Ensure that the participants can be heard. A participant who has a quiet voice or mumbles won’t be picked up by the recording equipment, however sophisticated it may be. If you can’t hear what’s being said, the chances are we can’t either on the finished recording. Although it may be difficult to interrupt or risk putting someone off, you have to be firm or you’ll lose valuable material. Invariably, people don’t realise they’re speaking softly – we rarely ‘hear’ our own voices. But most are happy to speak up if asked to do so but this has to be when appropriate. Either ask them to speak up and repeat, or where appropriate repeat/summarise anything that may not have been said clearly on their behalf (including mention of their name) and ask for acknowledgment that this was a correct interpretation etc.

Try to be as firm as possible – if you’re chairing/hearing the meeting. As tempting as it may be to let the discussion ebb and flow and to interrupt as little as possible, it’s important to achieve a balance. People in meetings tend to talk over each other, often at a fast pace and particularly if they become emotive or angry about what they’re discussing. If this happens, remind/ask everyone to speak clearly and individually or they won’t be heard.  And don’t be afraid to ask participants to wait until no one else is speaking.

Assist in clarification – if materials such as letters/ photographs etc. are being shown to participants, remember that they may need to be identified on the transcript. So it would be a good idea to say what the ‘IT’ is that’s being shown. You may remember what ‘IT’ is at the time but will you later on when it comes to analysing the transcript and how does the transcriber know or the reader of the transcript? And if participants just nod or shake their heads, please either ask them to say yes or no, or confirm verbally what they’ve done.

Record in a noisy environment – background noise is often more intrusive on recordings than you may realise at the time. Voices can easily be swamped by extraneous noise, especially when participants are softly spoken. If people talk about sensitive issues, they invariably drop their voice which makes it doubly difficult for the recorder to pick them up.

Leave windows open – however hot the day may be, windows need to be closed. Noise from traffic, road works and aeroplanes will all impact on your recording. Unless using noise cancelling microphones, most microphones are not as selective as the human ear and can’t filter out extraneous noise in the same way that we can. They record everything they hear and the loudest noise will dominate.

Shuffle papers near the microphone. As this may be the source of the nearest noise, that is what the microphone will hear and it will drown out whatever is being said by either you or the meeting participants.

Write near the microphone if you can avoid it. We have often heard recordings where the scribbling of a pen is the loudest sound we hear throughout the recording!

Brief the transcriber on the spelling of names. If participants need to be identified, ensure that you provide a list of names with job titles or any other relevant information. Ensure that you include the speaker voice brief you made during the recording. Without it, the transcriber can’t match names to voices.

If you have any questions relating to transcription not covered on this page, please contact us and we will be more than happy to help.