How to produce good quality recordings (of your interviews/focus groups)


When recording an interview or focus group it is important to make sure that people’s comments are clearly audible. As a general rule, the clearer the recording is, the better the transcript will be and the less it will cost to produce.

The audibility of a recording may be affected by many factors including: background noise (air-conditioners, heaters, crowds, traffic, wind); people speaking very quietly or mumbling; very strong accents; people turned away from the recorder; people situated too far from the recorder; people speaking with their mouths too close to the recorder (for example, when recording dictation); several people speaking at the same time; people constantly interrupting and talking over one another; documents being placed over or rustled next to the recorder; technological problems or poor reception when people are speaking via video-conference, teleconference or Skype. If only one of these factors is involved to a small extent, then the recording may still be reasonably audible; for example, if someone has a very strong accent but there is no background noise and no other impediments, the audibility will be good. However, if two or more factors impact the audibility – for example, if there is constant background noise, people are often speaking at the same time and one of the speakers has a very strong accent – then sections of the audio recording will be partially inaudible or inaudible.

If there are a number of comments in the recording that are only partially audible, it will be more time consuming (and therefore more costly) to produce a high quality transcript. If any comments in the recording are inaudible, those words will not be able to be transcribed unless the context explains what those missing words are, and there is likely to be gaps within the transcript. If there are only a few words missing from the transcript due to inaudibility, the transcript will still be of quite good accuracy but if there were a lot of inaudible words in the recording, that missing information will obviously result in an inferior transcript.

Hints for producing good quality recordings

If you plan to record a telephone conversation by placing the recorder next to the telephone speaker, do a ‘test run’ first to work out the best distance to place between your particular recorder and the telephone speaker, and make sure that the comments made via telephone will be audible.

If you are recording a one on one interview, first ensure that there is no background noise. Make sure that the interviewee is situated no closer than an arm’s length away from the recorder and no further than about three feet from the recorder. Place the recorder so that it is facing the person whose comments are the most important (e.g. the interviewee, not the interviewer). Remind the interviewee to speak clearly. Unless your own comments are as important to you as the interviewee’s comments, don’t punctuate the interviewee’s comments more than necessary with your own comments. If the interviewee has a soft voice or mumbles, ask him/her to speak up; if you still think the interviewee is not speaking clearly or loudly enough, reiterate his/her comments as part of the interview process to provide an audible record of what has been said.

When recording a focus group, meetings or any event involving three or more speakers, extra care should be taken to ensure that there is no background noise and that each speaker is situated within about three feet of the recorder/microphone. Place the recorder closest to and/or facing the participants (not the facilitator or interviewer). Before recording, remind everyone to speak clearly and one at a time. Once recording commences, if any participants have soft voices or mumble, ask them to speak up so that their voices are clearly audible. If you think some participants may not be speaking clearly enough, try to reiterate those participants’ comments to confirm what they have said and provide an audible version of what has been said for the recording.

If you are recording an event comprising eight or more people (for example, a conference, annual general meeting or large committee meeting), more than one microphone may be required to record the event. Otherwise, the comments spoken by the people sitting some distance from the recorder may not be audible in the recording. Each speaker needs to be situated within about three feet of each recorder/microphone so that their comments are clearly recorded. It is also important to ensure that people speak one at a time, and that the more important statements in particular are either stated clearly, or reiterated by the Chair or another person to ensure that those statements are recorded clearly. Remember, only the information that is audible in the recording will be represented in the transcript.