I’ve been transcribing audio files through an online vendor. One of the biggest challenges – and the biggest reason I will turn down a project – is poor audio quality. And I feel for those clients. Whoever takes their transcription projects is going to have a hard time creating a transcript that meets the clients’ expectations. A transcriptionist, no matter how experienced, can work only with the audio quality he or she has been given.
To get the high-quality transcripts you are seeking from your audio or video recordings, here are 12 helpful hints:
1. Speak clearly. You would be surprised how often your voice drops off while speaking, or how many words you might run together when speaking quickly.
2. Be sure all speakers are near their respective microphones. If you are recording a phone call or online meeting, coach all participants to stay close to their mic any time they speak.
3. If you are recording a meeting with more than three participants, ask each person to identify himself or herself each time before speaking. Otherwise, your transcriptionist will not be able to distinguish between speakers. You would be surprised how similar voices often sound on an audio recording. If it doesn’t matter to you that each speaker is identified, then be prepared to see “Speaker 1” and “Speaker 2” each time someone speaks, even if there were three or more speakers on the call.
4. When you submit an audio recording, it can be very helpful if you also submit a list of the first names of the speakers with their proper spelling, along with a vocabulary list of any other proper names that are frequently referred to in the recording. Imagine listening to your conversation and not being familiar with the proper names and locations your participants take for granted. That is what your transcriptist will be dealing with, and his or her best guess may not meet your expectations.
5. If you are using prompts from a printed document as you speak, realize that every time you crinkle a paper, the microphone will pick it up and magnify the sound. Whatever words you were speaking will not be heard in the audio. This goes for any sounds you might make, including dropping something heavy or scraping something across your desk.
When you make those sudden noises near your microphone, it is not only the quality of your transcript that will suffer. You might actually cause physical damage to the transcriptionist’s ears. Professional transcriptionists often use high-sensitivity, noise-canceling headsets that magnify volume. One sudden noise can literally cause irreversible harm to your transcriptionist’s hearing. Please be mindful and careful toward that person who is serving you. You might not have met them, but they are part of your team, and it’s as if they are in the room with you, their ears finely tuned into your every word.
For that reason, also be sure to keep the tone of your conversation level. Avoid sudden outbursts. Please be aware of and honor that person who is tuned in with a high-sensitivity headset, listening closely to every sound in order to help you capture a high-quality transcript of your valued conversation.
6. Minimize background noise. You need to record in a quiet environment for clear audio quality if you hope to receive a good transcript. I have listened to too many interviews that take place at cafes and restaurants. While that might be a great location for an interview, realize that your resulting audio (and transcript) will suffer. If you are depending on that transcript to write a book or a report based on your interview, it will be in your best interest to choose a quieter location.
7. If you’re going to type for note-taking during the interview, test your setup first. I was unable to capture a transcription on an otherwise good-quality call because one of the attendees was typing. The noise from the keyboard obscured the interviewee’s words and made it difficult to follow the conversation. I can’t imagine it was easy for any of the conference call participants to hear and concentrate, either. If you need to type, choose a quiet keyboard, mute yourself, or if possible, have someone else attend the call who will simply stay muted and type.
8. If you are interviewing someone by phone, and the signal is fuzzy, hang up and try again. If you are struggling to hear what the other person is saying, it will be that much harder to hear the audio. Static distorts even the most commonly spoken words, and a professional transcriptionist will not guess at what is said. Instead, you will see “inaudible” stamped throughout your document.
9. Don’t hesitate to ask the person you are interviewing to repeat anything that wasn’t spoken clearly or that was interrupted by static. That repetition will do wonders for capturing those valuable comments on your transcript.
10. I’ve participated in many group meetings that were recorded (many of these I often transcribe for those groups). I understand that free-flowing conversation is a healthy part of interaction. But recognize that the more people are talking over each other, the more impossible it will be for your transcriptionist to distinguish what is being said. You will end up with a transcript that has “crosstalk” stamped in those places.
If it is normal banter, that may be fine. But don’t let your most salient comments get lost in the crosstalk. Often participants in meetings need to be coached on not interrupting a speaker. People are so eager to share their thoughts, but it’s also valuable for everyone to listen to each other and honor each other’s comments. You will get a better transcript as well.
11. Don’t press “record” until you are ready to begin your interview, meeting, etc. Transcriptionists begin typing from the first recorded word. If there is a lot of chatter at the beginning, all of that will be transcribed (and much of it will be stamped “crosstalk” or “inaudible”). Since most transcription services charge by the audio minute, you will have wasted your dollars on those initial minutes of chatter.
Because that chatter will be hard to decipher, it will also take your transcriptionist longer to get through that section, and yet your transcriptionist is being paid by the audio minute. So this professional is putting in more of his or her time, with less compensation, to decipher conversation that will not be useful to your transcript.
12. If you plan to make a lot of recordings, it will be worth your time to review your completed recordings along with the transcripts you receive. Wherever you see “inaudible” or “crosstalk” or a time stamp with a guess as to how a proper name is spelled, ask yourself what you might have done differently to make a better quality audio. That will help you receive better results in the future.
The quality of the transcript you receive is only as good as the quality of the audio recording you submit for transcription. Taking the time to create a clear atmosphere with minimal disruptions will result in a better recording and a better transcript. You deemed the conversation important enough to record, so it is worth taking some extra steps to ensure good quality.