About Transcription Notes
* When the moderator goes around the room and
has everyone introduce themselves, they may also ask for a keyword or single
phrase regarding some aspect about the topic of discussion, for example,
My notes begin with a laundry list of those keywords and
phrases. The individuals' names and introductions may be eliminated; the
writers saying they already have that information from the screeners.
* Comments that are not in keeping with a moderator's directives are often
edited out. For example, the moderator asks that the respondents each give
reactions based only on their own personal experiences. When someone begins to
say, "If I were a (blank), then maybe I might think that..." If it is
established that the person is not, nor ever had experiences as a (blank), and
the comment is therefore not a personal truth, the comment may be struck.
Although, sometimes a 'wrong' answer can reveal valuable insights and
* Responses to questions that were totally misunderstood
may also be struck up to the point where the moderator corrects the
misunderstanding, the viable response is then recorded.
* Most of the
"um's" and "er's" are deleted. Those that are left in are to help indicate any
slow, tentative, or hesitant responses.
* Affirmative responses of "Um
h'm," and negative responses "Um um," are changed to "Yeah" (differentiated
from a verbatim "Yes," which is a much stronger response) and "No,"
respectively, to eliminate confusion between the two.
* If a word or
phrase is incoherent, it will be enclosed in brackets [...].
* If a
sentence or whole statement is incoherent, it will be indicated with two
brackets [...] [...].
* If the spelling of proper names is uncertain,
the closest spelling will be attempted and enclosed in brackets [Name] the
first time it appears. Subsequent occurances of the name will not have brackets
to maintain flow of text.
The Transcription Notes are
separated into "chapters" indicated by a group of asterisks [***]. These breaks
show when a moderator takes a different tack with the group, such as beginning
a mind-mapping activity, viewing a video, conducting a taste test, or when
there is a change in the category of discussion. This assists the analyser by
bookmarking the different areas of discussion.
I do not alter the
chronological order of information from the way it was originally presented as
this will change the transitional flow of conversation and may destroy any of
the dynamics carried with it that a writer will need to see. An exception may
be if a participant arrives late, for example, I may go ahead and insert their
keyword phrase up in the laundry list.
The moderator's questions are
set on lines by themselves, in bold type. The participants' responses are in
plain type beneath.
If the moderator goes around the room asking the
same question of each person, each individual's response starts on a new line
separated by a line of space from the next individual's response, especially
when they are extended 'stories.'
Most commonly, if the moderator poses
a question where the responses are free-for-all interjections, the responses
may be transcribed together in paragraph form beneath the moderator's question.
To show when an individual stops speaking and another begins, there
will be a series of three slashes [///].
Sometimes the moderator may
not pose a complete question, but merely wants to prompt a participant to
elaborate or clarify. Such prompts I may embed within a participant's response
enclosed by parenthesis. Example:
"Are there any other products that
have that same feeling for you? Best Mayonnaise. /// Miracle Whip. /// (I mean
different stuff?) Bull's Eye BBQ. /// Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. ///
Haagen-Dazs. /// Food? /// (Could be anything!) Tide laundry soap. /// Raley's.
/// Bel Aire. /// Mercedes. /// It's high quality, it's the Cadillac of the
brands. (Does Cadillac have that same feeling for you even today?) Mm, no
The above formatting, as opposed to traditionally having
each individual's dialogue beginning on a separate line, makes for more compact
viewing and scanning, and ease of extracting information. All the information
is there, but the document appears more streamlined.
Recording Tips -
Get the Most Out of Your Recorded Session
*Verbally describe the
Most transcribers use transcribing machines that take audio
cassette tapes only, not video. These machines utilize headphones and a foot
pedal to operate the Rewind and Play functions, which save on time and wear and
tear on the hands from having to punch buttons, and thus allow the transcriber
to keep their hands on the keyboard, and on the job.
transcription is from an audio tape, if there are visual actions that are
essential to the comprehension or analysis of a transcription (displaying of
images or objects, physical movements and gestures), obviously, an audio tape,
and sometimes even a video, will not capture those visuals. Be sure to describe
those actions for the tape.
For example, a moderator may ask for a show
of hands regarding a question and count silently. It will not be known to the
listener how many hands went up or if none were raised. Or they may ask, "Do
you like this color or that color?" And the respondent will say, "That one."
Again, the listener will not know what is being referred to; we are blind.
Verbalize and clarify, "Do you like the red or the blue color? Okay, you all
point to the blue." Or, "I see two of you are shaking your heads."
sure to bring to the respondents' attention at the beginning of the session,
and as a reminder throughout, that their responses cannot be 'seen' by the tape
recorder, so they should verbalize all their responses. And as a moderator,
also verbalize your respondents' physical reactions, such as: "You're all very
quiet," "You're frowning," You're rolling your eyes," etc.
Recording Quality Means More Accurate Documents
The better the quality
of the audio, the better the accuracy of the transcription document, and the
faster a transcriber will be able to work because they will not be struggling
to understand what is being said or won't be having the need to go back over
and over the recording trying to capture information accurately. And that will
improve turnaround time for your document.
One of the most important factors that affect sound quality are mic
placement in proximity to the speakers.
If set too far away from
respondents and the respondents will be difficult to hear on tape. If this
cannot be helped, ask the persons seated farthest from the mic to speak up. Be
aware that even though you may be able to hear them perfectly clearly when you
are in the room, the microphone may not be picking them up, especially if they
are soft-spoken, as well. (More on this under Recording Equipment.)
set too close to a speaker, and the sound levels can be too "hot" and will
distort the sound.
If placed near machinery or an air conditioning
vent; in a restaurant setting with the clatter of dishes and glasses or the
sound of a cappuccino machine; in a room where other conversations are going
on; or by an open window with traffic noise; these all interfere and compete
with your recording. If the mic is on a table, shuffling papers, tapping pens,
or hand thumps can sound like little explosions to the listener. A tabletop
acts like a drum and can actually amplify noise.
All the above are the
bane of transcribers and can add hours to transcription time and, therefore,
cost to you, and degrade the quality and accuracy of your transcription
Sound levels can be adjusted on a transcriber's machine up to
a point. But if the sound level for the nearest speaker is very loud, and the
sound level for the farthest is weak, when the transcriber tries to increase
the levels, or volume, to capture the weakest speaker, the transcriber runs the
risk of damaging their eardrums.
Place the mic as equidistantly between
all participants, as possible, including the moderator.
Good recordings result in accurate transcripts, so it is
essential to make your recordings as clear and as noise-free as possible.
Start by using a good quality, full-sized
cassette recorder such as a Marantz PMD, Sony PressMan, Sony Walkman Pro or
similar high-end consumer or professional level recorder. The money you save by
reducing your transcription costs with clear, easy-to-hear tapes will soon pay
for a good machine.
Use an external microphone for
better recordings, whether audio or video taping.
microphone in most portable recorders is literally a 10-cent item with limited
volume levels and telephone-quality sound. Internal mics also tend to pick up
sound from the nearest source of noise - the recording machine itself.
You can increase the quality of your recordings by buying a good
external microphone from Radio Shack, Circuit City, and so forth. Check to make
sure the microphone you buy is compatible with your recorder. Choosing the
wrong microphone could lead to low volume or distorted sound.
microphone as close to the sound source as possible. Use a lavaliere microphone
if only one person will be speaking.
All too often, the sound of the
interviewer is perfectly clear, but the person being interviewed cannot be
heard because the microphone is much closer to one than the other, or vice
versa. The microphone should be placed as close as possible, and equidistant,
to interviewer and all interviewees.
Sound volume is ruled by what's
known as an inverse square ratio. As distance is increased, sound volume is
decreased by the square of the distance. An easy way to think of it is for each
foot of distance a microphone is away from a sound source, the recorded volume
level is decreased by half and the amount of background noise doubles.
Because sound volume degrades so quickly over relatively short
distances, especially with inexpensive equipment, for good recordings and
accurate transcripts, microphones and recorders must be placed as close to a
subject as possible and the recording should be done in a quiet setting (e.g.,
do not record next to an open window where a lot of traffic noise can be heard,
in a noisy restaurant, or where the microphone is near an air conditioning
Don't be afraid to ask your subject to speak up. Most people do
not know when they are speaking too softly or when their voices drop at the end
of a sentence. An alternative is to sit back a little from the subject. Most
people will speak louder when someone is sitting further away. Sometimes an
interviewer will try to place the microphone closer to themselves and, thus, at
a 'discreet' distance away from the interviewee so that the person is not made
uncomfortable at the sight of a microphone. This can be detrimental to the
quality and sound balance of your recording. Offset the visual intimidation by
grouping the microphone with several other objects on the table such as a
potted plant or vase, etc., to 'hide' the mic instead.
Note: Some mics
have an on/off switch. Make sure the switch is on before recording.
*Tape cassettes: Always use full-sized cassettes instead of micro
cassettes. Full-sized cassettes always provide three times better sound quality
and lower tape hiss than micro or mini-cassettes (15kHz versus 5kHz).
Use brand name tapes when recording.
Problems with excessively
noisy tapes or hiss, distorted sound, or tapes breaking or tangling, the
majority are caused by non-brand name tapes. Use Fuji, Maxell, Sony, TDK and
other well-known, brand name tape. You will actually save yourself money in the
Clearly label your tapes immediately after recording to avoid
confusion, especially when recording multiple sessions.
accidentally recording over your taped session, break out both plastic tabs on
the cassette, itself.
Always have extra tapes in case your recording
session runs longer than expected, or if a tape is damaged.
cord, power cord, and batteries:
Be sure you have the a/c power cord
for your tape recorder. Also have an extension cord available to allow for
optimal placement of your recording equipment in case the power outlet is not
If you have a portable machine, and a power
source is not available, be sure to have not only fresh batteries to run your
machine, but backup batteries, as well.
Record at the fastest speed setting on your recorder.
micro recorders and some full-size recorders allow you to record at slower
speeds to save tape and extend recording time. You will be doubling the amount
of noise on the recording and halving the audio quality. Tapes are cheap, and
by using the faster speeds and more tapes you could be saving yourself time and
money in the long run.
Find a quiet place to hold
your interview or discussion.
It is very difficult to transcribe tapes
recorded in a noisy environment, such as in restaurants, bars, exhibit halls,
airports, moving vehicles and so forth.
Minimize background noise by
choosing a quiet setting, closing any doors and windows, and shutting off any
noise-making devices. If the microphone is placed on a table, be mindful of
tearing or shuffling papers close by, tapping with pens or drumming on the
tabletop, pouring of iced water into a glass, etc. These types of noises can
override any dialogue going on at the time.
Request that one person
speaks at a time. Two or more persons speaking simultaneously can result in a
garbled din where no one is understood, and thus, information is lost. Should
that occur, ask them to repeat what they said one at a time. If you did not
hear what a person said, chances are, the transcriber will not pick it up,
either. Repeat the comment for the tape. Otherwise it will increase
transcription time as the transcriber attempts to unravel the jumbled
*Voice activation features - Deactivate!!
recorders come with a voice activation feature that will stop recording when
the sound level goes below a certain threshold to save tape.
activated, the circuit will often shut off in the middle of a sentence if there
is a pause, for instance, and miss the beginnings of sentences after such
pauses. One cannot transcribe what is not recorded. Nor can one always make
sense of fragmented words or stilted sentences. Much of how a person
understands what is being said is based upon speech patterns and tempo. This is
destroyed by the voice activation feature.
Turn this feature OFF.
*Sound level equalizer - Deactivate!!
Some recorders have a
feature that keeps sound levels 'balanced.' If sound levels go over a certain
decibel, the recorder will automatically cut back the signal. If someone
coughs, laughs sharply, or a door slams, etc., the sound level will suddenly
drop to compensate. But the level usually drops after the cough has occurred.
So part of the cough is still there, but if someone is speaking during this
time, that information will be lost and speech will be fragmented.
this feature OFF.
*Do a sound test
Finally, before your session
begins, run a sound test to make sure your equipment is operating properly, and
that the sound levels are optimum.
Good recording equipment will have
an input level adjustment. Start by setting the input in the medium range, then
run a sound test and adjust it to make sure it picks up the voice of the
farthest person without distorting the voice of the nearest person.
your Tone levels, treble and bass, in the middle setting. Too much bass, and
voices will sound boomy or muddy.
Have a Sound Technician Help You
If you are recording at a facility or conference center that has a
sound system, ask if the facility can connect your recorder to the in-house
sound system for a direct feed, or provide them with blank tapes which they can
drop in to their system. Sound technicians are often available to help you do
Tapes of lecturers, etc., recorded from the audience in a large
room or hall, even though the speech might have been clear to the person
sitting in the audience at the time, often sound as if they were recorded in an
echo chamber and the speech is often muffled, boomy, muddy, distant, and/or
otherwise just very difficult to understand.
If it is not possible to
get a direct sound feed, an alternative is to place your microphone or recorder
as close as possible to the podium or to a sound system speaker. Reporters will
often place their recorders right on the podium for the best sound.
a live situation, our ears filter out a lot of extraneous noise around us,
where microphones tend to pick up sounds that are closest and loudest to them.
While you may be able to hear a speaker clearly from the middle of an audience,
a recorder will be hearing the movements of the people closest to it, the
scraping of chairs, shuffling of paper, the echo from the back of the room,
even your own breathing, and so on. All of which will override or interfere
with what you really want recorded.
Overseas Video Compatibility There
are 3 main video recording standards in use around the world and each one is
incompatible with the other. *The video system used in America and Canada is
called "NTSC." *Western Europe and Australia use "PAL." *Eastern Europe and
France use "SECAM."
For example, a recording made in France could not
be played on an American VCR. The picture will be distorted, you will see a lot
of snow, and the speed of play and sound will be incorrect.
video tapes that are made from outside of the United States, or to send videos
abroad, you must first convert the tape to or from the foreign television
Inquire at your professional video duplication shop and ask
if they do foreign conversion.
1. Call or
e-mail to reserve a date for your project preferably 2-3 weeks in advance, if
possible, to confirm scheduling availability.
2. Please include: * The
type and duration of the discussions (one hour interview, 2 hour focus group,
* The dates on which the tapes are expected to arrive.
number of tapes being sent.
* The topic of discussion.
your preferred shipping carrier (Federal Express, UPS, etc.), send a copy of
the audio tapes (standard or mini audio cassettes) along with a discussion
guide if available, which can be helpful, but not necessary.
sure to send me COPIES and maintain your originals for backup in case of lost
or damaged tapes by the carrier.
4. As I complete each session, I
transmit the transcription back to you, and/or a designated receiver, as an
e-mail attachment. Thus, the transcriptions are 'fed' to you as I go along
until all the transcriptions are completed in the project.
I give a
24-hr turnaround per one and a half-hour of recorded tape for Transcription
With first-time clients I will send test attachments ahead of
time to ensure the transmissions go through properly.
I work from a MAC
platform using Microsoft Word. For PC users I convert the file to Word for
Windows, so all formatting, page numbering, and header integrity is maintained.
5. When the project is completed, you are invoiced and the tapes are
returned by the carrier you designate.
If using Federal Express or UPS,
etc., be sure to provide your account number. Shipping charges are paid for by
If you do not need the tapes returned, I will hold onto
them for at least 2 months, then erase the tapes before discarding.
maintain electronic copies of all transcriptions for at least six months should
you wish to have a transcription resent to you. There is no additional cost for
All information remains confidential.
For more information, schedule of fees, sample transcription, and
references please call or e-mail :
WH TRANSCRIPTION SERVICE
Talent, OR 97540
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Michael "Hawkeye" Herman Blues Musician