Monday, March 07, 2016

Interviewing for Transcription - Do's and Don't's

Doing things a bit different this week, as I let almost two weeks go by without getting stuff worked on for this week (even though I was at one point almost two weeks ahead!), so this week's posts will no doubt be a bit of a mixed bag. With that out of the way...

As some of you may know, I've had a long association with Twomorrows and other companies doing freelance transcriptions, mostly for publication, with the occasional transcription gig for DVD special features. The vast majority of them have been for print, and I've done a lot of them over the past 15 years or so, ranging from interviews as short as 10 or 15 minutes to some stretching for several hours. These originally were recorded on cassette tape (both conventional and micro), but have been changing over to all digital (a vast improvement, if you ask me). There were some that were a delight to do, and others that were sheer drudgery.

Now, I don't know if anyone reading this ever does interviews that are intended for transcription, but just in case, I thought I'd throw out a list of Do's and Don't's that will help your transcribers out!

Let's start with the Don't list first:


  1. Don't record your interview somewhere with a lot of background noise. I understand that some subjects might prefer to meet in person at a restaurant or bar, but when this is the case, sometimes the background noise makes it difficult to understand what's being said. Not only that, but the flow of the interview can be interrupted every time the waiter comes to the table.
  2. Don't talk over your subject when they're talking. It's pretty much impossible to get all that's being said transcribed when two or more people are talking at once. Let your subject finish their thought before responding.
  3. Don't assume that your transcriber knows how to spell all the names that are mentioned. If a name comes up that's very difficult to spell, ask the subject how it's spelled (obviously, most comics transcribers should know how to spell Buscema, but not everyone will remember that Trevor Von Eeden has those two e's at the start of his last name). If there's a possibility of confusion over who's being referred to, always ask.
  4. Don't forget to start recording at the beginning of a conversation! I've lost track of how many recordings I've tried to transcribe where it starts off in mid-sentence, and I have no idea who's actually speaking.
  5. Don't have too many people involved with the interview, if possible (see below for more on that).
Now for the Do list, which will likely be longer:

  1. Always check your recording equipment ahead of time and make sure it's working. Record a short piece and listen to it to be sure it's clear and understandable.
  2. Do begin the interview by announcing the name of everyone that's present for the conversation. Believe it or not, sometimes I'll get sent recordings where the person doing the interview is not the person who's sent me the recording. Have each person introduce themselves so the transcriber can identify each voice easily.
  3. Do ask leading questions, instead of questions that are answered with "Yes" or "No." Chances are, there are things you're trying to get your subject to talk about, and you need to phrase your questions accordingly. For example, let's say you're trying to get an artist to talk about what it was like working with a particular writer. Instead of saying, "Did you like working with this writer?" ask instead "How was it to work with this writer?" 
  4. Don't get too excited while you're doing the interview.  Slow down and enunciate. I know it can be a bit overwhelming to talk to someone whose work you admire, but don't let your enthusiasm get in the way of being intelligible. 
  5. Make sure your transcriber is available when you need them. Honestly, I would love it if an interviewer contacted me before the interview was done to see if I'd be free to do the transcription, instead of waiting until after the interview is done. 
  6. On the same note, it's helpful as a transcriber if you not only tell us who the subject of an interview is, but also what the specific focus of the interview is -- I can have a few reference pages open on my browser ahead of time for looking up spellings of names as well as specific titles. 
  7. Don't wait to send the recordings to your transcriber... there have been a few times an interviewer has sat on an interview and then contacted me to see if I could do the work, and I wasn't available then -- but I would've been available right after the interview was originally done.
  8. If you're sending one transcriber multiple interviews to transcribe, let them know which ones should be done first, and if any of them have a specific deadline they're needed by.
  9. When the transcriber sends you the transcription file, be sure to acknowledge receipt so they know you got them.
Hopefully, these don't come across as too demanding... all these make it much easier and faster for transcribers like me to turn the work around!

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