Volume 13, No. 1, Art. 14 – January 2012

Transparency in Transcribing: Making Visible Theoretical Bases Impacting Knowledge Construction from Open-Ended Interview Records

Audra Skukauskaite

Abstract: This article presents a reflexive analysis of two transcripts of an open-ended interview and argues for transparency in transcribing processes and outcomes. By analyzing ways in which a researcher's theories become consequential in producing and using transcripts of an open-ended interview, this paper makes visible the importance of examining and presenting theoretical bases of transcribing decisions. While scholars across disciplines have argued that transcribing is a theoretically laden process (GREEN, FRANQUIZ & DIXON, 1997; KVALE & BRINKMAN, 2009), few have engaged in reflexive analyses of the data history to demonstrate the consequences particular theoretical and methodological approaches pose in producing knowledge claims and inciting dialogues across traditions. The article demonstrates how theory-method-claim relationships in transcribing influence research transparency and warrantability.

Key words: transcribing; transparency; open-ended interviews; ethnography; theory-method relationships; discourse analysis; warranting claims

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Transcribing as Sociocultural Practice: A Brief Review of Relevant Literature

2.1 Variation in transcribing: Contributions from across disciplines

2.2 The "chore" of transcribing: Focus on form versus interpretive process

3. Consequentiality of Transcribing Decisions: The Role of Researcher Assumptions and Grounded Theories

3.1 The interview and the data history of the two transcripts

3.2 Transcript 1: Uncovering the consequentiality of personal theories

3.2.1 Assumptions about relationships between oral and written language

3.2.2 Assumptions about translatability of discourse

3.2.3 Assumptions about interviewing as a linear question-answer interaction

3.3 Transcript 2: Theory-method relationships in constructing a theoretically-informed message-unit transcript

3.3.1 Theoretical locating: Educational ethnography and interactional ethnographic perspective

3.3.2 Message-unit transcribing: Making visible languacultural activity in an open-ended interview conversation

4. What Difference Do the Differences in Transcribing Make? Transparency in Transcribing as a Way of Warranting Claims About Human Activity






1. Introduction

In the last four decades, with the development of increasingly smaller and easier-to-use audio and video recording technologies, the use of discourse data in research has become ubiquitous, but the decisions involved in turning these audio and video records into transcripts often still remain invisible. While transcribing issues have been addressed by a number of scholars across disciplines, many of the interview-based empirical studies rarely explicate the theoretically-laden decision-making processes of transcribing. Despite the widely accepted view about transcripts as constructions (HAMMERSLEY, 2010), interview researchers often still take transcripts as "true" representations of speech (MISHLER, 1986) and as "verbatim" data from which findings are derived. The warrants for claims made in research lack transparency when researchers leave invisible ways of "entextualizing" (MISHLER, 2003) the audio and/or video records and the theories guiding the transcribing processes. The limits to certainty (BAKER & GREEN, 2007) created by the exclusion of theoretical bases also pose limits to knowledge production and accumulation. [1]

If as researchers we seek to build knowledge and capacity, and to inform the work of others (AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, 2006, 2009; MOLEY & SEALE, 2011), then we have the responsibility of making transparent our ontological and epistemological assumptions that influence how we conduct research, what research questions we ask, and what methodological approaches we choose (BREDO, 2006; HAMMERSLEY, 2007; KELLY, 2006). KELLY (2006) argued that because scientific knowledge is produced in scholarly communities, there need to be multiple ways of conversing within and across groups. Such conversations and knowledge building from multiple perspectives are possible when scholars can reveal and examine the bases for their research approaches and knowledge claims. [2]

This article addresses calls for transparency in research reports by analyzing and making visible ways in which a researcher's personal and formal theories become consequential in producing and using a transcript of an open-ended interview record. While scholars across disciplines have argued that transcribing is a theoretically laden process (BUCHOLTZ, 2007a; GREEN et al., 1997; KVALE & BRINKMAN, 2009; OCHS, 1979), few have demonstrated the consequences any particular theoretical and methodological approaches pose in producing knowledge claims using transcribed audio records. By reflexively analyzing two transcript formats produced at different points in time, and by demonstrating how the personal assumptions and formal theories influence transcript construction, I make visible the consequences of what can been seen and known from a transcript. The goal for this article is to develop an empirically grounded argument for transparency in theory-method relationships of transcribing processes. [3]

The article consists of four sections. The first section introduces the argument about the need for transparency in transcribing decisions. In the second section I review literature on transcribing with a focus on transcribing open-ended interviews. The literature review draws on the work across the social sciences to examine available arguments about transcribing. In the third section of the article I demonstrate the consequentiality of transcribing decisions by analyzing two transcripts I constructed at different points in data history. Analysis of the first transcript (Section 3.2) makes visible the way unexamined personal theories guided my transcription, while the analysis of the second transcript (Section 3.3) demonstrates the possibilities and outcomes of transcribing informed by the microethnographic discourse analysis tradition in education. By presenting the two transcripts of the same audio record, I demonstrate how the developing personal and formal theories of the researcher influence data construction and representation. Building on the contrastive empirical analyses of Section 3, in the last section (4) of the article I discuss what difference the differences in transcribing format make. This discussion ties the analyses of two transcripts to the larger conversations in the field about ways theories shape methods and knowledge claims, and support and constrain opportunities for dialogues (KELLY, 2006) across intellectual traditions. [4]

2. Transcribing as Sociocultural Practice: A Brief Review of Relevant Literature

2.1 Variation in transcribing: Contributions from across disciplines

Researchers working in the social sciences and language-based research across disciplines have recognized the variation in transcribing processes and products (BAKER, 1997; BRENNER, 2006; BUCHOLTZ, 2007a; EDWARDS & LAMPERT, 1993; EVERS, 2011; GREEN et al., 1997; KVALE & BRINKMAN, 2009; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; ROSS, 2010). Many of the discussions about transcribing processes have been situated within the field of conversation analysis (JEFFERSON, 1985; SACKS, SCHEGLOFF & JEFFERSON, 1974; SCHEGLOFF, 1968, 1999), a field which has contributed important insights about ways of representing features of talk, such as overlap, pausing, intonation, etc., that people in interaction use to make sense of and participate in different kinds of conversations. [5]

Medical and nursing researchers, who use discourse data to study doctor-patient interactions, have also contributed important insights into the ideological, ethical, and structural issues of constructing transcripts and representing speech in particular ways (DICKSON-SWIFT, JAMES, KIPPEN & LIAMPUTTONG, 2007; MISHLER, 1984, 1991, 2003; WELLARD & McKENNA, 2001). In education, transcribing issues are foregrounded predominantly by researchers who study language socialization, literacy, and discourse practices in classroom settings (BAKER, 1997; BLOOME, CARTER, CHRISTIAN, OTTO & SHUART-FARIS, 2005; GREEN et al., 1997; GREEN & HARKER, 1988; GREEN & WALLAT, 1981a; LAPADAT, 2000; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; OCHS, 1979; REX, 2001). Recently, discussions about transcribing have revolved around the use of technology and the way technological advances and qualitative data analysis software enable and/or constrain particular forms of transcribing or the need for textual transcripts (e.g. in FQS: EVERS, 2011; EVERS, SILVER, MRUCK & PEETERS, 2011; MARKLE, WEST & RICH, 2011; WOODS & DEMPSTER, 2011). [6]

Most of the researchers cited throughout this article have argued for the importance of variability in transcribing and the way such variability represents the complexities of the processes and outcomes of transcribing interview and other audio and video records (e.g., classroom videos). BUCHOLTZ (2007a, 2007b) argued that variations in transcription and in transcribers need to be considered as sociocultural practices that are situated within particular contexts of audio/video record and transcript use (see also EVERS, 2011; MARKLE et al., 2011). A group of scholars responding to BUCHOLTZ' article in Discourse Studies expanded the conversation by arguing that transcripts are tied to scientific communities that embody "situated analytical practices" (MONDADA, 2007, p.810) and represent particular genres (BLOMMAERT, 2007; JAFFE, 2007) and data histories (SLEMBROUCK, 2007). BUCHOLTZ and the respondents called for greater reflexivity about the transcribing processes in order to make visible the consequential relationships between transcribing choices, research purposes, and data representations. The nature and complexity of transcribing as a sociocultural practice becomes particularly visible in discussions about learning to transcribe and the "chore" of such work. [7]

2.2 The "chore" of transcribing: Focus on form versus interpretive process

A number of scholars have discussed the forms of transcripts and have sought to establish guidelines for transcribing within particular research communities (e.g., see EASTON, McCOMISH & GREENBERG, 2000; EDWARDS & LAMPERT, 1993; and MacLEAN, MEYER & ESTABLE, 2004, for discussions about theoretical and methodological choices in transcribing formats). LAPADAT and LINDSAY (1999) present an analysis of literature across the social sciences and outline an emergence of three perspectives to the task of transcribing and transcribing formats. The first perspective identified by LAPADAT and LINDSAY is one that attempts to standardize the forms and processes of transcribing (e.g., DU BOIS, SCHUETZE-COBURN, CUMMING & PAOLINO, 1993) and is most commonly taken up by researchers within conversation analysis. The second approach accepts "a multiplicity of conventions" (LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999, p.67; MISHLER, 1991; POLAND, 1995; PSATHAS & ANDERSON, 1990) and is prevalent in the work of ethnomethodologists, sociolinguists, and qualitative researchers from a variety of traditions. The third perspective to the task of transcribing, used by discourse and critical discourse analysts, language-based ethnographers, education and qualitative researchers (e.g., BLOOME et al., 2005; COOK, 1990; GREEN & WALLAT, 1981a; KVALE & BRINKMAN, 2009; MERRIAM, 2009; REX, 2006) "[abandons] the quest for standardization in favor of contextualized negotiation of method" (LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999, p.67). [8]

EVERS (2011) argues that the choice in transcript format depends on the research question, theories guiding the study, as well as on time and budget for the project. She identifies four types of transcript formats: 1. pragmatic transcription, similar to LAPADAT and LINDSAY's (1999) contextualized negotiation of method; 2. Jeffersonian transcription used by conversation analysts and others who adapt the standardized form to other disciplines; 3. gisted transcription which summarizes the "essence of a media file's content without taking the same amount of time or resources as a verbatim transcript might require" (DEMPSTER & WOODS, 2011, p.22); and 4. Goodwinian transcription, which follows GOODWIN's (2001) adaptation of Jeffersonian format for use with visual information. [9]

While some scholars seek to standardize transcribing formats, the majority of researchers working with discourse records call for shifting the focus from form to the interpretive process of transcribing. HAMMERSLEY (2010), VIGOROUX (2007), TILLEY (2003a, 2003b) and others (BAKER, 1997; BIRD, 2005; BUCHOLTZ, 2000, 2007a; LAPADAT, 2000; MARKLE et al., 2011; McLELLAN, MacQUEEN & NEIDIG, 2003; ROBERTS, 1997; ROSS, 2010) have argued that transcribers make theoretical, contextual, value and practice-based decisions as they construct representations of discourse. Transcribing, according to these researchers, should not be seen as merely a mundane task in the research process because it is directly related to what can be known in a particular study (BAKER, 1997; GEE, MICHAELS & O'CONNOR, 1992; GREEN et al., 1997; OCHS, 1979; ROBERTS, 1997; ROSS, 2010; TILLEY, 2003b). [10]

Given the situated and consequential nature of transcribing, researchers have argued that the task of transcribing should not be passed off to others, such as research assistants, graduate students, or professional transcribers, without considering the benefits, problems and risks of such a decision (FORSEY, 2008; LAPADAT, 2000; MERRIAM, 2009; TEMPLE, EDWARDS & ALEXANDER, 2006; TILLEY, 2003b; TILLEY & POWICK, 2002). In examining the role of transcription in qualitative work, TILLEY (2003b; TILLEY & POWICK, 2002) worked with hired transcribers to learn about and make visible a range of decisions transcribers made as they transformed audiotapes into written accounts (transcripts) of focus group interviews. In making visible the interpretive processes of two transcribers, TILLEY (2003a) argued that when researchers hand off the audio (or video) records as a "chore" to be done by others, they "miss out on the kinds of understandings that develop as tapes are transcribed as well as lose control over some of the transcription decisions made" (p.770). [11]

In advocating that researchers should transcribe their own tapes, LAPADAT and LINDSAY (1999) similarly argued that it is not only the transcribing product—the transcript, but also the process of transcribing that is valuable and can yield important insights—insights that can otherwise be missed if someone else is doing the transcribing:

"Analysis takes place and understandings are derived through the process of constructing a transcript by listening and re-listening, viewing and re-viewing. We think that transcription facilitates the close attention and the interpretive thinking that is needed to make sense of the data" (p.82). [12]

All of the researchers who disclose their transcribing decisions and/or write directly on transcribing have argued that transcribing is not merely a technical step in turning audio (or video) records into graphic representations. Rather, it is an analytic process that can influence the research study in significant ways (e.g., BAKER, 1997; BUCHOLTZ, 2007a; EVERS, 2011; HAMMERSLEY, 2010; JAFFE, 2007; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; MERRIAM, 2009; MISHLER, 1991, 2003; PATAI, 1993; TEMPLE et al., 2006). Who does the transcribing, in what ways, and what decisions they make influences what the researchers can do with and learn from the transcribed discourse records. [13]

Building on the literature review that reveals the complexity of variation in transcription formats and the interpretive nature of transcribing, in the next section I demonstrate how particular conceptual frames influence the processes and products of transcribing. [14]

3. Consequentiality of Transcribing Decisions: The Role of Researcher Assumptions and Grounded Theories

The two transcripts analyzed in this section were constructed by the same researcher from the "same" audio record at different points in time, using different conceptual frames. In analyzing these transcripts, I explore the impact of personal and formal theories on the processes and outcomes of transcribing. I was the transcriber/researcher working with the audio records and their analyses. However, for the retrospective analyses presented below, I use third person "researcher" rather than first person "I" as a way of stepping back and bracketing my current knowledge and views in order to uncover the consequentiality of researcher theories and decisions. Using third person enables me to analyze assumptions which guided my transcription work at different moments in data history and my development as a researcher. Third person references signal my work in the past, while first person "I" indicates reflexive analyses and current understandings. The use of third person and the interchange of "researcher" and "I" also provide a way to develop "strong objectivity" (BANKS, 2006) which is built through embracing researcher subjectivity, bracketing it, and following the data to construct representations grounded in empirical evidence. This use of third and first person also is grounded in theories of identity, positionality, and life history, which argue that people construct a particular kind of self depending on the time, context, and personal and social histories brought to the situation (BAUMAN, 2004; LINDE, 1993; PATAI, 1993). This "self" is not a stable "identity" but is a dynamic, responsive, and socially co-constructed representation of personhood depending on circumstances (BLOOME et al, 2005; DAY, 2002; GERGEN, 2011). [15]

3.1 The interview and the data history of the two transcripts

The transcripts were constructed from an audio record of an open-ended interview with Danutė, a veteran teacher of English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL). The interview was conducted in Danutė‘s home, after she consented to participate in the study and selected the location for the interview. The teacher was interviewed as part of a study that examined the impact of educational reforms on teachers. In the larger study, I contrasted teacher discourse about educational changes in open-ended interviews with the discourse of Lithuanian educational reform documents and their inscriptions of teacher roles in order to make visible sources of policy influence on teacher inscribed experiences (SKUKAUSKAITE, 2006, 2007). [16]

The first transcript of the interview with Danutė was developed early in my graduate studies. Even though I had taken an introductory qualitative research course and courses on interviewing, discourse, narrative and textual analyses, theories and practices of transcribing received little attention and transcript construction relied primarily on student background knowledge. The transcript from the interview with Danutė is representative of this early stage in the learning process and data history (SLEMBROUCK, 2007). The retrospective analysis of this transcript provides a "telling case" (MITCHELL, 1984, p.239) that makes visible the ways researcher background and personal theories influence data construction and representation. [17]

The second transcript, constructed about two years after the first one, was grounded in formal theories of discourse used within the microethnographic research tradition in education (BLOOME et al., 2005; ERICKSON, 1992; GREEN & WALLAT, 1981b; GREEN et al., 1988; GUMPERZ, 1982). The systematic process of transcribing within a specific research tradition enabled me to make more transparent and warranted claims about both the content (the what) and the processes (the hows) of social construction of open-ended interviews. The juxtaposition of the two transcripts and the personal and formal theories shaping the ways the transcripts were constructed make visible the consequences of researcher decisions in representing the interview participants and in constructing evidence for research claims. [18]

3.2 Transcript 1: Uncovering the consequentiality of personal theories

The first transcript of the interview with Danutė was constructed in sentence format, using punctuation conventions of written language. The transcribing process involved listening to the audio record in Lithuanian and writing out what was said directly in English. The original Lithuanian language in which the interview was conducted was not used for transcribing, except in instances where a word in Lithuanian did not easily translate into English. In those instances the Lithuanian word was italicized and the closest approximation in English was suggested in parentheses as in sentence 7, Table 1. In this initial transcript, the beginning of which is provided in Table 1, the speakers were distinguished by bold font used for the researcher and regular font used for the interviewee. The 151 minute record resulted in 15¾ single spaced US letter-size pages, typed in Times New Roman, 12 point size font. Numbers for sentences were not used initially, but were added to Table 1 for purposes of analysis.




please tell me about your work as a foreign language teacher


(1) I became an English teacher. (2) I had a good English language teacher in secondary school, and she was an example for me. (3) I attended various courses, she kept encouraging me. (4) I had a good ear for music, had a good intuition for languages. (5) I always leaned toward humanities, just like my mom. (6) So I decided to study English, finished [X] University in [1970s] and because I was on the list of students at the top, I received a good paskyrimą (placement) at that time—to [the city]. (7) Others had to go to regions, but since I was the 6th on the list I got a good paskyrimą. (8) Also I heard that the vice-director of the [KZ] school from [K city] was coming to the university to choose good students, and I was chosen, as he later told me. (9) So I've been working at this school for 32 years already. (10) 32 years. (11) Before the university I also worked in a region for three years in a simple secondary school. (12) I didn't apply to the university and somehow got stuck in the village. (13) So I'm working at this school for this long.

Table 1: Sentence level transcript guided by unexamined assumptions [19]

A retrospective analysis of this transcript revealed a number of assumptions and decisions the researcher made that influenced what could be seen and understood from the transcript. These assumptions were not visible to the researcher at the time of constructing the transcript but were reflexively uncovered by analyzing the text of the transcript, re-listening to the audio record, and examining the background knowledge and unacknowledged personal theories the researcher brought to the interviewing and transcribing. The unexamined theories that became visible in the analysis included assumptions about speech and its relationship to written language, about translatability of discourse, and about interviewing as a linear, non-ideological, question-answer interaction. [20]

3.2.1 Assumptions about relationships between oral and written language

The written language basis of transcription is visible in the sentence level format chosen for the transcript. Periods are used to mark the boundaries of ideas as determined by the researcher listening to the audio record. Commas similarly divide the thought units, smaller pauses and shifts in intonation, determined by the researcher listening to the audio record. Of the thirteen sentences for the interviewee represented in Table 1, three are simple sentences (1, 9 and 13) that include one independent clause consisting of subject and verb and forming a complete idea. Four additional sentences (2, 3, 4 and 8) include simple sentence structures and form run-on sentences that lack conjunctions or appropriate punctuation common in written texts. Sentence 6 is an additional run-on consisting of two independent clauses and an additional complex sentence form. Sentence 10 is a sentence fragment, while sentence 12 is a compound sentence that consists of two independent clauses, similar in format to the simple sentences. Only three (5, 7 and 11) of the thirteen transcribed sentences include grammatically correct complex sentence structures with independent and dependent clauses. [21]

Analysis of sentence format represented in the transcript reveals that in constructing this first transcript to represent speech captured on the audio record, the researcher relied on written language conventions. The reliance on simple sentence structures, run-ons, comma use patterns, and inclusion of sentence fragments signals the tension between expectations of written language and the demands of representing oral interaction. The first three sentences in the transcript all consist of simple independent clauses, with commas, rather than conjunctions separating the clauses in sentences 2 and 3 and forming run-on sentences. Sentence 4, while an attempt at a compound sentence, is missing the conjunction "and" and the pronoun "I," resulting in a run-on sentence. These omissions and the inclusion of a repetition "had a good" signal researcher willingness to try to represent speech. Rather than combining the two clauses into one complex sentence such as "I had a good ear for music and good intuition for languages," the researcher leaves the phrasing fragments and the repetition as heard on the audio record. Repetition, as a number of linguists and sociolinguists note (CHAFE & TANNEN, 1987; GUMPERZ, 1982; TANNEN, 1989), is a common aspect of oral interaction and tends to be avoided in written language. Inclusion of repetition is also evident in the sentence fragment (Sentence 10), which repeats the idea about the length of teaching stated in Sentence 9. The same idea about the length of time is also reiterated in Sentence 13 in the phrase "this long." [22]

This analysis of the transcript raised the question of what shaped the researcher decisions in attempting to represent speech in sentence format, using simple sentence structures as a foundation for transcribing. A reflexive analysis and a shift from third person "researcher" to first person "I" became necessary to uncover the background and accessible knowledge that influenced transcript construction. As a researcher, I came to education research from the disciplinary basis of English. My bachelor and masters degrees in English and my college teaching of literature, and of expository and creative writing shaped my reliance on written language formats. At the time of constructing this sentence-level transcript I was drawing on unexamined personal theories about language that were based on my work with literature. I was not aware that transcribing in sentences edits people's speech to "display [its] inner normality" (GOFFMAN, 1981, p.22) or that people do not really speak in sentences (FORSEY, 2008; GREEN & WALLAT, 1981b; HEAP, 1982; PATAI, 1993; SPRADLEY, 1979). In deciding how to put sentences together by listening to Danutė's intonation patterns, I inscribed this normality as I made decisions about which part of Danutė's discursive moment-by-moment information-building fit into what phrase or sentence. For example, in transcribing "I always leaned toward humanities, just like my mom" (Sentence 5) as one sentence, I interpreted that it was Danutė's leaning to humanities that resembled her mother and not her "good ear for music" or "intuition for languages" (Sentence 4). In this way, I constructed a particular representation of Danutė. [23]

Further, in attempting to tie oral phrases together linearly, in the second sentence, "I attended various courses, she kept encouraging me," I actually represented Danutė's talk as grammatically incorrect. The pronoun "she" does not tie to the first part of the sentence "I attended various courses" because no person was mentioned in relationship to the courses, let alone one who would be encouraging her. As became evident in later re-transcriptions, "I attended various courses" in Sentence 3 was a bit of information about the steps Danutė took to learn English and to become an English teacher, whereas "she kept encouraging" me referred to her English teacher (Sentence 2) and could be tied (not in a linear fashion of adjacency pairs, SACKS et al., 1974) to Danutė's list of characteristics for which she might have received the encouragement: good musical ear and intuition for languages. Like the run-on sentences analyzed above, the representation of Danutė's speech in sentences that are not grammatically correct inscribed participant-researcher relationships and ideological positions in particular ways (BRIGGS, 2002; KVALE, 2006; ROBERTS, 1997), to be analyzed at more length in a subsection on assumptions about interviewing. [24]

The retrospective analysis of the transcript and assumptions that guided the transcribing made visible that differences between oral and written language were not acknowledged or understood in these beginning stages of research. According to MISHLER (1984), experiences such as mine are not uncommon. The differences between the functions and forms of oral and written language are rarely addressed in literature on interviewing, qualitative research, or even in literature on transcribing. MISHLER (1984) explains the taken-for-granted nature of turning speech into text by noting that the differences between oral speech and its written representation in transcripts are so vast that it may seem unnecessary and/or impossible to describe the way speech is transformed into written text:

"Differences between speech and written text are so obvious and striking that it may seem at first a pedantic exercise to detail them and emphasize their significance for research on discourse. Clearly, a range of phenomena that are integral to naturally-occurring speech have no analogue on the printed page, at least in its standard familiar form. Thus, features of speech such as intonation, pitch, pacing, volume, filled and unfilled pauses, nonlexical vocalizations, false starts, repetitions, interruptions, and overlaps between speakers are omitted from the great variety of printed texts even when they include quotations. These omissions are particularly noticeable when the text is presumed to represent speech" (p.21). [25]

MISHLER (1984, 1986, 2003) and others (BAKER, 1997; GREEN et al., 1997; JOHNSTONE, 2002; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; TILLEY, 2003a) argue that even though the "entextualizing" (MISHLER, 1991) of aural audio and/or video data is a complex and highly selective process, it needs to be made transparent in research reports. Despite the vast differences between oral and written speech, systematic transcription that is designed for particular purposes to answer particular research questions guided by specific theories, is possible and necessary. [26]

However, before representing transcribing informed by explicit theories, two more sets of assumptions in the initial transcript need to be acknowledged. Understanding the personal theories and assumptions that guided transcribing as represented in Table 1 provides a foundation for building a "telling case" on the complexity of transcribing and the theoretical reflexivity needed within a research project. Unexamined assumptions about translation and about interviewing processes were consequential for what could be claimed about the interview. [27]

3.2.2 Assumptions about translatability of discourse

The transcript in Table 1 was constructed by listening to the Lithuanian audio record and writing out the content of the conversation directly into English. The focus was on the ideas expressed in the interview and not on the processes of the interview or the ways the content was talked into being (GREEN & DIXON, 1993) in the interview conversation. Issues of translation (TEMPLE et al., 2006), cross-language research (HOLE, 2007; GONZÁLEZ Y GONZÁLEZ & LINCOLN, 2006), and translatability of discursive choices (IVANIČ, 1994) were not considered at the time of transcribing. Analyses of translation issues are beyond the scope of this article and will be developed in further publications. What is important here is to uncover the personal theories and assumptions that influenced the decision to transcribe while simultaneously translating between languages. The basis for those assumptions and their consequences becomes visible by reflexively analyzing the researcher's background in cross-language work and its representation in the transcript. [28]

I grew up in Lithuania during the Soviet era and in addition to the native Lithuanian language, I learned Russian and English. My undergraduate education in Lithuania and my graduate master's and doctoral degrees in the U.S. were in English. As a result of my educational opportunities and the social context in which I grew up, I was fully trilingual and was often asked to help English speakers with Lithuanian-English translation in different contexts. My cross-language work included simultaneous interpreting from Lithuanian to English and/or vice versa in formal and informal conversations, business negotiations, church sermons, speeches and debates in a parliament forum. I also had worked on translating a variety of written texts, though oral simultaneous translation constituted the majority of my translation experience. [29]

These experiences were influential in my work with the interview records, even though the significance of assumptions stemming from those experiences remained invisible until the transcript in Table 1 was analyzed to uncover the personal theories shaping transcription practices. One of the assumptions that became visible in analyzing the transcript in Table 1 was the view of language as a tool for gathering and transferring information. Because the focus of the simultaneously translated and transcribed sentences was solely on the content, the sociolinguistic (GUMPERZ, 1982, 1995), pragmatic (AUSTIN, 1962; SEARLE, 1969), dialogic (BAKHTIN, 1981 [1975], 1986 [1979], 2004 [1945]), and ideological (FAIRCLOUGH, 1989; ROBERTS, 1997) nature of discourse and language-in-use (BLOOME & CLARK, 2006) remained invisible. [30]

Invisible also remain the sociohistorical and cultural nuances of language, even though sentences 6 and 7 signal the researcher's emerging awareness of the difficulty in translating discourse. In these sentences a Lithuanian word paskyrimas is used in an accusative case (there are seven cases in Lithuanian), paskyrimą, indicating the giving/receiving of an object, in this case, receiving of placement in a good school. The use of the Lithuanian word rather than the approximate English equivalent "placement" offers two possibilities for understanding the use of Lithuanian. First, the transcriber doing simultaneous translation between languages could not identify the equivalent word in the moment of transcription, added the word in the original language, and searched for the equivalent word in English later. However, leaving the Lithuanian word rather than the identified equivalent "placement" also raises the second possibility that the researcher is recognizing the limited equivalency of words and concepts across languages. [31]

Analysis of words retained in the original Lithuanian language during the simultaneous transcription-translation indicates that the primary reason that led to the inclusion of the word in the original language rather than the translation was my discomfort with the lack of direct equivalency between the concepts. The concept of placement of teachers in schools has different connotations for me as an educator when considering the educational, social, historical and political contexts and practices in the U.S. in the 21st century and soviet teacher placements in the 1970s. [32]

In the U.S., I worked as an instructor in a university teacher education program and participated in placing student-teachers into particular schools, classrooms and with particular master teachers. The placements included a range of decisions about matching the student and his/her strengths, personality, and interests or needs to those of the school, master teachers and grade levels. University based instructors and school-site facilitators made the decisions and those decisions were rarely questioned or resulted in significant consequences for the student-teacher. After graduating from teacher education programs, new teachers could apply for jobs in school districts and locations of their choice. In Lithuania, in the 1970s and throughout the Soviet era, teacher placement depended on the university, student grades, political party affiliations and decisions of school, university, and party personnel. A new teacher had no choice and had to teach in a school he/she was assigned. Receiving the "good placement" inscribed by Danutė signaled societal histories (BAKHTIN, 1986 [1979]) that an English word could not represent. [33]

Considering the differences between these historical, political, and educational contexts became the explanation of why the translator-transcriber included the word in the original language rather than replacing it with the English translation. The actions, meanings and histories (BAKHTIN, 1986 [1979]) inscribed in the two words are very different and signal the consequentiality of discursive choices (IVANIČ, 1994). The translator-transcriber's action thus signals her peripheral awareness of language as more than a tool for expressing ideas and transmitting information through interviews. As will be examined in the subsequent part of this article (Section 3.3), the experiential knowledge base and the tensions in understanding translatability of discourse were the foundations for the researcher's need to develop an explicit system for transcribing that was systematic and theoretically grounded in languacultural (AGAR, 1994) and sociohistorical views of discourse and meaning construction. [34]

3.2.3 Assumptions about interviewing as a linear question-answer interaction

In addition to assumptions about direct relationships between oral and written language and translatability of discourse, the sentence level transcript in Table 1 inscribed a range of researcher assumptions about interviewing. First is an assumption about interviews as question-answer interactions and second is the assumption of the hierarchical interviewer-interviewee roles. Making visible these assumptions and their limitations enabled the researcher to reconceptualize interviewing, transcribing, and researcher-participant relationships, leading to a new phase in research and data history (SLEMBROUCK, 2007) to be represented in the next section. [35]

The format of the transcript in Table 1 provides evidence for the researcher's unexamined view of interviews as predetermined question-answer events that are designed for the purposes of the researcher getting responses to her questions. The transcript starts with a request by the researcher and proceeds with the interviewee's response. The request and the response are transcribed in sentences that provide access only to the content of the interview. Even though the question is open-ended, it does signal the researcher's interest in "the work of a teacher" and sets up an expectation that the interviewee will provide the answers needed for research. [36]

This transcript shows the common expectation of a question-answer interview format predominant in the "interview society" (ATKINSON & SILVERMAN, 1997; FREEMAN & MATHISON, 2008; GUBRIUM & HOLSTEIN, 2003). Consequently, it reproduces the "mainstream" view (BRIGGS, 1986; MISHLER, 1986) of interviews as mere methods that serve only the purposes of the researcher. The work and purposes of the interviewee are masked by the transcript format. The negotiated nature of the interview that becomes apparent in the theoretically informed transcript in Table 2 is masked by the way the transcript in Table 1 is constructed to reveal primarily only the information in the teacher's answers. [37]

In addition to the assumptions about interviews as linear question-answer interactions, the transcript also reveals unexamined inscriptions of researcher-interviewee roles and relationships. The interviewee's speech is represented in predominantly simple sentence structures and run-ons, while the interviewer's request is transcribed as a full grammatically correct sentence. The positioning of the interviewee as a provider of information rather than an active co-constructor of the interview (HOLSTEIN & GUBRIUM, 2003) is further signaled through the choice of bold font for the interviewer and regular font for the interviewee. The font choice and the linear visual placement of the teacher's response underneath the researcher's request visually positions (OCHS, 1979) the interviewee in a one-down position and marks the interviewer dominance over the interviewee (KVALE, 2006). While, at the first glance, font and text positions may seem neutral and arbitrary choices for separating the interview contributors visually, as OCHS (1979), GREEN et al. (1997) and ROBERTS (1997) argue, no transcribing choice is ever neutral. Examining the guiding assumptions retrospectively provides a way of understanding the choices made and creates an opportunity for the researcher to expand her knowledge and ways of understanding and doing interviewing. [38]

Analyses of the first transcript made visible the impact of unexamined assumptions and personal theories in transcript construction and what is possible to see in the transcript. The tensions that became apparent in this reflexive analysis provided the basis for re-transcribing and re-conceptualizing interviewing and participant roles in the interview. By examining and making visible assumptions that guided the construction of the first transcript, the researcher's peripheral understandings of interviewing and discourse became central for developing further understandings about transcribing and interviewing. The questions and tensions that were foregrounded in the analyses of assumptions and personal theories embedded in the first transcript facilitated the development of a systematic and theoretically grounded way of transcribing and representing interview conversations. [39]

3.3 Transcript 2: Theory-method relationships in constructing a theoretically-informed message-unit transcript

The initial transcript represented in Table 1 enabled analyses of the interview content as linear answers to questions. Reflexive analyses of personal assumptions and theories embedded in the first transcript also signaled tensions about language and interviewer-interviewee roles. The transcript did not represent the complexity of the interviewing processes and constrained analyses of "how" the interaction and the content of the interview were constructed by both participants in active interaction (HOLSTEIN & GUBRIUM, 2003). As the researcher who conducted the interview with Danutė, I knew that it provided many possibilities for exploring a variety of topics about education. I also was aware that the process of the interview did not proceed in the linear fashion I had initially expected; instead, the interview resulted in a record that could be used to examine the co-constructed and co-negotiated processes of interview-conversation. However, the initial sentence-level transcript represented in Table 1 was not sufficient for understanding what happened in the interview, how the interviewer and interviewee interacted, or what topics were brought forward and developed. The content-level focus of the initial transcript was limiting my understanding of the way the interview topics were talked into being (GREEN & DIXON, 1993) and the way this talk inscribed particular meanings and representations of Danutė's world. To uncover the more nuanced and warranted understanding and representation of what occurred in the interview, I needed to find ways to represent the emic, or insider, perspectives and ways of interacting in this interview. The need to uncover the insider constructions and representations of self and interview topics, led me to an ethnographic perspective in education research. [40]

3.3.1 Theoretical locating: Educational ethnography and interactional ethnographic perspective

Education ethnographers seek to examine what members of social groups "need to know, understand, produce and predict to participate in socially and culturally appropriate ways" in educational settings (GREEN & BLOOME, 1997, p.182; HEATH, 1982). While variations in ethnography are profound across national, disciplinary, theoretical and pragmatic intellectual sites (AGAR, 2006; ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2011; ATKINSON, COFFEY, DELAMONT, LOFLAND & LOFLAND, 2001; ATKINSON, DELAMONT & HOUSLEY, 2008; ELLEN, 1984; GREEN & BLOOME, 1997; HEATH & STREET, 2008; SMITH, 1990; WALFORD, 2008a), ethnography as a situated logic-of-inquiry (GREEN, DIXON & ZAHARLICK, 2003), a philosophy (ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2006) and epistemology (GREEN, SKUKAUSKAITE & BAKER, in press) seeks to make visible meaning making and patterns of practice as constructed and understood by members of social or cultural groups, acting in particular social situations (such as interviews) (SPRADLEY, 1980). [41]

Within ethnography, interactional ethnography (CASTANHEIRA, CRAWFORD, DIXON & GREEN, 2000; CASTANHEIRA, GREEN & YEAGER, 2009; GREEN, SKUKAUSKAITE, DIXON & CÓRDOVA, 2007; REX, 2006) and microethnographic perspective (BLOOME et al., 2005; ERICKSON, 1992, 2004) focus on language-in-use and provide ways of representing the social and discursive construction of knowledge, self, and negotiation of roles and relationships. The microethnographic perspective enables analyses of discursive construction moment by moment and provides ways of making visible how message-by-message, moment-by-moment construction of meaning develops over time and how messages are linked through both linear and non-linear ties (GREEN & WALLAT, 1981b). By analyzing discursive construction of meaning in the moment and over time, interactional ethnographers uncover how knowledge, patterns of practice, and ways of talking, being and doing, co-constructed by participants in a local situation are linked to larger institutional, social, educational and historical contexts (CASTANHEIRA, GREEN, DIXON & YEAGER, 2007; DIXON, GREEN, YEAGER, BAKER & FRANQUIZ, 2000; GREEN & HERAS, 2011; REX & SCHILLER, 2009). [42]

While an interview study does not constitute an ethnography, adopting an ethnographic perspective enabled me to examine systematically how meanings are constructed in the moment and over time by the interview participants and how those meanings are situated in the larger social and historical context. GREEN and BLOOME (1997) make a distinction between doing ethnography, adopting an ethnographic perspective, and using ethnographic tools:

"doing ethnography involves the framing, conceptualizing, conducting, interpreting, writing, and reporting associated with a broad, in-depth, and long-term study of a social or cultural group, meeting the criteria for doing ethnography as framed within a discipline or field. By adopting an ethnographic perspective, we mean that it is possible to take a more focused approach (i.e., do less than a comprehensive ethnography) to study particular aspects of everyday life and cultural practices of a social group. Central to an ethnographic perspective is the use of theories of culture and inquiry practices derived from anthropology or sociology to guide the research. The final distinction, using ethnographic tools, refers to the use of methods and techniques usually associated with fieldwork. These methods may or may not be guided by cultural theories or questions about social life of group members" (p.183). [43]

To do ethnography or to adopt an ethnographic perspective requires understanding and making explicit theories guiding the study. In ethnography, theory is inseparable from methodology (BIRDWHISTELL, 1977; HEATH, 1982; HEATH & STREET, 2008; TRONDMAN, 2008; ZAHARLICK & GREEN, 1991), since research methods are tied to the objects of their study (BLOOME et al., 2005) and conceptualizations of objects of study are shaped by particular ontological and epistemological views of the researcher (BREDO, 2006; KELLY, 2006). Adopting an ethnographic perspective, therefore, implies drawing on theories of culture and language-in-use to examine and understand the practices and meanings co-constructed by participants interacting in social situations. [44]

Three ethnographic principles (GREEN et al., 2003) guided the examination of discourse in the interview and shaped the way the second transcript was constructed. The first principle, studying cultural practices, guides researcher goals of uncovering principles that guide member's actions (GREEN et al., 2003) and make visible patterns of interaction that may be invisible to the interactants in the moment of interaction. To uncover these principles and patterns from the insider perspective required noting contextualization cues (see Table 2) that signaled how the interview participants were co-constructing meaning within the interaction. Contextualization cues (GUMPERZ, 1982, 1992), which include

"prosodic and nonverbal cues such as pitch, stress, intonation, pause, juncture, proxemics, eye gaze, and kinesics, in addition to lexical items, grammatical structures, and visual dimensions of context, ... provide information to participants about the meaning of words and grammar and how to move back and forth between language and context (situations)" (GEE & GREEN, 1998, p.120). [45]

Using contextualization cues, participants in interaction make sense of each other's actions and words in the moment and can carry on the conversation. Contextualization cues are the foundation for constructing a message-unit transcript that will be presented in the next section. [46]

The second principle, ethnography as entailing a contrastive perspective (GREEN et al., 2003), informs ways through which researchers can construct grounded representations of patterns of practice identified through analyses. Contrastive perspective requires that researchers examine their records and construct their data (BAKER, GREEN & SKUKAUSKAITE, 2008; ERICKSON, 2006) with the principle of contrastive relevance at the forefront. Contrastive relevance, a concept grounded in cultural anthropology, requires that researchers look at the interactions and cultural patterns from the insider point of view, and not impose their own values or outsider understandings on what is going on (AGAR, 1996; ANDERSON-LEVITT, 2006; HEATH, 1982; GREEN et al., in press). To identify these insider understandings frame clashes (MEHAN, 1979) and rich points (AGAR, 1994) provide "contrastive spaces for demonstrating cultural knowledge" (GREEN et al., 2003, p.209).

"Agar proposes the concept of 'rich points' to capture what is made visible through differences in the frames of reference (what Mehan, 1979, and others call 'frame clashes'). For Agar (1994), a rich point can occur within a group; it can happen when visiting a new place; or it can occur when the ethnographer's cultural resources and background do not allow him or her to see and understand the actions and activity within the social group under study from an emic perspective. A rich point, he argues, is a place where culture happens. That is, at such points, the ordinary is made extraordinary, since the actor(s) can no longer proceed as usual. Rich points in ethnography, therefore, are points at which the differences in understanding, action, interpretation, and/or participation become marked. At such points, the cultural practices and resources that members draw on become visible in their efforts to maintain participation" (pp.209-210). [47]

Underlying the concept of rich points is AGAR's (1994) proposition of the inseparability of language and culture, which he terms "languaculture" (p.60). AGAR argues that language is "loaded with rich points, since language carries most of the rich and complicated symbolic freight that humans exchange" (p.106). From this perspective, cultural practices, frames of reference, and ways of constructing and interpreting one's world can become visible through analyses of language-in-use. Therefore, the contrastive perspective that brings language, culture and emic perspectives together, leads to transcribing decisions, which take into account languacultural patterns of interaction. By using contextualization cues, message unit transcribing enables identification of rich points that make languacultures visible. [48]

The third principle of ethnography, holistic perspective (GREEN et al., 2003), requires ethnographic researchers to consider part-whole relationships of the phenomena they study. GREEN and colleagues (GREEN et al., 2003, in press) argue that what counts as a "whole" is determined not by size or scope of what is being studied, but by what constitutes the bounded unit for analysis. A whole can be a one- or two-year ethnography in an urban classroom or it can be one activity, such as sharing time or writer's workshop, sampled at particular times from the life of the classroom. From this perspective, a naturally bounded unit, such as an interview, with its beginning and end, may constitute the "whole." A short segment, such as the one analyzed below, is a part of the whole and needs to be considered as such, if ethnographic perspective is adopted for the study. [49]

The holistic perspective of ethnography also implies that any data analyses and representations of those analyses need to be situated within the cultural situation of the participants as well as within the research program and goals of the researcher. In this way, the researcher develops and maintains accountability both to the people studied (AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, 2006; WALFORD, 2008b) and to the research commitments. By making visible part-whole relationships, by using contrastive perspective, and by focusing on cultural practices, an interactional ethnographer can thus develop a systematic and theoretically grounded methodology for analyzing research data. Transcribing, as one of the first levels of analysis, is therefore tied to the theories and the research questions guiding the research project. By making visible the theories guiding transcribing decisions, the researcher creates transparency, accountability, strong objectivity (BANKS, 2006) and, what TRONDMAN (2008) calls "truthfulness" (p.125). [50]

3.3.2 Message-unit transcribing: Making visible languacultural activity in an open-ended interview conversation

In this section I present how the theoretically informed message-unit-level transcribing makes visible the discursive work of the people in an interview conversation. This transcribing is informed by interactional ethnography, which brings together ethnography, practice-oriented theories of culture and theories of language-in-use (CASTANHEIRA et al., 2000; REX, 2006). [51]

Message unit level transcribing makes visible how people in interaction construct the conversation together on a message-by-message, moment-by-moment basis as they act and react to each other (BLOOME et al., 2005; GREEN & WALLAT, 1979, 1981b). Message units are minimal bursts of speech that carry the smallest inscriptions of meaning (GREEN & WALLAT, 1979, 1981b). Message units are determined post hoc by observing/listening for contextualization cues (GUMPERZ, 1982, 1992) that people in interaction use to signal meanings to each other. It is such primarily audio cues as heard on the audio tape and recorded in the fieldnotes that guided my message unit level transcribing and subsequent analyses of the interview interaction from micro, message unit by message unit, moment-by-moment interaction, to ever increasing units of scale, including action and sequence units (GREEN & WALLAT, 1981b) of interactive sense-making, and storying units that signal meaning-making and content being constructed in the interview as a whole (SKUKAUSKAITE, 2006). [52]

Table 2 represents a message unit transcript in Lithuanian, with a translation in English1). Each line number represents a message unit. The speech of the two interview participants is represented in separate columns to make visible the cooperative, dynamic, and negotiated nature of the interview, as well as to mark roles taken up by each participant (GREEN et al., 1997; OCHS, 1979). Following OCHS' (1979) argument that the left-hand positioning of a particular speaker on the page (in left-to-right writing systems such as English or Lithuanian) draws attention to that speaker first and thus ascribes a hierarchical position, I positioned the representation of Danutė's speech in the left hand column for three reasons. First, Danutė was in fact the one who initiated the interview with "okay," thus breaking the researcher's assumption of an interview as a liner question-answer format managed (GILLHAM, 2000) by the researcher. Second, Danutė did most of the talking and initiated topics not foreseen in the interview guide. Third, if left-hand positioning inscribes hierarchical relationships (OCHS, 1979), then I purposefully wanted to shift the representation of the power relationships in this transcript from the interviewer to Danutė, in order to indicate Danutė's active role (HOLSTEIN & GUBRIUM, 2003; PATAI, 1993) in shaping and reshaping the interview. Contextualization cues are noted in the right-hand column.






Contextualization Cues


paskui supras


later she'll understand








quick, rise on o, fall on kay, pause



hm okay


hm okay

slight pause after hm, okay flat, slower than D's; full stop









u:h lietuviškai ar angliškai nori//t (kalbėti)


ugh in lithuanian or english do you wa//nt (to talk)

almost inaudible uh-signals uncertainty

overlap starts before R finishes "nori//t". Kalbėti hardly audible






a: long, almost like aaah, stop at the end


nu aš bijau jau


oh I am afraid now


inverted phrase, sing-song rhythm


tau rodytis (kaip aš)=


to show you=


tau slightly emphasized, sigh-out on "rodytis"



= nieko



latch on, full stop









ko čia //bijoti


there is to //fear

starts overlap at "bijoti"






aborts proposed phrase



galima lietuviš//kai


we can in lithu//anian

pitch higher, like waving it off, signals any language is fine






overlap; pitch low, matter-of-fact






short "o" signals finality, pause at the end



nu tai tas mano pirmas klausimas toks buvo


so that first question of mine was

phrase uttered smoothly









jeigu galit


if you can






tell me

intonation slightly up, held at the end



apie savo


about your

comma-like pause



kaip UŽsienio kalbos mokytojos darbą


as FOreign language teacher's work

pause at the end, intonation falls



kas su tuo susiję


what constitutes it

intonation held slightly up






22-25 list























in general

quick, comma-like pause






intonation up



apie savo darba


about your work

intonation falls, pause












u long, runs into next MU


anglų kalbos mokytoja tapau


I became an English language teacher


pace quickens




i mean:


pace slows down, a: elongated, like a place holder, pause




I had


slight pause


anglų kalbos gerą mokytoją vidurinėje mokykloje


a good English language teacher in secondary school


intonations shifts, becomes more certain, fastens, emphasis on vidurinėje






during her pause

Table 2: Transcript 2: Transcribing in message units, with contextualization cues recorded [53]

Transcribing in message units, as represented in Table 2, requires listening to the audio record many more times (as compared to the first transcript) in order to capture both verbal and co-verbal cues (GREEN & WALLAT, 1979; GUMPERZ, 1992, 1995; GUMPERZ & BERENZ, 1993) of how language is being used in the moment by moment conversation, as people act and react to each other (BLOOME & EGAN-ROBERTSON, 1993). Each message unit signals a particular bit of information or action, but from an ethnographic holistic perspective, those bits cannot be interpreted in isolation, if human communication, not single words, is of interest (WILSON, 1989). For example, message unit 3 "h-h" in the transcript in Table 2 marks a chuckle the interviewer verbalized in response to Danutė's action of starting the interview and starting it in English, not the native language. In itself this notation of a chuckle cannot be interpreted to mean anything beyond a chuckle2). However, people in interaction act and react to each other and to self (BAKHTIN, 1986 [1979]; BLOOME et al., 2005; GREEN & WALLAT, 1981b; GUMPERZ, 1992); therefore, each message is tied to other messages surrounding the unit. Thus the chuckle "h-h" in message unit 3 needs to be interpreted in a part-whole relationship to the two prior message units, taking into consideration the contextualization cues and the units that precede and follow a given message unit. [54]

The inter-connected nature of human communication becomes visible when the chuckle in message unit 3 is analyzed in relationship to the initiating message unit and the social context of the interview conversation. In message unit one (MU 1) Danutė says "okay" quickly, with barely any pause after the previous statement "paskui supras"/ "later she'll understand" (MU 0). "Okay" is uttered in English, not Lithuanian, which was the language of the prior conversation. "Okay" in message unit 1 is also uttered with a prosodic shift in intonation, in which "o" is first stressed as intonation goes up, and then falls on "kay" (okay). The rise and fall of the intonation on this one word "okay" and the pause accompanying it signal to the hearer the shift in action from the prior conversation to an interview situation. [55]

This "okay" became a rich point (AGAR, 1994), for the researcher not only because Danutė took the lead in starting the interview, a task the researcher had assumed was hers to do, but also because Danutė shifted the language from Lithuanian in the prior conversation to English in "okay." Even though both the researcher and the interviewee were trilingual, with Lithuanian as the native language and Russian and English as additional languages, the researcher had the assumption that Lithuanian as the native language would be used for the interview. However, Danutė's "okay" broke that expectation and required a negotiation of language for the interview. The rich point thus became a space for uncovering the cultural knowledges that the researcher and the interviewee brought to the interview and how they were negotiated in the interaction. [56]

This negotiation begins with the message units 2 and 3 and is developed in message units 4-14 in Table 2. Message unit 2 is a direct response to the surprising "okay." In this unit the researcher says "hm okay" in a manner less forceful and slower than Danutė's "okay" in unit one. The "hm," as heard on the tape, indicates hesitation, and "okay" repeats Danutė's word instead of proposing something new. Consequently, the chuckle (marked as h-h) in message unit 3, which follows the stop after "hm okay," can be interpreted as a hesitation on the researcher's part, given the researcher's surprise of Danutė's move in message unit 1. [57]

Danutė's "okay" and the subsequent negotiated actions by the researcher and the interviewee made visible some of the researcher's assumptions about interviewing. These assumptions included a view that the researcher directs the interview by asking questions and that the researcher starts the interview. However, re-listening and re-transcribing in theoretically informed and systematic ways, made visible that the interview is not a simple, predefined event, even when participants are aware of the social norms of interviewing, including question asking and answering, turn taking, and focusing on the topic (BRENNER, 2006; BRENNER, 1981; BRIGGS, 1986; GUBRIUM & KORO-LJUNGBERG, 2005; GUBRIUM & HOLSTEIN, 2003; GUMPERZ, 1995; RUBIN & RUBIN, 2005). As Danutė made visible through her first action of "okay," the interview was a co-negotiated event. This co-negotiation became visible only when systematic, theoretically guided analyses, including transcribing, were undertaken, with audio records being close at hand and re-viewed often, instead of being put away after the first transcription. [58]

This message unit transcribing makes the work of the people in the moment-by moment interaction more visible and more contextualized (BRIGGS, 1986; CICOUREL, 1982; ERICKSON & SHULTZ, 1981). However, the flexibility, complexity, and transparency of this transcribing system come with the cost of the amount of time needed to transcribe as well as the resulting amount of data. The 151-minute audio record was re-transcribed into 254 pages of text in Lithuanian. The amount of data produced in this form of transcribing allows in depth examinations of the discursive work of people in an extended interaction. However, because so much more of the discursive work can be seen in the transcript, there is a danger for the researcher to focus on the bits and the "hows" of interaction (HOLSTEIN & GUBRIUM, 2003), leaving out the meanings and purposes discursively constructed. To balance the focus on the micro moments of interaction, the ethnographic perspective keeps the researcher accountable to making visible the "whole" of the interview and the content co-constructed. While analysis and representation of the whole interview is beyond the scope of this article, the microethnographic message-unit transcript provides a basis for showing how the two active interview participants co-constructed the topics of the interview and how they negotiated and renegotiated their roles and relationships throughout the interview (SKUKAUSKAITE, 2006). [59]

Message unit transcribing became the foundation for a comprehensive system of analysis which enabled me as a researcher to move between the micro-level, message unit by message unit interaction, to the more macro, content level interaction and its relationship to the sociohistorical and sociopolitical context of the setting in which the conversation is taking place (CASTANHEIRA et al., 2007; DIXON et al., 2000; GREEN & HERAS, 2011; SKUKAUSKAITE, 2007, 2009). This multilayered analytic system was developed in the dissertation study (SKUKAUSKAITE, 2006) and allows for grounded interpretations of interview interactions at multiple levels of scale. Though a representation of the whole system is not possible here, it is important to note that a multi-layered system of analysis would not be possible without a theoretically grounded and methodologically coherent way of transcribing and the reflexivity of the researcher in developing an "entextualization" of speech in a transcript. The transcribing format in message units, as represented in Table 2, made it possible to construct grounded interpretations not only of what was said in the interview, but also how it was said, how the two participants acted and reacted to each other, and what they co-constructed in terms of the content throughout the non-linear, interactive, interview conversation. [60]

4. What Difference Do the Differences in Transcribing Make? Transparency in Transcribing as a Way of Warranting Claims About Human Activity

In reflexively analyzing two transcript formats constructed at different times in data history, I made visible the consequential nature of theory-method relationships in entextualizing audio records. Transcribing, as argued by many scholars within education and the social sciences, is a form of analysis that is shaped by the researchers' examined and unexamined theories and assumptions, ideological and ethical stances, relationships with participants, and the research communities of which one is a member (BAKER, 1997; BLOOME et al., 2005; BUCHOLTZ, 2007a; EDWARDS & LAMPERT, 1993; GREEN et al., 1997; HAMMERSLEY, 2010; LAPADAT & LINDSAY, 1999; MISHLER, 2003; OCHS, 1979; TILLEY, 2003a). Given the theoretically-laden nature of transcribing, the strength of warrants for claims and the possibilities for hermeneutic conversations across intellectual traditions (KELLY, 2006) become dependent on the transparency of theory-method relationships built into an empirical research report. [61]

In the last four decades researchers in anthropology and education have argued about the dangers of separating theories from methods (BIRDWHISTELL, 1977; GEE & GREEN, 1998; GREEN et al., 2003; HEATH, 1982; HEATH & STREET, 2008; RIST, 1980; SKUKAUSKAITE & GREEN, 2011; ZAHARLICK, 1992). BLOOME and colleagues (2005) stated,

"The separation of theory from methods results in researchers engaging in unreflected action and holding magical beliefs; that is, they conduct research without questioning why they do what they do or how their actions are connected to understandings of knowledge, people, or language" (p.xviii). [62]

Such separation of theory and methodology and the lack of reflexivity in researcher's work creates limits to certainty (BAKER & GREEN, 2007) in what can be known about people, their interactions, and the way they construct knowledge in particular social situations such as interviews. Therefore, the way transcripts are constructed need to be made transparent in research reports that make claims about social and interactional phenomena using transcribed discourse data (AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH ASSOCIATION, 2006, 2009). [63]

Transparency in transcribing and in revealing theoretically coherent and systematic ways of transcript construction becomes a ground for uncovering socially constructed interpretations and representations of the world in which people live. A close focus on the discursive work of people in interaction makes visible what people foreground as important to talk about and how the importance of the topics constructed is ascribed. Scholars across traditions who study language-in-use, or discourse (BLOOME & CLARK, 2006; CAMERON, 2001) have argued that through their language choices people inscribe their views of the worlds in which they live as well as their social and academic identities, relationships, knowledge, and practices of being, knowing and acting as members of particular social groups (e.g., BAKHTIN, 1986 [1979]; BARNES, 1992; BLOOME et al., 2005; GEE & GREEN, 1998; GREEN et al., 2007; HEATH, 1983; IVANIČ, 1998; LAKOFF & JOHNSON, 1980; REX, 2006). [64]

Therefore, in studying the phenomena of people's lives, transcribing, as an analytic and interpretive process, must be undertaken in theoretically informed ways with a reflexive stance. TRONDMAN (2008) emphasized the importance of theory in ethnography and of making it visible. His views on theorizing and its importance can be applied to transcribing as a consequential analytic process within a research project. TRONDMAN argues:

"Why, then, is theorizing, besides describing, explaining and representing social and cultural worlds, of such an importance? I think it is because it makes possible the seeing of oneself as signifying someone which one does not easily recognize in one's own everyday life struggle—that is, the other, which is also me, but seen from another perspective, through another language. I do believe this seeing of oneself as a conditioned 'other' (or others as their conditioned ‘selves') through the language of theory can contribute to better citizenship. It can carry social hope also towards the need and possibilities of others. It is a way of owning rather than disowning knowledge" (p.121). [65]

Reflexivity in research and making transparent the decisions in transcribing provides the basis for warranting research claims in ways that are accountable both to the research participants and to the research community. What we can learn and know about human activity and interaction depends on how we use language data and what choices we make of how to turn audio (and/or video) records into written texts, what to represent and not represent, and how to represent it. Given that there is no single way of transcribing, making transparent transcribing decisions and theories guiding those decisions, can provide grounded warrants for claims researchers make about observed (and recorded) human actions and interactions. [66]


1) Translation is used only for presenting this work to non-Lithuanian speakers/readers; the transcript was initially constructed and analyzed in Lithuanian. <back>

2) In conversation analysis chuckles and laughter have been analyzed extensively as phenomena of interaction in their own right. However, in interactional ethnographic analyses of discourse, a chuckle is important only as part of the larger interaction. The inclusion of the chuckle in the transcript makes visible the actions and reactions of the participants, as they make meaning of each other’s messages moment-by-moment in the process of constructing the conversation. <back>


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Audra SKUKAUSKAITE is an associate professor at the University of Texas, Brownsville. Her research and teaching interests focus on discourse and ethnographic research in education, open-ended interviewing methodology, impact of reforms on teachers, and student learning in diverse classrooms.


Audra Skukauskaite

Department of Teaching, Learning, and Innovation
The University of Texas, Brownsville
80 Fort Brown, EDBC 2.308, Brownsville, TX 78520

Tel.: 1-956-882-7674
Fax: 1-956-882-8929

E-mail: audra.skukauskaite@utb.edu
URL: http://utb.academia.edu/AudraSkukauskaite


Skukauskaite, Audra (2012). Transparency in Transcribing: Making Visible Theoretical Bases Impacting Knowledge Construction from Open-Ended Interview Records [66 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 13(1), Art. 14,

Revised: 11/2017

Copyright (c) 2012 Audra Skukauskaite

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