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‘I think that's what I heard? I'm not sure’: Speech and language therapists’ views of, and practices in, phonetic transcription

White, S., Hurren, A., James, S. & Knight, R-A. ORCID: 0000-0002-7804-7250 (2022). ‘I think that's what I heard? I'm not sure’: Speech and language therapists’ views of, and practices in, phonetic transcription. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, doi: 10.1111/1460-6984.12740


Phonetic transcription is recognized in regulatory standards as an essential skill for Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) in the assessment, diagnosis and management of clients with speech difficulties. Previous research has identified that approaches to phonetic transcription vary, and that SLTs often lack confidence in transcribing. However, SLTs’ views and working practices have not been investigated in detail, particularly in terms of whole service approaches and following the recent increase in telehealth.

To investigate SLTs’ views about phonetic transcription, their working practices at both individual and service levels, and the factors that influence these.

Methods & Procedures
A total of 19 SLTs from the UK were recruited to online focus groups via social media and local networks. Participants discussed their views of, and practices in, phonetic transcription. Themes were identified using reflexive thematic analysis.

Outcomes & Results
Three broad themes were generated division and unity; one small part of a big job; and fit for purpose. SLTs were uniformly proud of their ability to phonetically transcribe and viewed this as a unique skill, but clear differences existed between different groups of SLTs in their views and practices. Investing in phonetic transcription was not always a priority for SLTs or services, and although many felt under-confident in their skills they considered these to be adequate for the populations they usually encounter. SLTs make an early judgement about possible therapy targets, which influences the level of detail used in their phonetic transcription. Practical barriers are often not addressed at service level, and assessment via telehealth poses some specific challenges.

Conclusions & Implications
SLTs and services would benefit from increased investment in phonetic transcription in terms of time, opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD) and initiatives such as electronic patient records (EPRs) which support the use of phonetic symbols. Identifying target sounds at an early stage raises questions about the implications of disregarding other features of speech, and the selection of appropriate intervention approaches. Further research is needed to analyse actual rather than reported practices, and to consider the relationship between phonetic transcription and intervention approaches. Future studies could also identify precise CPD requirements and evaluate the effectiveness of CPD.

What this paper adds

What is already known on the subject
Previous research has demonstrated that SLTs often lack confidence in phonetic transcription and that practices are varied, with relatively little use of narrow transcription. SLTs are interested in opportunities to maintain and develop transcription skills but do not often undertake CPD for transcription.

What this paper adds to existing knowledge
By using focus groups as a forum for discussions, this study provides a rich and detailed insight into SLTs’ views about clinical transcription and their working practices, with previously unreported details about the reasons for these practices in a clinical context and at a service-wide level.

What are the potential or actual clinical implications of this work?
Transcription is often de-prioritized in non-specialist contexts, with practical barriers and a lack of clear and consistent protocols at a whole-service level. There is an opportunity for service managers to address the systemic difficulties in using transcription effectively by raising the profile and value of transcription amongst clinicians, and promoting CPD opportunities, using the findings of this study as a rationale for funding this. Together, these recommendations have the potential to improve client outcomes through more accurate assessment and diagnosis, and hence more appropriate intervention.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons AttributionLicense, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided theoriginal work is properly cited.© 2022 The Authors.International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
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