Tips for Transcribing Interview Recordings With Accuracy

Interview transcripts

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Transcribing interview recordings accurately is essential for capturing the full context of an interview. It’s also vital for maintaining the quality of your finished article.

Start by listening to the whole recording. This will help you catch any missed words or mumbles that slip by. Then, listen again and chunk the audio into smaller segments.

Listen to the Recording

Understanding what to look for in an interview recording is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a transcriber. Using headphones and listening to the audio recording in real-time will help you listen for minor details that might otherwise be missed, such as the room’s background noise, a buzzing TV, or the slightest shift in voice tone between speakers. Adding notes as you listen to the recording will also help you keep track of the spoken information. Including speaker names, the date and time, paraphrasing quotes, standard conventions (brackets for non-verbal communication, ellipses for pauses), or even a list of good and bad answers to specific questions can make the transcription process much easier.

Participants will probably veer off from their original answers to your questions during an interview. Having a list of your most important questions or a rough idea of what you want to hear will help you steer the conversation back onto the topic and will make it easier to remember good answers for when you need to use them later in post-production.

Try to record in a quiet place, or at least remove any background noises from the microphone. This will save you the headache of removing background noise in post-production, which is a painstaking and time-consuming task that can be almost impossible to do perfectly.

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Make Notes

If you will transcribe the interview, choose a quiet space and comfortable, high-quality headphones. This lets you hear the recording more clearly and avoid missing crucial information. You’ll also want a good computer and keyboard to help you type fast and accurately.

When you listen to the recording, make notes about key points and any areas that are difficult to understand. This will save you time and effort later on, as you can skip over those parts when typing up the transcript.

Taking notes can be especially helpful if you’re transcribing an interview with multiple speakers, challenging accents, or technical content. When a word or phrase is unclear, rewind the audio and listen again. If it’s still unintelligible, write down what you think was said instead and insert it into the transcript with brackets around it. This helps you maintain a consistent editing style, which is important for accurate interview transcripts.

If you’re unable or unwilling to transcribe the audio, an experienced transcriptionist can create an intelligent verbatim or edited transcript. These transcriptions include every pause, repetition, and noise but remove irrelevant fillers like “uhm,” “yeah,” and so on. They’re also easier to read and can be used in various formats, from a snippet on social media to a full-length article.

Type Out What You Hear

Before you start transcribing, it’s important to analyze how complex your interview recording is. This will help you determine whether to use an audio-to-text converter, transcribe the recording yourself, or outsource it to a transcription agency.

During the transcription process, play back the audio and type out each word spoken by the speaker as you listen. Pause frequently to take notes and make sure you don’t miss anything. You may also need to rewind and replay the recording to catch difficult-to-understand portions or non-verbal cues. When you’re finished, proofread the transcript for accuracy and consistency.

Skilled transcribers can transcribe up to 15 words per minute, which makes them a great choice for large interviews where you want to capture all the information said. If using a software program, set the keyboard shortcuts for commonly used words and phrases to increase your typing speed.

If you’re converting an audio recording to text yourself, use a word processor and save the document as you go. You’ll also need a pair of headphones to ensure you can hear the recording. It’s best to use a headset with noise-canceling technology to focus on the interview and avoid distractions. 

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Listening to and transcribing an interview can feel lengthy, especially if the audio file needs to be of better quality or contains background noise. However, with the right tips, the process can be more efficient and help journalists produce accurate, concise, and complete transcripts.

Start by listening to the recording and making notes about what you hear. This will help you get familiar with the content, which will reduce errors in transcription. A clear understanding of the Interviewee’s perspectives, ideas, and emotions will also enable you to represent these in the transcript accurately.

While transcribing, use a tool like Descript to shorten word gaps and remove filler words such as “you know,” “well,” and “um”. This will save you valuable time and improve the accuracy of your transcript.

Ensure you label each speaker (‘find and replace’ the placeholders with their names). If no names are available or you want anonymity, generic identifiers like Interviewer and Interviewee can be used.

When you’re done, proofread the transcript to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. This will ensure that the transcript is clean and consistent throughout. It’s also a good idea to do this over a hard copy of the transcript since mistakes can sometimes slip through spell check.