Transcribing & Transcriptions in Narrative Research

The following is a modified excerpt from Applied Qualitative Research Design: A Total Quality Framework Approach (Roller & Lavrakas, 2015, pp. 320-321).

The use of transcripts in qualitative research has been discussed elsewhere in Research Design Review (see this February 2017 article), emphasizing the idea that “it is by way of these Transcribing narrative researchtranscribed accounts of the researcher-participant exchange that analysts hope to re-live each research event and draw meaningful interpretations from the data.” The creation and use of transcriptions, however, take on special meaning in narrative research where the primary goal is to maintain the narrative as a whole unit. To this end, the narrative researcher must decide how best to construct the transcripts so they retain the story as it was told, while also facilitating the researcher’s ability to derive meaning from the data as it relates to the research objectives.

This process might result in any number of transcription formats. For example, Riessman (2008) presents two transcriptions of a conversation she had with a Hindu woman in a study of infertility: One transcription was developed around the “co-construction process” (i.e., the interviewer’s role in the narrative as it was told), and another transcription excluded the interviewer and was structural in nature (e.g., the transcriber paid particular attention to how the narrative was spoken, such as pauses and intonations, from which “stanzas” or content groups could be formed). With these transcriptions, Riessman illustrates that “different theoretical assumptions about language, communication, and ‘the self’ are embedded in each transcript” (p. 36).

Another example is what Glesne (1997) called “poetic transcription” defined as “the creation of poem-like compositions from the works of interviewees” (p. 202).

From a Total Quality Framework perspective*, the important consideration is not so much in prescribing a particular format or style of the transcriptions but rather on upholding the entirety of the narrative and the researcher’s ability to make credible interpretations of the data. However, because the form of the transcription may impact the researcher’s interpretations of the outcomes (e.g., a transcript that omits the interviewer might be interpreted differently compared to a transcript that includes every spoken word), it is incumbent upon the researcher to disclose the exact nature of the transcription process and the resulting transcript(s) in the final document.


*The Total Quality Framework has been discussed many times in Research Design Review. The most recent article appeared September 2017 titled “The ‘Quality’ in Qualitative Research Debate & the Total Quality Framework.”

Glesne, C. (1997). That rare feeling: Re-presenting research through poetic transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(2), 202–221.

Riessman, C. K. (2008). Narrative methods for the human sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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