It is important to us that you receive the best possible quality transcription. This, however, is largely dependent on the quality of the audio we receive to transcribe. For this reason, we have compiled transcription tips to assist you with your recording and to ensure we can produce the best quality transcription for you.
If you have not yet conducted your recordings, please bear these tips in mind. If you have already conducted your recordings, these tips will assist you to understand why your transcription is possibly the way it is.
Please note that bad audio recordings cannot be fixed after recording. Sound quality cannot be enhanced and interference cannot be deleted.
It is preferential to record using a bitrate of at least 64kbps. The higher the bit rate, the clearer the audio. Higher bit rates will produce larger audio files but the quality of the audio is not compromised.
We can accept most formats of audio. Please note that .wav files are generally much larger than .mp3 for instance. When it comes to uploading your audio files, the size will make a difference in the upload speed.
We are finding more and more that we are receiving audio files from cell phones which use a different format to normal recording devices. Although we do accept these audio files, and to-date have not had an issue finding a programme to convert them to a format we can use in our transcription programmes, if we are given an unfamiliar format we may charge for the time required to find a programme to convert the file to .wav or .mp3.
Ensure that you record in a quiet environment to avoid unnecessary background noise.
Ensure that all speakers are close to the recorder / microphone so that they can be clearly heard on the audio.
Start recording a few seconds before speaking begins to ensure the beginning is not cut off.
Switch off cell phones to avoid interruptions and to avoid cell phone reception interference.
There are many noise interferences and disturbances you need to be aware of when recording. Although these sounds in general are not very loud, the recorder / microphone may amplify these sounds to the point that they overpower the speaker’s voice. Here are but a few examples:
Ensure that those around the recorder / microphone are not looking through papers while someone is speaking. Ask the person with the papers to move away from the recorder / microphone while paging through documents, or move the recorder / microphone closer to the speaker to ensure the speaker is clearly heard. Remember to move it back when the person with the documents has stopped.
Cups and saucers
This is a common problem just after a short tea break when those close to the recorder / microphone stir their tea or coffee or put their cups on saucers. Ensure that those present keep their cups as far from the recorder / microphone as possible and that they stir their tea or coffee prior to commencing with the recording.
Another solution would be to use cups without saucers – a soft placemat for instance could be used instead to eliminate the noise of the cups being put down after drinking.
Coughing / sneezing / throat clearing
Although these can very often be sudden, ask those present to turn completely away from the recorder / microphone if they feel the need to cough, sneeze, or clear their throat. Although they may be doing this as quietly as possible, if they are close to the recorder / microphone these can be amplified and overpower the speaker’s voice.
Where the person has been unable to turn away in time, ask the speaker to repeat what he / she said to ensure it is captured clearly on the recording.
If the area you are in is near a particularly busy road, close all windows and place the recorder / microphone as far away as possible from the windows to ensure that the traffic noise is not picked up too loudly on your recording. Be aware of vehicles hooting, trucks reversing (beep-beep), and so forth and ask speakers to repeat what he / she has said (hooting) or stop talking until all is quiet again (trucks reversing).
Cell phone reception interference
This normally occurs when a cell phone is placed close to the recorder / microphone. While you are recording all will seem normal but on the recording you will only hear interference. This also occurs if you place your cell phone near a radio, for instance. The interference completely overpowers the speaker’s voice and is painful to listen to. Ensure all cell phones are switched off (not on silent as the reception interference will still occur when cell phones are on silence) or that they are placed far away from the recorder / microphone.
If you are in a room with a particularly noisy air-conditioner, try to keep the air-conditioner fan as low as possible to eliminate noise levels and ensure the speakers talk louder than normal and are closer to the recorder / microphone. Where possible, sit at the end of the room that is furthest away from the air-conditioner.
Whether inside the building or outside the building, construction noise is probably one of the most difficult to eliminate. Along with cell phone reception interference, it is also one of the most painful noises to have to listen to while transcribing. Where possible, request a change of venue. If this is not possible, ensure all windows (for outside construction) or doors (for inside construction) are kept closed at all times and sit as far away as possible from these windows or doors. Also ensure the speakers talk louder than normal and are closer to the recorder / microphone so that their voices are heard above the construction noise.
Banging / tapping on tables
Ask those present not to bang or tap anything on the table near the recorder / microphone. It may be soft on their side but the recorder / microphone may amplify the sound to the point where it overpowers the speaker’s voice. In the case of an accidental bang or tap on the table, ask the speaker to repeat what they have just said.
Ask those present not to constantly click their pens. Again, this sound can often be amplified and may overpower the speaker’s voice.
Venue noise occurs when you conduct your recording in a place like a coffee shop, company cafeteria, outside area and the likes. Try and avoid these areas at all times. You have no control over the environment and it can make recording clearly very difficult.
If you have no choice but to conduct your recording in an open area, ensure that all speakers are talking directly into the recorder – don’t place the recorder on the table – and that they speak louder than normal to ensure their voices are heard above the din that is normally associated with these areas.
Noises in general
If possible, take a couple of minutes in the venue before anyone arrives, close your eyes and listen. Evaluate all the sounds you pick up during this time and try and eliminate those that can be removed.
If outside the room seems to be particularly noisy with a lot of people talking loudly as they pass, ask if they can keep the noise levels down for the duration of the recording.
Test all the chairs that will be used. If you find a particularly noisy chair, see if it can be changed. If not, ask the person sitting in that chair to refrain from too much movement.
Where nothing can be done about the noise levels, make a note to ask the speakers to talk louder than normal and ensure those voice levels are kept up throughout the entire recording session.
If there are sudden noises or interruptions, ask the speaker to repeat what he / she has just said before continuing. Rather have the same thing twice than not at all.
The most critical part of your recording is the way the speaker or speakers talk during the recording. If too much of what a speaker is saying is not heard we can often lose the entire context of what is being said. This causes problems not only for that particular section but also throughout the rest of the audio if we miss something of importance.
Here are just a few things you can ask them to do to ensure you get the best quality transcription:
Ask the speakers to speak clearly and enunciate (say or pronounce clearly) while talking. Avoid mumbling at all costs.
Ask the speakers to speak slowly. Speakers who speak quickly often have their words running into each other which makes it difficult to hear precisely what is being said. Another positive to speaking slowly is that the speaker is less likely to stutter, stammer or hesitate. The speaker will have a bit more time to think while talking and the flow of the talking will be smoother.
Ask all speakers to maintain a good voice volume that can be picked up by the recorder / microphone. If a speaker talks too quietly they may not be heard clearly. Wherever possible, place those with quieter voices closer to the recorder / microphone than those with stronger voices.
Heavy accents cannot be avoided or changed. If a speaker has a particularly heavy accent, please ask them to speak clearly, slowly, and enunciate as best as possible.
Ask those present to refrain from talking over the speaker. Allow one speaker to finish talking before another speaker starts talking. If the speaker must be interrupted for purposes of clarity, interrupt the speaker with a brief (preferably non-verbal) indication and wait for that speaker to stop talking before speaking.
If you are conducting a recording with a group of people (4 or more speakers), please take note of the following:
This is one of the biggest issues when conducting group recordings, particularly on subjects that the speakers are excited about. One speaker will be talking about something with which another speaker will either agree or disagree and the other speaker will jump in to say something. Advise speakers to allow each other to finish talking and wait their turn before speaking.
Recorders / microphones
Wherever possible in large groups, ensure that each speaker has their own microphone.
If you are using a recorder, ensure that the person speaking at any given point has the recorder close to him / her. In a large group, a recorder in the centre of the table doesn’t always work as those sitting further from the recorder might not be heard. If preferred, use more than one recorder and place them around the table so that each smaller group can be heard clearly.
If only one microphone is used, ensure the speaker has that microphone when talking and hands it to the next speaker when he / she is done talking. Don’t allow speakers to talk until they have the microphone in their hands.
In a case where microphones are not available for audience members (for instance, at a conference), during question and answer sessions ask the speaker to repeat the question he / she was asked before answering the question. This way both the question and answer are recorded clearly and not just the answer.
Ask the speakers to clearly identify themselves prior to talking. Where voices are easily distinguishable by accents, dialects, gender, and so forth, this only needs to be done once. In the case where voices may be fairly similar (for example, two or more speakers of the same gender with the same accent or dialect), this should be done each time they speak. This allows for easy and accurate identification during the transcription process. Alternatively, video record the session instead and ensure that all participants can be seen. Video recordings can be converted into audio recordings for transcription and the video can be used as an identification method.
The identification given by the speakers does not need to be their names if names will not be used in the transcription. You can allocate them a code that they will use each time they speak. Have them introduce themselves using this code before beginning the session (ensure the introduction is recorded) and then have them use this code when they have something to say. In the introduction, let them say a few brief things so that we can pick up their voices and style of talking right at the beginning.
Female 1 Hi, I’m F1 and I’m here because…
Male 1 Hi, I’m M1 and I was asked to attend because…
Female 2 Hi, I’m F2 and I wanted to be here because…
Female 1 F1, I also wanted to say that…
Male 1 M1, I agree with that.
Female 1 F1, but don’t you think…
Female 2 F2, no, not at all.
Alternatively, have a note-taker to take notes at the session and note each speaker and a few keywords they say while they’re speaking to allow for easy identification.
In group transcriptions, particularly long ones, it can often be difficult to distinguish one voice from another. The voice of one person can change from one instance to the next depending on their excitement levels and emotions at that particular point. So at one point in the audio the speaker may sound like he / she has got a relatively deep voice but at another point later he / she is very excited so the pitch and tone of his / her voice rises. It makes comparison between the two very difficult.
In all cases of transcription, the more information you can supply the better quality transcription we can provide. This information can include the list of attendees, agenda of the meeting, minutes of the meeting, programme for the conference, questionnaires used during interviews, information regarding the interviews, and so forth. All information will be kept strictly confidential and will be used for reference purposes only.