A focus group is a guided conversation in a group of people to collect qualitative data on a subject. Because of the large number of speakers involved, focus group transcription is more challenging compared to types of recordings.
Here are a few basic guidelines for transcribing a standard focus group:
Each and every word of the participants should be recorded on the transcript. This includes all the fillers (ums, ahs, hms, etc.) as well as non-verbal communication such as laughter, coughs, claps, pauses etc.
Background noises should also be transcribed (such as doors opening, clicking of a pen, car horn, etc.). Read more on verbatim transcription here.
Don’t try to ‘clean up’
If participants use colorful language, commit grammatical errors, or mispronounce words – resist the urge to correct the mistakes while typing.
If a mispronounced word creates difficulty in understanding the meaning of what is being said, put the correct pronunciation/spelling in brackets.
Use time stamps
If there are words or phrases that are not clearly audible, place a time stamp in the text so that the end-user of the transcript can quickly locate the part on the audio while editing. This is true for any parts that are unclear because of several speakers talking simultaneously – such parts should be indicated with [crosstalk] along with a time stamp.
The moderator and speakers should be clearly differentiated in focus group transcription.
A focus group usually consists of 5-7 speakers and it is difficult to identify each person by name, however a general identifier such as ‘Participant’ and ‘Moderator’ can be used.
At times it may not be appropriate to mention the names of the participants on the transcript – in fact, some researchers like to keep all names and places confidential. In such situations, discuss with the customer if they want the names/places transcribed with an identifier (such as =) so that they can easily locate and delete them at the time of editing.
Alternatively, the information can be omitted altogether at the time of transcribing.
Develop an ‘ear’ for detail
A focus group is a discussion between several people. The discussion is usually not disciplined and people tend to talk over each other, turn away from microphones, and speak really fast in order to get their point across. As such, focus group transcription requires careful listening, a keen ear for multiple styles of speaking, and 2-3 rounds of proofreading to ensure accuracy.
The basic idea is to transcribe in as much detail as possible so that the person conducting research has complete information about the ‘what’ as well as the ‘how’ of what was said by each participant.