Transcribing for Social Research

Hepburn, A., Bolden, G.B. (2017) Transcribing for Social Research

This book is a practical guide to transcription, together with an explanation of the social science which underpins it. Although one might assume that transcription involves making a verbatim account of words spoken during an interview or focus group, the authors argue that standard orthography is unable to represent the ‘words, gestures and conduct of the people being studied’. Drawing on insights from conversation analysis which show how social phenomena are ‘realised through talk in interaction’, as well as discursive psychology and ethnomethodology, Hepburn and Bolden show the reader, in ten succinct and well written chapters, how to capture words and interactions and record them accurately on paper using a transcription system originally developed by Gail Jefferson.

What impresses about this book is that the authors convincingly argue that standard orthography imposes written conventions on spoken language when written and spoken modes of communication are not identical. The authors therefore demonstrate how
important it is to capture data on timing, overlap, intonation, emphasis and volume if the richness of talk is to be accurately represented as well as providing guidance on the transcription of non-speech sounds and visible conduct. The book is liberally sprinkled with useful information on transcription theory and practice, and is accompanied by a companion website with data and exercises which allow the reader to consolidate their
transcription skills. Given the highly technical nature of the material, the book is easy to follow, although it is best to begin at the beginning and read it in its entirety. Transcription conventions are, for example, introduced gradually with helpful summaries at the end of each chapter. Some prior background knowledge of linguistic terminology might be useful although such knowledge is by no means essential for the determined reader. Admittedly, using such a fine-grained transcription system could be both time-consuming and expensive to implement. The onus may therefore be on the researcher to be aware of these techniques and to gauge whether they can be used in
their projects.

Transcribing for Social Research is an invaluable contribution to the methodological literature which will appeal to researchers across a range of disciplines who wish to successfully capture speech in all its complexity.

Review originally published in Research Matters, December 2019.