Talking data: managing audio and video recordings for language analysis

Our doctoral students are doing fieldwork and here are some recommendations for managing data once recordings (audio, video) are complete.

Language data typically involve a series of recordings — interviews, classroom interaction, presentations — and it’s important to have an overview of the full data set both to organise the analysis and for subsequent presentation (discussion with advisers, preparing articles, writing chapters of the thesis).

Saving data

  1. Backup: download your recordings to your computer as soon as possible after recording. Decide how to label your files in a way that makes sense to you, and make a Word file to record your decisions to help remember your system. Back up your files immediately online and/or to an external drive to make sure nothing is lost.
  2. Field notes: write up notes on the recording sessions as soon as possible. Include details of participants, dates and times, impressions, incidents, questions that occurred to you at the time or as you write your notes. Write profiles for key participants (age, gender, role, background).
  3. Anonymising data: choose pseudonyms or codes to identify participants and keep a file where personal data is recorded. Data protection rules generally call for this information to be kept separately from the rest of your data (e.g., on paper).

Preparing data for analysis

  1. Make spreadsheets to provide an overview of recordings. Include details such as date, participants, type of interaction, length of interaction in columns, using a new row for each recording. You can include a column where you link to the file in question or at least record the filename. If you use Dropbox or Google Drive you will have a revision history where you can recover older versions of files in case of errors, but it’s good practice to back up elsewhere also.
  2. Also include preliminary categories for analysis: since you are going to watch/listen to your recordings as you save and label your files, you can include details which strike you as similar or different across interactions, such as particular speech acts, interesting quotes, or repeated use of particular words and expressions.
  3. You can also have a column for brief notes with questions or comments about the recording which may also help keep track of intuitions and ideas which occur to you during this phase. This part of the work can be interesting and gratifying because it’s your first approach to your data, and will hopefully spark ideas which you should write down before you forget. It’s also a fastidious and repetitive process, and allowing yourself to reflect on what’s interesting and relevant to your project should help maintain motivation.

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