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Poor transcription is often the result of bad recording. Here are four simple suggestions for improving the quality of your recordings and, consequently, the quality of your verbatim transcripts.

The recorder or microphone should be as close to the speaker as possible

For presentations, tape directly off the microphone. Usually, if you explain to the A/V technician that you want an audio tape of the presentation, they will make one for you. For an interview, place the recorder closer to the person you are interviewing than to yourself. For a group discussion, a roundtable or a focus group, use an “omni-directional” microphone. Inexpensive ones are available at Radio Shack stores.

Keep the background noise down

Tape your interview in a quiet place. Restaurants are never quiet enough. Cars, other people, coughs and paper shuffling will always be louder than you and your subject, even in a small group. Give your speaker a lapel microphone.

Make good equipment choices

Use standard size cassettes whenever possible. They provide better quality and durability. Check your batteries. If you don't know how old they are, replace them. Turn off voice activation. Set the recorder on standard speed, not slow speed (most micro-cassette recorders have two speeds). Buy a telephone record coupler that connects between the phone and handset to tape directly from the phone instead of recording from the speakerphone. Last, if you record on a regular basis, invest in a good quality recorder and microphone. A couple of hundred dollars invested in equipment will save you thousands of dollars in transcription costs and improve the quality of your transcripts.

Facilitate the recording

Announce and spell the names of subjects at the beginning of the recording. If it is important that individuals in a 2- or 3-person group be identified in the transcript, please have them identify themselves at the beginning of the session. Note that more than three people in a discussion are usually impossible to identify on an audiotape. If you want us to match a name with a voice, they must identify themselves every time they speak. Give us a terminology list whenever possible; any document or PowerPoint presentation will help. Last but not least, test the recording. Stop and listen after a few minutes of conversation to make sure everything is working properly and the most important voices can be heard clearly.
This list was compiled with help from PASS (Professional Association of Secretarial Services) and Angela Elliott.