Many projects will need to decide what to do with recorded interviews or focus-group discussions. Should interviews be transcribed in the full sense (that is, to provide an as accurate as possible, word-for-word written equivalent of the recording)? If so, should the whole interview be transcribed? These questions raise important issues. Some of the issues are technical; others have to do with translation; others have to do with resources; and others depend heavily on the purposes of the research.
Resource issues: Transcribing (in the full sense) is very expensive in terms of time and often of money. Estimates of how long it takes to transcribe one hour of interview vary: a common one is that a trained transcriber will take at least six and possibly as much as eight hours, depending on the quality of the recording. If the interview is translated and then typed one might add an additional two-four hours. And less skilled people, or more complex interviews, might take a further couple of hours. The necessary skills may not be found within the research team, but if they are, the time spent on transcribing will obviously limit the time available for new interviews. So there is a temptation to look for solutions by transcribing only the more important parts of an interview; or accepting a less accurate transcript; or using a summary of the interview instead.
Research issues: Whether these solutions are acceptable will depend in part on your research purposes (do you want the full and accurate words of the interviewee(s) to be the basis of the analysis, or are you interested in an overview of their perceptions and feelings?) This in turn will depend on your methodology and the philosophy underpinning your research design, and so no general answers are possible.
Nonetheless, we think it is essential to be clear about these issues from an early stage in the research, so that the number of interviews or focus group discussions conducted are in proportion to the time available for producing adequate written accounts that can be used for data analysis at the level that is needed.
If the interview or focus-group is not in English (or your project language), you may choose not to transcribe in the original language but move straight to a translation. The issues of how much to transcribe remain, however.
You may also want to have key sections of the interview (or key sentences or phrases) accurately transcribed and then translated, for use in reports or articles.