Lots of Verbs: Drinking, Interviewing, Transcribing, Coding

The past few weeks have gone by in a flurry of activity. I spent many days camped out in the Princeton Public Library interviewing participants, sometimes passing eight hours at a time interviewing in a single day. Other days were spent driving around the greater Princeton area to meet up with participants in coffee shops or cozy kitchens; still others flew by as I sat in a lawn chair in my backyard, cradling the phone to my ear as I scrolled through my interview questions. I’m honored to have heard so many different stories and narratives from so many different people. While I expected the interviews to be around an hour, most have wound up being an hour and a half or even two hours, as each person’s account of their drinking experiences and attitudes prompts infinitely new questions on my part.

Now I’m in the home stretch of the interview portion of my project. This morning I completed my 24th interview, and I’m aiming for 27-30 interviews total, so I should be done by next week. This means moving into the transcribing and coding portion of the study. I’ve been using two different transcribing softwares to get down all the data, but I don’t quite have the magic touch yet, as it’s still taking me around 3-4 hours to transcribe one interview. I’ve only completed about 8 so far, but going back into the recordings has helped me notice patterns and nuggets of information I didn’t recognize during the actual interview.

I’ve also recently begun coding, which allows me to track these patterns across all the interviews, while taking into account the differences between each individual participant. I’m using a sociological software called NVivo, which lets me create “nodes” so I can mark down patterns in the qualities, beliefs, and experiences of each participant, and attach them to excerpts from each interview. For example, when someone says their drinking decreased after they became more concerned about their health, I can tag that at the node “health consciousness has decreased drinking,” or if someone says their parents let them try sips of wine in high school, I can tag that at the node “parents let subject try alcohol when younger.” This is extremely useful because it not only lets me see how many people share the same experience or quality, it lets me click on the node to see how different people talk about the same issue. Coding has revealed new patterns to me. For example, most of my interviewees have been quick to distinguish themselves from “heavy drinkers,” not wanting to be classified as such, and will talk about themselves as a moderate drinker regardless of their intake. Coding has also backed up some of my previous observations; from the initial round of interviews, I observed that participants who had a family member or close friend with alcoholism were more fearful of drinking and less likely to do it. After coding, I saw that that was indeed present in many of my interviews, and that people even used similar phrasing when talking about how it made them feel.

I’ll definitely miss interacting with so many people and getting to hear their stories firsthand, but I’m incredibly excited to move into the analysis phase of my project. Coding is helping me satisfy all my childhood fantasies of being a spy; it feels like I’m trying to solve some really complicated riddle. I guess in this case I’m working on the riddle of what determines someone’s drinking habits. I excited to see what I find!


  1. Hi Leah,

    Your project seems extremely interesting as well as important! I was just wondering, where did you find all of your participants? Were they people you knew already or did you post a flier or something somewhere? If you knew some of them beforehand, do you think this impacted their willingness to share information with you? It seems like sometimes drinking/alcohol can be a touchy subject, so I didn’t know if you felt like some of your participants were more or less likely to withhold information.

    Additionally, you mentioned in your last blog post that you found a software to change the speed/loop your recordings. Could you share what that software is?? I also did interviews for my project and transcribing them is slowly killing me.

    Thanks in advanced & good luck with the rest of your project!

  2. lroemer says:

    Hi Hannah!

    Thanks so much for your comment! All of my participants were people I already knew, and I recruited subjects through posts on social media. The group included people from my hometown, from W&M, and from various jobs I’ve had over the years; I thought it would be easier to analyze and understand people’s thoughts if I already knew some elements of their background and could relate to them through shared experiences. I also thought it would be easier to get a diverse pool of interviews and choose people with helpful perspectives to my project if I knew something about their experiences.

    Like you mentioned, I was worried at first that people would be reticent because they already knew me, but it turned out to be the opposite. I interviewed several people I was very close with and others I barely knew, and the best interviews were with the people I knew well. It actually seemed like they were willing to share more information because there was already a relationship of trust between us, and I think they may have felt more comfortable or at ease than the people I didn’t know too well. I think drinking can be a touchy subject on some levels, but at the same time it’s a less taboo subject than drug use, sexual activity, etc., so I don’t think people felt there were large repercussions to them sharing information with me, especially since everything was confidential. I think if I’d done one of those other subjects, especially sexual habits and relationship attitudes (a project I’m considering for my thesis), it would have been slightly harder to get people to open up.

    In terms of software, as of now I’m using two different services. One is called “Transcribe” (link: https://transcribe.wreally.com/app) and has an awesome speed changer and looping function that made it much, much easier to transcribe. It’s only $20 for unlimited use for a year, so it’s a really good deal. The other one is called Trint and is slightly more expensive, since it charges by the hour, but is super helpful if you have a clear recording. Trint uses voice technology to create a transcript for you; you just have to go in and edit any spelling errors, and also add names/paragraphs for each speaker. This works FANTASTICALLY if your recording is clear, but not so well if it’s a phone interview or there’s background noise; for those Transcribe works much better, even though you have to type everything. Transcribing has definitely been the most draining part of the project–I think I’ll have done about 30 hours of it by the end, so these two services were lifesavers!!

    Feel free to email me if you have any more specific questions about the transcribing services, and good luck with your study as well!