One of the most important factors in getting a good transcript is having a good recording. After all, the reason one gets a transcript is that one wants to capture information in a more easily accessible way. By having a difficult to understand recording, you are limiting the amount of information that can be gleaned from an audio file, and are really shooting yourself in the foot. Most transcription companies will have various ways of cleaning up the audio, but, as they say, and excuse my crudeness, “You can’t polish a turd.”
There are occasionally times when the situation makes it difficult to get a good recording, but there are a few things to keep in mind that can make sure you get as much of your hard-won information as possible from your transcript.
1) Make sure the people whose voice you want to capture are aware that they are being recorded and that the recording will be transcribed. Remind them to speak clearly and loudly, and that anything they mumble may not be captured. If there are multiple speakers and you have limited recording equipment, make sure you are able to capture the most important voice.
2) Avoid background noise. Ask your interviewees/subjects to avoid eating or making excessive background noise. It’s amazing how loud (and grating to the ears) shuffling paper can be, especially when it’s within a few feet of the microphone. If you can find a quiet place to record, do that. You’ll end up saving time and money, and you’ll be able to capture more information.
3) Try to discourage overlapping discussion or “crosstalk.” Crosstalk is, of course, a normal part of human dialogue, and in many cases it can be transcribed, but it does present far more difficulty to the transcriber. You may end up paying more for a transcript that has a lot of crosstalk and jumping decibel levels, as these factors can make the transcript significantly more time consuming to complete. By having a lot of crosstalk, you run the risk of not only paying more for you transcript, but also losing potentially valuable information.
4) Situate your microphone close to the person whose voice you want to capture. Pretty straightforward: you’re more likely to be able to hear the nuances of speech from 3 feet away than 15 feet.
5) Talk with your audio engineer to make sure you have the right equipment for the job. All microphones are not made equal, and sometimes a particular piece of equipment will not make for a good recording in the situation. For example, a voice recorder on a smart phone may indeed be good enough for a one-on-one interview in a quiet room, but it would certainly not do the job if you were conducting man-on-the-street interviews or focus groups with multiple speakers.
Let me know if you can think of any other best practices for recording voice for transcription!