A hallmark of qualitative research is enabling participants to speak for themselves; to share why, how, and to what effect they act upon and experience the world. We give them voice by audio-recording what they say, transcribing it into text, analyzing the data, and illustrating the findings with written quotes.
Yet, spoken words have depth that is difficult to convey as text. Tone, dialect, inflection, stops and starts, and other features of talk are lost. So too is some of the meaning. Individually, any of those features can alter a listener’s interpretation of what is meant. Removing them opens the door to questions about whether participants actually meant what we construed, or even said what we say they did, both of which undermine confidence in our findings.
We accept those limitations, not because we are okay with them, but because we have—or, rather, had—no other choice. This constraint predates our field. Scholarly works have always been written; at most, they may also include images. Before the information age, it was impossible to do more. What was once impossible has become doable, but criminology outlets are not doing it. Still today, our journals only publish text and images.
The exception is …Qualitative…Criminology. We can embed audio clips and more into articles.1 Better yet, we can afford to do so, and you can too. There is no extra cost for the journal to publish audio quotes, helping to keep it free to read and publish in. For you, there is open source (i.e., free) technology to create and merge audio clips. The learning curve is minimal.
In this editorial, I show you how to clip and merge audio files. To keep things simple, I will use a single program, Ocenaudio, that is free to use. In subsequent editorials, I will provide a list of alternative programs; thoughts on analyzing audio instead of text; a tutorial on improving the quality of your (merged) clips; and, how to protect participants’ confidentiality by anonymizing voices.
With this technology and information at our disposal, it is up to us—qualitative criminologists—to publish audio within our writings. This will advance the field by truly giving voice to participants.
To set a starting point, let us assume you have selected quotes for inclusion in your article. Probably, most people will do this by following the traditional route: obtain data by audio-recording conversations; transcribe the audio; analyze the text; and write your article, which involves selecting and including illustrative quotes. To include audio quotes in your article, you go a little further.2
Once you have located the quote within the audio file,3 you are ready to create a clip of it. By “clip,” I mean another audio file with the entire quote but nothing more. A standard practice in qualitative criminology—and hence QC’s logo—is to shorten written quotes by omitting words and adding ellipses. For example, “A standard practice in qualitative criminology … is to shorten written quotes.” So to create an audio quote that mirrors shortened written quotes, you will need to create a clip for each uninterrupted part of the quote (i.e., that before or after ellipses), and then “merge” them into a single file.
Below, the first video shows you what is involved in creating a clip with Ocenaudio, which you can download by clicking that hyperlink. The second video shows you what is involved in merging clips. After those videos are step-by-step written instructions for completing those tasks. Of course, there are other paths to the same outcomes for this software. I encourage you to experiment to see what works best for you.
To give you an example of what audio looks and sounds like in a “Pub,” I recorded myself reading the above paragraph, then clipped and merged sections of it.
Click “File,” then “Open.”
Select the “File name” of the audio file you want to edit and click “Open.” After, the software will display the file’s audio waves.
Now the clipping process begins. In footnote 3, I discuss how to determine the approximate seconds at which you want an audio clip to begin and end. In this software, you can narrow down those points to the millisecond, which will allow you to pick the best points at which to start and stop the clip. Times are specified as Hour:Minute:Second.Millisecond. To determine the exact time, you:
Click near or on the green audio wave, then a white line will appear. To choose a starting point: Click the white line at the exact time you want the clip to begin, click play, listen to see if the exact time should be moved forward or backward, and repeat these steps until satisfied with the selection. The same is done to select an end time, except you drag the white line from the starting point to the end point. To get a closer look at possible at start and end points, click the magnifying glass button; you will see a few, so click the one that says “Zoom In,” not “Zoom in Vertical.”
Once you choose a start and stop point, there is a space (near the window’s bottom) to type in an exact start or end time. This is useful if you want to make very small changes.
Click the copy button (to the right of the scissors icon). It is better to copy than to “Cut” because it changes the file’s timestamps, which can complicate step 3 (above) if you want to make a clip of another segment.
In the left-hand column labeled “Opened Files,” underneath an open file (e.g., “clip1.wav”), right click and select “Paste to New.” After, you will see a file for the clip underneath your original file(s).
Finally, click “Save” or “Save As” to store the clipped audio file as desired.
Click the clip you want to start the merged audio file.
Press and hold “Ctrl,” then click the clip you want to come next (and then, if there is a third clip, click on it, and so on until all of your clips are selected in the order you want them to be merged).
Right-click and select “Join.” After, you will see a file for the merged audio file underneath the clips.
Finally, click “Save” or “Save As” to store the merged clips as an audio file. It is better to “Save As” a new file, instead of overwrite a clip.