Thursday, 21 April 2016

Interviewing and tapes

For a book revised in 2016 Real World Research by Robson and McCartan has a rather dated feel. In chapter 12 repeated references to "taping" interviews reinforce this feeling regularly, I doubt anyone has used a reel to reel, cassette tape recorder or VHS camera to capture interviews for at least a decade. OK they might be referring to more modern mini-DV tape formats but these are digital recordings and easily imported into computers where the data can be manipulated so the problems mentioned would not be relevant.

The statement from page 287 about transcription is what makes me feel this is referencing pre-digital machines:

"Tapes if used require whole or partial transcription (allow something like a factor of ten between tape time and transcription time unless you are highly skilled; i.e. a one hour tape takes ten hours to transcribe fully)." 

Unless there are compelling unstated reasons to use pre-digital tapes the authors should just have advised against using this kind of tape recording and then quoted the problems with transcription. I started using digital tools to capture interview data in 1998, the key advantage of this is that it is easy to use digital software to slow the playback speed to match my typing speed. For me this results in the time taken to transcribe a one hour interview being only around 90 minutes rather than the 10 hours suggested by Robson and McCartan. Anyone taking 10 hours to transcribe a digital recording would have to still be learning to type. This strategy is such an obvious advantage I can't see why it is ignored in a book that has much sound advice to offer. Digital recording obviates the need to spend many hours transcribing text or of falling back on the less useful option of paying for a third party transcription service. Clearly the immersion in the data is greater when the researcher does the transcription, digital tools also allow the researcher to listen to the recording several times at normal speed to add any observational notes about the tonal emphasis that could indicate depth of conviction or level of uncertainty. Video of F2F, Skype, FaceTime or Periscope interviews also has the advantage of allowing for interpretation of visual signals.

On page 296 in box 12.4 the authors offer advantages and disadvantages of the telephone interview, it is not clear why they state:

"They need to be relatively short (usually less than 30 minutes) face-to-face interviews can be up to an hour in many cases."

There is absolutely no justification for this statement, most phone contracts offer free calls for up to an hour (and have done for years) and the cost of going over an hour is minimal and far less than the cost of travelling long distances to meet face-to-face. I can not think of one reason why a phone call needs to be shorter than a face to face conversation. Although telephones are still relevant today the advantages offered by video services such as FaceTime or Skype include allowing contextual information to be gleaned, no limit on the length of call, and there is also the potential for live sharing of relevant documents or images via instant file transfer. Recording is not difficult, for example on a Mac just open QuickTime, select 'new screen recording', start recording then start the interview.  If you want a double indemnity approach set up a camera or smartphone on a small tripod pointing at the screen and off you go.

The authors do mention VOIP briefly at the top of page 298 but refer the reader to older sources dating 2006-2009 which are less than contemporary. they then go on to expand on advantages / disadvantages of several methods but repeat the categorisation into approaches where social cues are or are not relevant and continue to fail to cover digital video recording adequately.

I find the same in Social Research by Punch from 2014, on page 151 the author talks about tape recording and references sources from an era before digital devices were common - 1985 - 2002. Recording equipment in 1990 was very different to that available on any smart phone today and situations where there is no opportunity for electronic recording in the field are now rare indeed as long as mobile devices are well charged in advance.

Some comparisons between digital recording and analogue tapes:

Digital  - no specialist equipment needed beyond that available in most households, no training needed.
Analogue  - hardware is not commonly available, some basic training might be needed.

Digital - easily copied at no extra cost to create backups.
Analogue - copying tapes requires a special recorder or a second machine, not difficult but might have a cost implication.

Digital - easy to create video or audio extracts from the raw data.
Analogue - not so easy to make and not so easy to use unless digitised.

Digital - files can be stored securely online and accessed easily by password holders from any internet enabled location. On local devices folders containing files can be password protected for security - it takes about 10 seconds to do.
Analogue - secure storage has to be in a physical device such as a locked file cabinet or safe, this has implications in regard to convenience of access.

Ye I'm having a moan but come on publishers; recently revised books should include current information in-line with the recent evolution of technologies.

Tapes Pah!