Here’s a few things you, as the interviewer/audio engineer/videographer/whatever, should keep in mind if you want to get the most out of your transcript.
1) Audio quality matters. You don’t have to have a pristine, soundbooth-quality recording to get an accurate transcript by any means, but using the voice recorder on your iPhone which is sitting on a table while you and your interview subject walk around the room is probably going to result in a lot of editorial marks and missing words or even entire sentences. Transcription companies of course have tools to clean up bad audio, but those tools can only do so much without compromising clarity. Check your levels before starting the recording you want transcribed. Try to keep the decibel level of the conversation/interview within a reasonable range.
2) Try to avoid overlapping discussion. It can be really difficult to make out what any one individual is saying when there are multiple people speaking. Encourage your participants to be thoughtful listeners and allow others to finish their thoughts before jumping right in. If you’re the interviewer, try to avoid “affirmative listening interjections” while your interviewee is speaking, i.e. that “mm-hmm,” or “yeah,” we tend to insert to let people know that we’re actively listening. It’s a good habit in normal conversation, but you don’t want an “mm-hmm” to drown out a potentially crucial word from the interviewee in the transcript.
3) Avoid background noise. If background noise is unavoidable, make sure the microphone is situated in the right place to ensure your interviewee is much louder than whatever is going on in the background. Also, this should go without saying, but I did want to mention it: if you’re going to be providing food to your participants/interviewees, provide it before or after the recording. For example, it’s a great idea to provide snacks to ensure buy-in from focus group participants, but folks crunching down on chips or popcorn really comes through on a recording and makes it much more likely that you’re going to miss valuable information in your transcript.
4) If you’re doing a phone interview, try to use an app or tool that records directly from the phone line, rather than placing a recorder up to the speaker phone. You can get decent audio quality using the latter method if you have good equipment, but the direct-from-phone-line method is going to be better in almost all cases. Google Voice and Skype also make it very easy to record a conversation, so consider one of those options if you can ensure a good internet connection on both ends.
5) Communicate with your transcription service. Things like editing level need, strictness of verbatim, whose voice you want to make sure is captured in the transcript, time codes, et cetera. Make sure you communicate with your transcription provider about what you need the transcript for. Any good transcription company should have a set of questions that they ask about any new client or project. Check out my other blog posts for more in-depth discussion of things like proofing levels, verbatim levels, and time codes.
Remember this: a good transcriptionist has excellent listening skills and can often discern a lot that others might miss, but we’re not superhuman. If you, the interviewer, can’t understand what’s being said on a recording, then the transcriber is going to have a lot of difficulty too, and you likely won’t get nearly as much information as you’d like. That said, a high quality transcript is a great way to save yourself a lot of time, money, and headache.