May 2, 2017, by Stuart Moran

Transcription Services: A First Step Toward Safe Use

Researchers who carry out interviews or focus groups will typically digitally record the audio  for later reference and analysis. This data will then get transcribed by the researchers or via a transcription service for a set fee. When using a service, researchers will transmit the audio files to the provider, who then carries out the transcription and returns a set of completed annotated text files.

Speedy and simple…but is it safe?

The Problem

Following some recent work on secure research data management, a number of questions and concerns emerged about the use of transcription services across the university. Much of this stems from the type of service used by researchers, of which there are three:

  1. Recognised multi-employee companies that specialise in transcription (e.g. )
  2. Self-employed individuals who specialise in transcription services (e.g.
  3. Part-time casual workers (e.g. friend-of-a-friend, students, admin staff)

The issue across all of these services are the varying levels of detail and maturity in their terms and conditions and contractual obligations. There are instances of fully-fledged documented agreements, informal verbal agreements and, at worst, no agreements at all. Where agreements are in place, there is also variety in who those terms and conditions best serve the interests of: the company or the customer. Without a set of well-defined and documented agreements on a service it is not clear as how to research data is being treated. This is a problem for researchers who need to ensure their research data is sufficiently protected.

Can you answer the following questions about a transcription service you used recently?

  1. How was your data be transmitted to and from the service?
  2. How and where was your data being stored by the service?
  3. Who at the service had access to your data?
  4. When was your data destroyed by the service?
  5. Did the treatment of the data align with what was agreed in your ethics application?

Of course knowing the answers to these questions is not enough as we must also know that this is a safe way to be treating the data. With many different services, types of data and varying degrees of sensitivity it is easy to see how this is a challenging and time consuming task for researchers.

Proposed Solution

To help protect researchers, their participants and the University, the Digital Research Team are facilitating the development of a standardised contract for use when engaging with any type of transcription service. The contract will outline a set of standard practices and expectations around the services’ treatment of the data. Not all data will require the same level of secure treatment, and elements of the contract will be deemed compulsory and optional.

The idea is that a researcher will download the standardised contract, select a set of check boxes to indicate which elements of the contract are optional or compulsory given the sensitivity of their data and then pass the document to be signed by a representative of the transcription service. This approach allows researchers to quickly adapt the requirements of the agreement and continue to make use of their preferred transcription service.

This is a great example of a policy tool that will satisfy the need for researchers to have flexibility, little-to-no barriers to entry and an acknowledgement of researchers ways of working. The next steps for this work are to consult with a wide-range of stakeholders across the university in order to determine what the standard elements of the contract will be, and also what should be optional or compulsory.

If you would like to take part in this consultation, please feel free to contact the Digital Research Team.


Next Blog in Series: Investigating Automated Transcription and Translation

Stuart Moran, Digital Research Specialist for Social Sciences

Posted in Automated transcription