If you’re a
qualitative researcher, the chances are you will be conducting interviews. This
means that at some point, all that lovely data will have to be transformed from
audio files into documents that you can annotate and analyse.
Of course, in an ideal world, we would all transcribe our own interviews as it does get us that step closer to the data. In the real world, however, researchers often don’t have time for this laborious job. If you’re trying to recruit participants and work on your analysis whilst also looking after a family and working in a part-time job, the thought of sitting hunched over Word and VLC for days at a time trying to work out whether a participant said ‘pathology’ or ‘potatoes’ might be enough to make you weep.
Well, fear not, because PGPR now offers transcription alongside proof-reading and feedback. In this blog, we’ll explain exactly what happens if you decide to use PGPR to transcribe your precious data.
send us your audio file
We use the secure service Tresorit to transfer files. Tresorit is based in Switzerland and is one of the most secure services of its kind. All files are encrypted at source and the company has no way of accessing documents you upload or send through their service. They take security and GDPR compliance seriously, meaning your precious data is safe. You can send files of up to 5GB in this way.
You upload your file to Tresorit and send it to us. We will ensure that the link gets to the team member who is transcribing your audio. They will then download the file.
we transcribe the data
Since our team members are either qualitative researchers themselves or are editors who specialise in working on qualitative pieces, we understand how important it is to get every word and line of your interview exactly right. If you want, we can include hesitations, repetitions, ums and ahs, laughter and sighs. We can also anonymise all identifying data, such as names or locations, as we work.
we check that our work is accurate
We always listen
to your interview twice over to ensure that our transcription is both accurate
four… we send the interview back to you
Once the transcript is ready, we will password protect it and email the document back to you. You will then receive a text message from Layla or Johanna telling you what the password for your interview is. In this way, we are ensuring security. We can send your work back within 24 hours, 48 hours or five working days from the time you sent it to us.
we delete your audio file
ensures that your confidential data doesn’t make it into the wrong hands.
If you’d like to use our transcription service, just get in touch via the form below, we’ll be happy to help.
It seems like only five minutes ago that you were a trembling new student, going along to your first supervisory meeting with your knees knocking. But somehow, through a flurry of ethics reviews, recruitment and analysis, plus some blood, sweat and sobs… here you are. Your thesis is submitted, you’ve selected your examiners and the final hurdle is in sight.
The postgrad viva voce is truly a rite of passage. For those who don’t know, this is the final exam for a postgrad project. It takes different forms in different countries. For example, in the US doctoral defense, the supervisory committee also grill the student. In the European system, students have to defend their work in front of a public audience. Here in the UK, the viva involves sitting in a room with two examiners (one from the candidate’s university and one from another institution) for two, three, four or more hours, answering questions about your thesis.
students feel nervous about their vivas. However, if handled correctly, they
can be a fulfilling, rather than frightening, experience.
1. Take a
break from the thesis
This is an
important first step. Once you’ve had that thesis bound and put the obligatory smiling
selfies on Instagram, put it down and don’t look at it for a few weeks. For a
start, you deserve a break. But just as importantly, giving yourself space from
your masterpiece will allow you to look at it with fresh eyes, so that you can
spot areas to be discussed more easily. I’d also suggest using this downtime to
buy yourself a lovely notebook that you can use for your prep. After all,
stationery that makes your heart sing is never a bad thing.
2. Start by
thinking about your strengths
…And why not? After all, you’ve written an entire thesis. This is amazing! If you start this process by remembering what you love about your research, that will set you up for a happier viva. What are the strongest findings of your thesis? Which aspects make you feel proud? Can you summarise the thesis in 300 words or so? Write all these points down in your notebook and get ready to shout them to the rooftops.
3. And then
think about the challenges
The next step is to use those newly objective eyes to look for any weaknesses in the thesis. There almost certainly will be some, and that’s just fine. The point of a viva is not to prove that you’ve conducted a perfect series of studies; if such a thing were possible, we wouldn’t need peer-review. You’ll be better off demonstrating that you’re aware of things you might do differently next time, or which you might be able to address in your amendments. Write your ideas down in your notebook, along with some thoughts about challenges you overcame during the research. Additionally, if there are any theoretical areas you’re shaky on, re-read the literature and try explaining those concepts to other people.
about your examiners
You should already know your examiners and their work by this point. It’s important to remember that, while those examiners will (hopefully!) be as fair as they can be, vivas are run by humans and are therefore a subjective experience. Try to get inside the heads of your examiners by reading their publications. How does their work interact with yours? Can you think of what these particular people might want to ask you about your research?
about questions you might be asked
In addition to the list of questions the examiners might ask, re-read your thesis and think about the questions anyone would ask. Make lists of those questions. Write down your answers. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, make another list (who doesn’t love a good list?) and book in a time to talk those areas through with your supervisor, who is there to support you. If you’ve had any papers published from your thesis, think about the points your reviewers made. Might those points come up again?
Yep, there’s a lot of reading involved in viva prep. Once you’ve finished re-reading the thesis, you might also want to re-read the papers you cite most often. Plus, when did you write your lit review? It might have been a couple of years ago now. Have a look on Google Scholar and see if there are any papers which have come out since then that you need to know about for the big day.
Practice, practice, practice
One of the things many postgrad students feel most nervous about – especially here in the socially awkward UK – is having to say their ideas out loud, rather than being able to hide behind the safety of a keyboard. The best way to beat those nerves is to practice. You might feel a bit silly, but ask your supervisor, friends, mum, partner, even your pet parrot to quiz you. Try explaining your ideas to people who don’t know anything about your subject. If they understand you, anyone will. The more you do this, the more confident you will feel, and the higher the chance that you might actually enjoy the viva. Trust me, unbelievable as that might feel from this side of the event, many people report genuinely enjoying this experience. After all, you’re getting to talk about your passion, the thing you know more about than anyone else in the world, to two experts you’ve hand-picked. This could be the stuff dreams are made of!
8. Book a
Skype session with PGPR
We offer hour-long video chat sessions which are perfect for students who are about to take their viva. While we obviously can’t read your entire thesis and quiz you on it, we will spend an hour looking at your notes and ideas beforehand. We can then talk through any concerns and worries you have, ask you some practice questions, and give you some friendly support. Get in touch via the form below to book your session.
Dyslexic students can struggle with things other students
may take for granted, such as understanding textbook materials, spelling and
grammar, note-taking, and organising and expressing their ideas on paper.
Undertaking a PhD is a big commitment and a lot of work. If
you’re a PhD student with dyslexia, this can make things all the more difficult.
However, with the right support in place, it can also be a rewarding experience that not only looks great on your CV but can enhance your future career prospects.
Here are three challenges that PhD students with dyslexia might face and ways that PGPR can help:
Spelling and grammar
The standard of writing expected from a PhD
is high. If you are a dyslexic student, you might find negative comments or
feedback in this area demotivating, especially when you have spent hours
diligently checking your finished paper. Text-to-speech software and grammar
checkers can be useful for common spelling and grammatical errors, but quite
often they miss details that can only be spotted by an eagle-eyed professional
Our basic proof-reading service is designed to spot those typos and punctuation errors, checking each line, suggesting alternative word choices and highlighting areas of text that are difficult to understand. You get two copies of your work back – one clean edit and one tracked, so you can easily and quickly spot what changes have been made.
Organising your ideas
Being able to manage your time
effectively whilst working on a PhD is essential. Many dyslexic students can
find it difficult to organise their thoughts on paper or find they need to
spend longer re-reading academic texts to ensure they fully understand what is
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the workload involved in a PhD even with additional support from your university. PGPR’s feedback service can help you to successfully organise your ideas so they are the best they can be.
One of the team will go through your work and provide expert advice and feedback to help improve your structure, methodology, findings and discussion sections. We also offer a service that combines basic proof-reading with feedback for students who feel their English or academic writing skills could use an extra boost.
Lack of visible support
Students with dyslexia often comment on how their experiences of studying at a post-grad level are vastly different from an undergraduate degree.
Universities often have a good support system in place for undergraduates, such as extra time for exams or a project deadline, trained on-site support staff and specialist equipment to help dyslexic students. Embarking on a PhD, however, means a lot of working on your own, and getting extra time to plan or write your thesis can be difficult.
If you feel that you need more support, consider discussing this with your supervisor. Many supervisors will be able to work with you on a plan to guide you through your PhD. Others may be dyslexic themselves or have previously worked with dyslexic students.
You may also benefit from PGPR’s popular one-to-one Skype sessions, which are designed to allow you to discuss your work with one of our experts. These one-off or regular sessions provide support, guidance and deeper insight into your work and can help assuage any worries or fears you may be experiencing.
Get in touch with The Post-Graduate
The team at PGPR offer a wide range of services designed to help you achieve your personal best. Whether you need your lecture notes transcribed into a clear and readable format in a dyslexia-friendly font, or a dry-run of your ground-breaking presentation via Skype to help you practise speaking in public, we are here to help.
ethics, recruited participants, collected your data, analysed and written up your
findings – phew! What a marathon. The hard work is basically over, right?
not, because there is one more hurdle to jump; the dreaded discussion section.
This is where
you compare your work to the existing literature. Sounds simple, but this can
be the hardest chapter to write. I have a theory (entirely untested, I should
point out) that these chapters are especially hard for women, who have
generally been socialised not to brag about their achievements, something you
definitely need to do here.
Read on for
six tips on how to leap over this final hurdle and write a devastating
1. Read around your findings
You will already have done plenty of reading for your lit review, but before you start writing, do some more, especially if you are doing qualitative work. In quantitative research, you shouldn’t discuss any papers you haven’t already bought up in your intro, but this is not the case for qualitative explorations, where the researcher will have been expecting the unexpected. Now that you have your unexpected findings, search for similar papers and make notes on the relevant points.
I find it helpful to start a new document listing each of my key findings, and to make notes of any existing findings which confirm, contradict or add to my own, along with a note of which paper the new findings have come from. Include the key findings from the key papers from your intro or lit review on this list as well. You might want to highlight findings which back yours up in one colour and those which don’t in another. This list document comes in really handy once you start to write.
Look for work from the same or similar methodologies to you, as well as work from other areas. Find and read papers that are cited in useful studies.
Top tip: if your university doesn’t have access to a paper you need, email the author, or look for them on ResearchGate or Twitter. They will probably be happy to share their work with you. (I am always happy to share my papers, just get in touch via the form below to ask.)
2. Think about format
The format of your discussion section should mirror that of your findings. This helps your reader to logically follow your train of thought; especially vital if your reader is a PhD examiner, for whom you want to make life as easy as possible.
Start with your first finding. Briefly recap it. A common problem I see with PGPR clients is that they spend too much time reminding the reader of findings. The findings chapter is the one before the discussion; try to trust that your work is interesting enough that the reader won’t have forgotten it already.
Here is an
example of a recap from a discussion section in my PhD, which was about the
experience of living with and being treated for renal failure:
Seven of the participants talked about the impact that
ill health made on their lives. Some found that ill health was a wearing
intrusion, dragging them down and restricting them. Others had found ways to
come to terms with living with their chronic conditions.
Following this, you might want write a brief summary of the existing literature, after which you can start comparing your work to what’s out there already.
3. Look for areas where your research confirms other findings
The next step is to demonstrate how your findings concur with existing work (if they do). This is where the list document you made earlier will come in useful. Look for findings that are similar to yours and tell the reader about those similarities. If you don’t have anything on your document which backs up your findings, have another look, just to be sure. However, don’t force similarities if they’re not there.
4. Look for areas where your research builds on existing work
This step is similar to the previous one but can be trickier. Your work might appear to contradict existing work. Novice researchers may panic that this means their findings are ‘wrong’. However, is there a reason your findings are different from Professor Big-Brain’s? Did you speak to different participants? Has the political climate shifted? Perhaps participants reacted differently to you – an Asian female – than to Professor Big-Brain – a white male. If further research would be beneficial, point that out.
your findings add a new dimension to a model or set of guidelines. If so,
clearly demonstrate this and give yourself a gold star.
You might have an entirely novel finding – something no-one has found before. Again, check the literature carefully so that you can be confident you’ve not missed anything, but if so, use clear language to tell your reader that you have found something new and important. Don’t be shy about this! These are the kinds of findings you might include in bullet points about ‘what this adds to existing research’ when you’re submitting papers for publication.
5. Think carefully about what your reader needs to know
PGPR clients’ discussion sections are often overly long. We don’t need every detail of the papers you’re comparing your work to. Consider your examiners or the reviewers of your paper as you write. These people tend to be overworked as it is – and reviewing/thesis examination is extra work which they have to fit into their busy day. Do they really need to know exactly how many people Dr Finickity interviewed, or do they just need to know what those participants experienced?
Here is another example from my PhD, demonstrating a succinct comparison:
Several participants talked about a loss of freedom via the restrictions placed on them by their illness, either in terms of being too fatigued to live life to the full, or in terms of more practical concerns such as diet restrictions. Authors of previous qualitative work on ill-health have found similar themes. The restricting impact of ill health in terms of both social life and diet spoken about by Charlotte is reflected in findings by King et al. (2002), in which dietary restrictions and ill health were both found to have a major impact on the diabetic renal patients.
6. Ask PGPR for feedback
Discussion sections are difficult – but the PGPR team has plenty of experience writing, marking and examining these chapters. We are happy to offer feedback on how to get your discussion chapter just right, so fill in the form below if you would like some extra support.
Postgraduate work is rewarding and can advance your career. But it can also be hard, lonely and scary. When your brain is full of ethics forms, analysis and recruitment, it can be hard to take care of yourself. Looking after your mental health is always essential but is especially important when you’re so busy you feel you don’t have the time. As the Zen proverb says:
‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour’.
Here are five
tips for maintaining your sanity while completing your master’s or PhD.
1. Fight isolation
is often groundbreaking. This is exciting, of course. But the problem with
breaking new ground is that there might not be anyone else breaking that ground
with you. This means you can end up feeling isolated.
Is there anyone else at your university doing similar research to you? If so, drop them an email, see if they fancy lunch. If not, have a look online for groups of people doing similar work to you. Lots of PGPR clients are conducting qualitative research using interpretative phenomenological analysis; if you’re one of those people, check out the IPA groups.io gang, which is a supportive place to ask questions and make contacts. Despite its reputation for being toxic, Twitter can also be a friendly space for academics. You might want to start out by following @AcademicChatter, @PhDVoiceand PGPR’s account @DrJohannaSpiers for some interesting online conversations.
2. Take breaks
drowning in deadlines, it can feel tempting to keep working on into the night, only
stopping to cram crisps into your mouth every now and then. But we all know
this is a bad idea, right?
Make sure you work regular breaks into your days. Does your uni have a gym? Go for a yoga class or a game of squash. Are you working from home? Go outside, sit in the sun, read a chapter of a novel. Is it Sunday and you’ve been working for 15 days straight? Stop it! Watch some Ozark and put your feet up. You’ll feel much better, and you’ll be more productive when you do get back to your desk.
3. Ask for support if you need it
There’s no escaping it; doing a master’s or a PhD is tough. You’re leading your own research, which is unpredictable and has many elements outside of your control. You’re probably skint. You’re watching your friends and family fill their evenings with fun while you’re conducting analysis and writing discussion sections. And you might be juggling family responsibilities while doing all this. If you need help, ask for it. Many universities have free counselling services which are quick to access. Your personal tutor is there for you to talk to. Asking for help is a sign of strength, so don’t be scared to reach out.
4. Celebrate the wins
If you’ve read this far, you might be forgiven for thinking postgrad work is nothing but doom and gloom. However, there are many triumphs along the way: getting accepted onto the course, passing your status upgrade, getting ethics approval, recruiting your first participants, writing your first paper, presenting at your first conference. These are all amazing achievements – remember to enjoy them!
PGPR for extra help
If you’re feeling stuck with spelling, tense about tenses or grouchy over grammar as you’re writing up your findings, get in touch for proof-reading help. We can also offer written and video-based feedback for qualitative social science work or help with your interview schedules and conference presentations. Just fill in the form below to find out more.
If you’re reading this blog post, you are either an existing PGPR
client, or you’re thinking about using our services. Either way – thank you! We
are so appreciative of your business. Everyone on our team finds the research
you send us fascinating, meaning that a day’s work for PGPR is better than a
day off from a more traditional job in academia.
I have been personally recommended to many of my clients, which means some people feel a bit unsure when I tell them that it won’t be me looking at their work. If this describes you, this handy blog post will explain why you are in safe hands at PGPR, no matter which team member tackles your thrilling thesis.
The team are carefully vetted
I am ultra-careful when recruiting PGPR team members – after all, our reputation relies on their excellence. Most of our clients are working in the field of qualitative psychology. As such, I ask experts in that field for recommendations of people who might want to work for me, and then I follow those recommendations up. All potential team members complete a series of tests before being interviewed, meaning I am satisfied that their work is excellent and their values align with those of the company; those values being honesty, efficiency and kindness, in case you were wondering.
All of the team are experts
Every member of the PGPR team is an expert in their field. Some are expert proof-readers with years’ experience on a multitude of texts. Others are experts in qualitative methods, with PhDs of their own. Some teach at universities. Others were taught by Jonathan A Smith, who devised IPA, the method so many of my clients use.
You will be matched with the right member of the team
We will always ensure that our clients are matched to the team member
who best aligns with their needs. Are you looking for a super speedy and
accurate proof-read, but don’t need any feedback? Then Hannah or Rosy are your
women! Need feedback on your qualitative work, but feel confident your English
is strong? We’ll pass you on to Fiona or Lydia. If you need proofing and
feedback, then Rachel, Astrid or Elly will be perfect for your project. Between
us, we have expertise in a range of qualitative methods, so we’ll ensure that
your proof-reader’s skills fit with your research.
Quicker turnaround times
When I started PGPR in 2018, I had no idea it was going to be so popular. I quickly found myself with a waiting list more than four months long, which was no use for stressed-out students working on a deadline. Expanding the team has meant that we can offer much tighter turnarounds, which is good news for everyone.
Four eyes are better than two
There are times when it’s useful for a client to work with more than one proof-reader. For example, they might have a huge thesis with a turnaround time which is just too tight for one person to complete. If so, we can put several proof-readers on the case for you. Or a client’s supervisor might be giving feedback which conflicts with ours. When that happens, we can ask for a third opinion from another member of the PGPR team.
I hope this blog has calmed any concerns you might have had about
working with my team. Of course, if you have any more questions, please do get
in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will happily answer those
queries for you.
To book a slot with one of PGPR’s excellent team, visit