Are You Recording Right?
Ask any transcriptionist and they’ll tell you that behind every accurate transcript there’s a clearly recorded audio/video file. That’s absolutely true because to transcribe correctly, a transcriptionist must be able to understand what’s being said!
So what’s a clear recording and how do you go about creating one? Let’s start with a couple of examples:
It’s easy to guess which transcript will turn out more accurate, right? The clear audio will be transcribed with 98% or higher level accuracy while the poor quality audio will produce 70-80% accuracy at best.
The characteristics of a good recording from the perspective of transcription are:
1. Decently high volume.
2. No background noise.
3. No echo.
So how do you go about creating a clear recording? Primarily by choosing the right equipment, right placement, and right location.
If you create recordings regularly, there are two items you must have in your toolkit:
#1 A Good Voice Recorder
A voice recorder is an indispensable part of a researcher’s toolkit. Of course you can occasionally use the inbuilt recorder in your smartphone, but if you record often and in varied locations then a voice recorder is necessary. You can read more about voice recorders in this post.
#2 An External Microphone
All voice recorders come with decent-to-excellent built-in microphones. If you’re recording in closed environs then these microphones are more than enough for creating clear recordings.
However, if you are recording outdoors then ambient sounds can drown the voices of the speakers. Like in this example:
If you’re indoors but recording in a large room or hall, there will be echo on the recording that will again reduce audio quality.
External microphones can deal with these problems very effectively. For one-on-one interviews, you can use a wired or non-wired lavalier microphone. For lectures and seminars a bi-directional microphone can be handy. And for focus groups and meetings, a boundary microphone is ideal.
The position of your voice recorder plays a big role in the quality of recording. It goes without saying that your recorder/microphone should be placed as close to the speakers as possible.
You would also need to know the directionality of the microphone you are using (whether external or built into a phone/voice recorder).
If you are using an omni-directional microphone, the recorder/mic should be placed in the center of the primary group of speakers .
If you’re using a unidirectional microphone, place the voice recorder in front of the main speaker with the mic facing towards them.
If you’re sitting across a table, place the voice recorder on a raised platform so that vibrations from the table and sounds of cutlery etc. are not too close to the microphone.
Also, try not to touch the voice recorder while it’s recording. Most voice recorders have very sensitive microphones and the sound of your hand touching the surface of the recorder can be extremely loud!
You don’t always get to choose the location of your recording (for e.g. the venue of a seminar or a street interview). In those situations, carrying an external microphone is essential. But if you’re the one deciding the venue (for e.g. for a one-on-one interview) then try and pick a quiet location like a closed room or an office cabin. This will help minimize surrounding sounds on the recording.
If you do end up recording outdoors – like a pub or café – pick a quiet table away from the crowds (and use a voice recorder with noise-cancellation).
We will be covering recording techniques in more detail in subsequent articles. In the meanwhile, do leave a comment if you have any tips for other readers.