Transcription Seminar: Participant Reflections

By Kate Cowan

On 28th May 2014, NCRM PhD students from MODE (Kate Cowan and Berit Engøy Henriksen) and NOVELLA (Catherine Walker and Joe Winter) ran a one-day seminar entitled ‘Transcription: Issues of Selection and Representation’. A condensed version of a workshop series delivered for the IoE doctoral school, this session was open to PhD students from any institution, working across a range of fields and disciplines, who were transcribing a variety of different data types.
Two participants have kindly offered to share reflections on how some of the issues and ideas raised in the seminar have since informed transcription in their own research.
If you are interested in attending future transcription seminars, please email

Lauran Doak – Sheffield Hallam University
Contact: email –
website –
Twitter – @LauranDoak

I was really happy to have the chance to attend the MODE transcription seminar as it was clear from the start of my PhD that traditional transcription conventions focusing on verbal language weren’t going to work for me and I needed to find something a bit different. My participants are preverbal children with autism and a traditional transcription framework would have the effect of portraying them as communicatively incompetent due to their lack of speech – in the words of Rosie Flewitt, ‘pathologising the absence of talk’ (2006). I know from experience that they find many ways to communicate and make meaning including embodied action, manipulation of objects and the environment, posture, proxemics, and non-verbal vocalisation – the challenge for me was to find a transcription system that would reflect this multimodal competence.
The transcription seminar was really helpful for me in two ways. First of all it helped me to reflect on the significance of choosing one transcription framework over another and the need to be explicit about this in the methodology section of my thesis. The choice of one transcription system over another always brings with it certain affordances and constraints and can have a profound effect on the way participants are portrayed. This is certainly very true of my study as I want to find a transcription framework that captures communicative competence even where it is atypical and idiosyncratic. Secondly, I was introduced to lots of possibilities including Elan Software, Comic Life software, multimodal transcription grids, annotated video stills and narrative vignettes. I still haven’t made my final choice of transcription system but now feel confident that I have some feasible possibilities and intend to experiment with them in the coming months.

Sara Young – Institute of Education, University of London

My current research focuses on the impact of the recent economic crisis on the teaching of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Greece. Data collection involves holding participant interviews both in English and in Greek. These include interviews conducted in English with participants who have a limited knowledge of English. I was uncertain whether lexical and grammatical irregularities should be retained in the transcript. Certain issues raised at the one-day seminar were especially pertinent to how I approached the transcription of these interviews. Through discussions held at the seminar which stemmed from the session on Issues and Debates in Transcription, I saw how there was no one single answer to the dilemmas faced by the transcriber-researcher in the choices she has to make, and that all transcription was inevitably problematic. The main message which I took away was that reflexivity and transparency on the part of the researcher may go some way to addressing some transcription issues. This has made me aware of the importance of reflexivity in my work and of the need to justify the choices taken in how the data is presented. Eventually, in my current research, I have chosen to retain lexical and grammatical irregularities even when what is being said may appear ambiguous or unclear. In giving my own interpretation of what I understand by respondents’ answers, however, I have tried to remain reflexive and transparent about the process undertaken and to explain my transcription decisions.


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