Monday, 8 March 2021

Verifying transcripts

In some fields, it is fairly standard for researchers to have interview transcripts verified by the participant as part of ensuring data trustworthiness. Those fields seem to be counselling and education. In my experience with applied business research, it does not seem to be normal practice (if this is something that you have regularly done, I would love to hear from you, along with any references you can provide!).

The process of verifying transcripts seems to me to be a significant load to place on voluntary participants at Master's level. The average transcript length for an hour of interview is usually somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 words; and when I went back through my own research transcripts, I found that for a quarter hour interview the average word count was 3,000 words, and an hour was at 12,000 words. Translating that into pages, these average at 5 pages for a quarter hour interview, and between 14 and 27 pages for an hour.

The verification process requires the participant to read through the transcript while listening to what was said, then to come back to the researcher to verify that the transcript represents them accurately. This would mean, depending on reading speed, that we are asking participants for AT LEAST another two hours of their time to (a) read through that number of pages, and (b), to listen to the recording, and (c) to document where the transcript - or their answer - is inaccurate, and (d) to send us that documentation, so (e) we can amend the transcript. It is more likely that this process would take closer to four hours if a participant was a slower reader, or very thorough. Further, ESOL participants are likely to take longer than four hours with the tasks of review, verification, documentation, and sending.

So where we say we need an hour of a participant's time, we are actually asking them for three hours. Or five hours. Or more. This seems quite an imposition on the participant for what is likely to be a low risk project. It will also slow down the data collection process by having to chase participants one the transcripts are prepared (more on transcripts here).

As this is a large piece of work for the participant to undertake, I would imagine that many participants will either: (a) have to diary in a significant chunk of time to do the review; or (b) they will need many reminders from the researcher to complete the review; or (c) they will simply not get around to doing the review at all; or (d) worse, they will say they have done a review without having done it. If (a) to (c), this requirement jeopardises our students' ability to complete; if (d), the verification requirement was a waste of time, and adds an unjustified veneer of 'trustworthiness' to the project. Pseudo-trustworthiness.

Instead, I encourage my supervisees to (a) send their participants a link to a secure-storage cloud recording of the interview, and (b) add a phrase to the informed consent form (which is written from the participant perspective), as follows:

If, after the interview, there are any answers that I would like to change, withdraw, or clarify, I can contact the researcher on or before the withdrawal date. My amendments will be added to the interview transcript.

That gives the participant a chance to feed back in, but does not hold up the research process. 


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