This was a question we put to our transcribers this week, as to where they thought the worst places to put a recording device for recording an academic interview, research interview or any other form of interview or discussion between two people. We instantly got back a big long list of recent experiences from our transcribers who had been finding that there were a number of places they have experienced in the last few weeks that have caused them real problems hearing particular words and phrases.
So for example, one researcher had sat down in a room that had a microwave in it. We presume the room was the university canteen or similar with a microwave for heating up baby food. How do we know this? Throughout the interview the transcriber could hear the whirring of the microwave, plus the beeps as somebody set the microwave up, plus the ping at the microwave finished. As you can imagine, if there were any words at the same time as the ping when the microwave finished, it was much harder than it otherwise would have been for the transcriber to actually work out what that word was. Incidentally in Welsh the word microwave is ‘popty ping’. Something of an aside to this article!
Another transcriber had experienced a recording that had been next to a heater and throughout the interview they had experienced a loud whirring noise and a bit of rattling. If there was a quiet word that the transcriber needed to pick up this would be partly masked by the sound of the heater clunking away.
One other huge irritation this week has been a recording that had been conducted outside, presumably in the summer when the weather was particularly hot, and the interviewer had obviously decided it would be nicer for the person being interviewed to sit outside and be a bit cooler, but not really thought about the consequences for the transcriber! Surely this does not usually present any issues? We do undertake the transcription of a large number of recordings made in the open air.
However we have not undertaken that many where the interviewer has decided to sit on a bench next to a busy A road! The researcher asking the questions had not thought through the consequences of sitting outside on a bench next to a busy main road with the sound of a pneumatic drill going in the distance. We are not sure the interviewer could actually make out some of the answers themselves.. What made this recording particularly interesting was the taxi driver who decided at the end of the recording to have an argument with somebody right in front of the bench where the interviewer was sat with the subject. This meant that the transcriber got to listen to the whole argument between the taxi driver and the other party, which was recorded along with the interview.
In summary, think very carefully about where you sit to conduct your interview. You may well be able to hear the person you are speaking to perfectly, but will the transcriber be able to accurately transcribe the recording for you if you are sat next to a heater, microwave, pneumatic drill, argumentative taxi driver or any other source of noise distraction?
A quiet, smaller sized room is always best, but make sure the subject you are interviewing is comfortable as well – too small a room can feel claustrophobic. Too large can finish up sounding like you are in church..