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Common Mistakes to Avoid with Transcription

Date: March 12, 2013 Author: Ann Gregory Category: General

Your transcript can only be as good as your recording, and it all starts at the planning phase.  First of all, what are you transcribing?  What is the setting?  What will you use the transcript for?

It is important to consider certain factors which may, or may not, be under your control.  Transcription for research is quite different from conferences as you may have more control over the setting.  It may seem obvious, but things to consider include background noise (fan noise, whether you are serving food, number of microphones and number of participants). Are you hiring a professional Audio Visual company or doing it yourself?  Are you renting a room or using your own facility?

If you are doing your own recording, make sure you test the equipment in the environment, that you know how it works, and that you have extra batteries.  Having the volume set at an optimum level and if there is only one microphone that it is centered between the participants will ensure that people can be heard.  Even professional A/V companies can make mistakes.  If you are transcribing an entire conference, how do you want them to name the files, should each session be recorded separately?  Have you used them before or checked references or with peers as to their satisfaction?  There is a lot to consider.

If you are doing a one-on-0ne interview, try to choose a closed room, preferably without a phone.  Let the participant know what to expect in advance (how long the interview will last and you may want to give them an overview of the questions).  With today's smart phones, it is important to turn off the phone completely, not just put it on silent or vibrate.  The reason is that the phone is still transmitting and receiving data and can often cause a buzzing sound on the recording.

The moderator is the key to success when hosting groups.  They can ensure that people speak one at a time, that they use the microphone and state their name.  This may seem very obvious but I can't tell you how many times we can't identify who is speaking because they don't say their name before speaking.  If they don't say their name, the moderator can still help by saying "John thanks for that comment" or "John would you like to approach the microphone?"  Some people are difficult to hear, so the moderator can ask for them to speak up, repeat what they said, or can simply reiterate what was just said.

Avoiding "overtalking" with multiple people speaking at the same time is critical.  It often isn't productive conversation, and keeping focused on the topic rather than idle chatter is important.  Remember, time is money, and with transcription every minute costs YOU!  Transcribing one minute can take between four to six minutes.  Imagine the impact of four people speaking at the same time!

We have transcribed interviews with a room full of people all eating chips.  Imagine the crunching sound!  If you must eat during the focus group, meeting or interview, consider simple things like the sound of utensils and that obviously chips or raw veggies are much louder than a sandwich.  Hopefully the environment is quiet without traffic, family or staff "popping" into the room or background noise.

It is advisable to arrange for transcription in advance.  Who are you hiring?  What is the turnaround time?  What format do you want?  Do you require a confidentiality agreement to be signed?  Don't wait until you have recorded 18 interviews to send them for transcription.  It is best to send them in small batches so that transcription can begin.  Transcripts can be sent back to you as they are completed and you may decide that you want to modify your questions or approach based on what your analysis.

Once you have hired a transcription professional, don't keep them in the dark!  It's not a secret and the more they know about what you are using the transcript for and your needs the better they can provide you with a better final product.  Make sure you give them with the list of participants, interview dates, background materials for meetings or conferences, terminology, or links to a website with background materials.  Are you publishing the final product on the internet? If you are doing so then you may want them to correct basic grammar or remove false starts, and avoid commonly repeated words such as like, you know, etc.  An experienced transcriptionist knows the difference between the importance of someone emphasizing "you know what I mean" for emphasis and when "you know" is being used in each sentence as an unconscious habit.

Now you are better prepared for the transcription process.  Transcription for different industries and different purposes require different approaches.  If you have questions, would like to see templates or confidentiality agreements, feel free to give us a call at 613-594-8700 or e-mail to find out how you can save money or improve your next transcription project!