Recording Tips (expanded)
How do you ensure the best transcript? Record the best quality audio.
Transcriptionists can only type what they hear. In some cases, an expert transcriptionist may be able to piece together inaudible or unintelligible portions of the audio from context, but they are not supposed to just “make it up”. You want a true verbatim representation of what was said, not what the transcriptionist thinks she heard.
The better the audio quality, the faster the transcript.
That’s because the transcriptionist will listen to difficult audio again and again to try to discern it. If she can’t hear it, you will receive a transcript full of (inaudible) markings, which may not even be useful for your end purposes.
Your transcript will only be as good as your audio.
The best quality audio is always recorded at the fastest speed and highest quality possible. Radio quality is 128 kbps. For an mp3, in most cases, 44.1 kHz, 32 kbps should be sufficient quality and not produce a huge file. Uncompressed audio formats are always better because compressing audio files while recording greatly decreases audio quality. If files must be compressed because smaller files are easier to transfer, it is best to zip them after the recording is finished. The original larger file is always preferable to a file that is converted to a smaller size or format.
Reduce background noise during the recording process.
Audio quality is very difficult to restore and extremely easy to distort with audio editing. So it’s best to reduce as much background noise as possible during the recording process because commercial editing software does not “fix” the file. It can only really filter out defined noise tracks or act as a sort of equalizer (increasing the treble or the bass).
Record in a quiet place with a microphone near each participant.
The best audio quality is recorded in a quiet environment with no background noise, like a closed office. There is nothing worse for a transcriptionist than an interview in a loud café or with an air conditioner or wind that is constantly blowing on the microphone. Hidden microphones under the clothes always produce terrible audio because of clothing brushing against the mic or muffling the sound. The best quality audio is always when all of the participants speak directly into the microphone.
Do not interrupt.
When there are multiple participants being recorded, you will get the best audio quality when each speaker has their own microphone and each person speaks one at a time. When people interrupt or speak over each other, it is very difficult for a transcriptionist to differentiate what is said or who said it. A good facilitator can direct questions to specific people and ask participants not to interrupt as well as insist that they speak in a loud, clear voice.
When interviewing someone, the best quality audio has no backchanneling. Use nonverbal prompts like nodding or smiling, rather than interjecting every second with “mm-hmm”, “yeah”, “sure”, “okay”, “absolutely”. Sometimes even one word can obscure what the respondent was saying.
Never use speaker phone.
Another option is, if it’s a teleconference, anybody who’s not speaking should be muted to cut down on background noise, and if at all possible, please speak directly into the phone or handset and never use speaker phone, as ambient and environmental noise will be picked up as well, which muffles voices or makes them fuzzy.
The worst quality audio is when someone records a room full of people with an iPhone in the middle of the table. Maybe the person closest to the iPhone will be recorded well enough, but anyone who is further away from the microphone may be “muddy” or completely inaudible.
Provide resources for context.
When there are many people speaking, referring to participants by name or having each person introduce themselves is always best. Otherwise, the transcriptionist cannot identify more than three or four unique voices. When references such as meeting agendas, slide presentations, or participant lists are available, please provide them. Also, when there are lots of names or specific terms used, such as pharmaceuticals or corporate jargon, word lists for context are very much appreciated. Also, spelling out names or uncommon terms is fantastic.
In the end, the transcript is only as good as the audio quality. Bad audio quality is difficult to work with, takes longer to transcribe, and may even produce an unusable transcript.