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Ten Taping Tips for Terrific Transcriptions

Paula Kamen

You make the commitment of arranging and making the recordings (and not to mention, shelling out for transcription), so you might as well record clearly and end up with the most complete transcript possible. Here are some recording tips to consider along the way.

This may be glaringly obvious, but we’ll still say it: digital recorders are always better than the old-fashioned tape recorders–for delivering the best sound quality, and for easy backup and transfer of audio.  (But, yes, we still take tapes.) The technology changes so often that it’s difficult for us to recommend one specific model of digital-recorder. But the latest Olympus model is often a good bet. And do make sure that it has a USB connector to be able to upload audio to your computer, so you can, in turn, upload it to the transcriber. (You want to avoid the extra cost of having to ship us your recorder–which many clients have had to do for us to obtain the audio.
 Do not record phone calls from a speaker phone. Most often, the second-hand sound comes out very badly on a recorder, even if the sound from the speaker phone sounds clear to you as you are hearing it. Software options change constantly, but we have heard positive reports about recording phone calls from Skype or on smartphones. For a Skype recording, of video or just audio, you can use the Ecamm call recorder.

As far as smartphones, a recommended app for Android is “Record My Call.”

And for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Hindenburg Systems currently offers Field Recorder.

Just make sure that these recording programs enable you to transfer the recording file to your computer as a MP3 or .wav file, so you can upload it to the transcriber.

If the recorder has a built-in mike (and you don’t use a lapel mike), the recorder should be propped up so the mike faces the interviewee, not the ceiling.
Keep the recorder away from any equipment, such as an old laptop computer, which contains a motor and can cause a very distracting buzzing sound on the recording.
Be aware that sirens, traffic, phones ringing, papers being rustled on a table all are picked up by the microphone and can obscure the dialogue.
Battery-operated recorders are risky. A dying battery causes fluctuations in the speed at which something is being recorded, and that causes distortions in the sound on playback.
The recorder should be tested before each interview to make sure the tone, volume, and microphone placement are set to produce the clearest sound.
Introduce the subjects (or have them introduce themselves) in the beginning so the transcriber can recognize their voices, know the number of speakers, etc.
The interviewer must be vigilant about encouraging the subject to speak up if they fade, to give an oral response instead of nodding, so that the recorder picks up everything.
When possible, record in small rooms, versus someplace cavernous like a lecture hall. The walls and ceilings of small rooms help contain and channel sound into the recorder. It’s amazing the difference this often makes!