations but might require deeper and longer-term fieldwork.

  • Narrative analysis: Studying personal stories, biographies, and autobiographical data to understand the perceptions and meanings people give to certain experiences.

  • Surveys: Create a series of open-ended questions in a questionnaire to distribute to people, to get unique feedback in their own words.

  • Secondary research: Gathering different, pre-existing sources of feedback as qualitative data. This includes emails, texts, images, videos, audio recordings, documents, policies, and diaries.

Frequently Asked Questions about Transcription in Qualitative Research

What is a Good Example of Qualitative Data?

Qualitative data is valuable when it provides insights into a person’s reasoning behind certain behaviors and lived experiences. Some examples of good qualitative data could include:

  • Documents like contracts, notes, and emails that contain descriptive, non-numerical data

  • Social media post and forum comments expressing authentic discussions and opinions

  • Audio or video recordings of natural conversations

The best qualitative data provides real, descriptive feedback in a person’s natural language. It should express feelings, emotions, attitudes, and perceptions.

Is Qualitative Research Subjective?

Yes, qualitative research is subjective because it’s relative to that individual’s culture, experience, and perceptions. It’s based on opinions and thoughts. Quantitative data is objective because it deals with numerical facts. Both have a place in research, but the subjective nature of qualitative research provides reasoning behind behaviors and decisions.

Why Should You Choose Qualitative Research?

There are many reasons why qualitative research is valuable:

  • It’s unbiased, as participants can provide thoughts and opinions in their own words.

  • You can uncover new theories and hypotheses that you may not have known about previously. Collecting qualitative data is often unstructured, allowing people to express new ideas and themes

  • Gain a deeper understanding of trends. Participants using their own language allows you to find common patterns and insights on a particular issue.

  • You can discuss sensitive topics. Participants can broach subjects in their own words and share as much as they feel comfortable with.

What is the Difference Between Qualitative and Quantitative Data?

Quantitative data is fixed, numerical feedback. Examples can include annual income, number of people in a household, times a person has bought a specific item, and so on. Qualitative data provides non-numerical, descriptive feedback in natural language. Examples might look like thoughts about a brand’s new color scheme or favorite part of visiting a recent conference.

How Do I Record an Interview?

Here are some basic steps you can follow to prepare for recording an interview as part of your qualitative research:

  1. Write out a list of open-ended questions or a list of topics you want to cover.

  2. Check that the device you’re recording on is charged.

  3. Plug in your microphone and headphones and test them.

  4. Conduct your interview in a quiet environment.

  5. Use the meeting software’s built-in recorder such as Zoom, or a meeting recorder such as Notta.

  6. When the interview starts, set your interviewee at ease by asking some icebreaker questions about their day, their plans, and themselves to get to know each other better and build rapport.

  7. Move onto your interview questions, leaving plenty of time for the interviewee to gather their thoughts and answer in their own words.

  8. Listen and follow up to ask for clarification if needed.

  9. Thank them for their time and let them know what the next steps are.

  10. Check the recorded audio or video file to ensure it came out clearly, ready for transcription.

In Summary

See? Transcribing an interview for qualitative research doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming when you have a plan! My biggest piece of advice here is to understand the goal of the interviews you’re conducting. Interviews with vague questions and no direction in relation to your research objective aren’t likely to garner you valuable information you can actually use. Once you know what insights you’re aiming to uncover, it makes the conversation feel more productive and your research interview transcription will be far easier to use when collecting the data.

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