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Does it count as plagiarism if a student pays a professional transcription service to transcribe an audio recording of a social science interview/focus group for the appendix of their written assignment?

Note that the appendix is not graded as part of the assignment.

  • Was the student also either the interviewer or a member of the focus group? – Bob Brown Apr 22 at 20:02
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What is important here is to check the experimental protocol for any data protection/privacy issues.

Because you conducted an experiment involving human subjects, there should have been an approved protocol that tells you how the data can be handled. It is important to see if it can be sent to a third-party service, and what precautions are necessary.

In some cases, the recordings have been anonymized and nothing sensitive is discussed, so it may be OK. On the other hand, if there is personally identifiable information, or sensitive medical information is disclosed, laws, like HIPAA apply and special agreements and arrangements are necessary with the transcription service.

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I doubt that it would be plagiarism per se, as long as the student cites the source. If you cite something properly, it isn't plagiarism. If you quote the work, make it clear that you are quoting. Make it clear that both the ideas and the words come from the cited source.

It might, possibly, be copyright infringement, depending on who has rights to the interview and whether/how it is licensed. You are copying something, even if changing the media and it might be covered or not. One difficulty here is that you might want to copy the thing in whole, rather than just excerpts, for which different rules might apply.

But a professor might still consider it to be academic misconduct, depending on the rules set for the course. The professor might be expecting you to make the effort at transcription, for example. To know the rules, you need to check with the professor.


Note also that the fact that you paid a service for the transcription has nothing to do with plagiarism. The source of the interview would be the issue, not the mechanics of transcription.

  • It is still plagiarism if you just reproduce text (with a citation to where it is from) if you don't make it clear that it's a direct quote. In other words, use a different font, and make it clear above the text that the following is a direct transcription of someone else's words. It is plagiarism if it is not clear that these are someone else's words. Even when you make it clear that these are someone else's words, it is good practice to provide a citation where they are taken from. – Wolfgang Bangerth Apr 22 at 19:08
  • @WolfgangBangerth, yes, sorry. I assumed that. Editing... – Buffy Apr 22 at 19:09
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    I don't see how plagarism or academic misconduct comes into the picture in any sensible situation. Somebody conducted some interviews, recorded them, and wants them transcribed. A transcript fundamentally says "Speaker A: Blah blah. Speaker B: Foo bar?", there's no need to cite anything. Unless this is a class on transcription or the OP is planning on changing the names in the transcript to himself, I can't see how transcription becomes cheating. – user71659 Apr 22 at 19:14
  • @user71659, neither you nor I know what the professor has set as rules here. Academic misconduct can occur for such reasons. If the person who conducted the interviews is the one that wants them transcribed then there are fewer issues, but that wasn't stated as the case here. We don't have such details. – Buffy Apr 22 at 19:20
  • @user71659 transcribing an interview is actually quite subtle: what is perfectly normal in spoken language is very awkward in written language. Also it is a lot of work. There is a huge difference between hearing/reading about that and experiencing it yourself. So if I gave a course on doing research with focus groups I would require them to the transcribing themselves. Not because I am mean, but because of the pedagogical value. In that case hiring an agency to do the work for you would result in me failing you for that class. – Maarten Buis Apr 23 at 7:48

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