DO'S AND DON’T'S
PLEASE DO ……
1. Record in a quiet, indoor environment which ensures the best quality of sound recording. Consider the acoustics of where you'll be sitting. A large room with a high ceiling ('church' like conditions) produces significant echo, which your ear will be able to filter out but the microphone won't. It will result in a 'booming' on the recording which could make the interview difficult to hear, especially if the interviewee has a quiet voice.
2. Remind them to speak clearly and not too fast. If it proves impossible to select the interview location yourself, it would advisable to try and gently steer them towards choosing a quiet room with the minimum background noise. Or, if it's being held in their house, just spend a few minutes before the interview asking for things such as the television or radio to be switched off, or noisy children or animals to be 'removed'. We realise this is a delicate situation and you don't want to be seen to 'take over' their home, but if you want to stand a chance of capturing what they're saying, you may have to be diplomatic but firm!
3. Ensure that the interviewee can be heard. If the speaker has a quiet voice or mumbles, they may not be picked up by the recorder, however sophisticated it might be. Please ask the interviewee to raise their voice or repeat anything you don't hear clearly. If you can't hear what they're saying, then the chances are that we can't either on the finished recording. If they regard taking part in an interview as important enough to set aside time, the chances are they'll want their contribution heard. Most people are happy to speak up if asked to do so.
4. Be firm with the interviewee during the interview itself. Ask the interviewee to spell out any names, places or complex terminology that isn't clear, either at the time or at the end, if you don't want to interrupt the flow of the interview.
5. Assist with clarification - if the interviewee shows you something, be it a photograph or documents, it would be a good idea to say what IT is for the recording. Letting the interviewee just say, 'that is what we used' doesn't make great radio! You may remember what 'that' is at the time but will you later on when it comes to analysing the transcript? And if they just nod or shake their heads, either ask them to say yes or no, or confirm verbally what they've done.
6. Remind all participants not to talk over each other or their contributions will not be captured. Don't be afraid to remind them of this again during the discussion, if people become passionate or excited and start talking at once.
7. Minimise background noise wherever possible, whether this is the scraping of chairs, background chatter from the participants, or noisy machinery such as air conditioning.
8. Provide refreshments before or after the discussion if possible. It's tempting to have tea or coffee on the table to relax the participants but, if you can, confine any refreshments to break times. If there is cutlery or crockery on the table, the clattering will be the loudest sound on the recording.
9. Conduct introductions - if each speaker needs to be identified on the transcript, ask each participant to introduce themselves and perhaps describe where they live and work. This will help the transcriber to 'tune in' to a particular voice, and may enhance the chances of recognising that voice later on in the recording.
10. If the focus group involves many participants, ask each person to state their name every time they make a comment. If a person introduces themselves at the beginning, but then doesn't say another word for an hour, it's unlikely that the transcriber will be able to remember what that earlier voice sounds like or be able to identify its owner. Alternatively, ask the moderator to thank each participant by name after every lengthy contribution - this will give the transcriber clues as the focus group progresses.
11. Make a speaker voice brief - if introductions aren't made at the beginning but you still need each speaker to be identified in the transcript, it's essential that you make notes as the focus group progresses to give the transcriber a clue as to which voice belongs to which name. You'll need to give as many clues as possible on accents, description of voices (clear voice, quiet, talks in coherent sentences, rambles, any verbal quirks). This is particularly useful if some participants share the same first name.
12. Be firm if you're chairing a focus group. As tempting as it may be to let the discussion ebb and flow and to interrupt as little as possible, it's important to achieve a balance between intimidating the participants so that they barely contribute and allowing it to descend into mayhem. People in groups tend to talk over each other, often at a fast pace and particularly if they become animated or angry about what they're discussing. If this happens, ask everyone to speak clearly and individually or they won't be heard. And don't be afraid to ask participants to shut up if necessary!
13. If there's a participant who's very loud and dominant, that's all the recording equipment will hear. You might as well do a one-to-one interview with them for all you'll capture of the other participants, especially if the latter are softly spoken or timid.
PLEASE DO NOT...
1. Record in a noisy environment such as restaurants, open spaces, airports, pubs, trains, cafes if it can be avoided. Background noise is often more intrusive on recordings than we realise at the time. Voices can easily be swamped by extraneous noise, especially when interviewees are softly spoken. If interviewees are talking about what to them are sensitive issues, they invariably drop their voice so anyone nearby can't hear what they're saying. If they do, the recorder will not pick them up. Record indoors if you have a choice.
2. Leave windows open - however hot the day may be, windows need to be closed. Noise from traffic, road works and aeroplanes will impact on your recording. Unless using a noise cancelling microphone, most mics are not as selective as the human ear and can't filter out extraneous noise in the same way we can. They record everything they hear and the loudest noise will dominate.
3. Sit near noisy machinery such as air conditioning, photocopiers, heaters or computers - even radios in the background can dominate a recording and make it impossible to hear.
4. Have crockery near the microphone - it's tempting to have tea or coffee to relax the interviewee and to have this on the table where the recorder also sits. If you do, the clattering of the crockery will be the loudest sound on the recording, and you'll deafen the transcriber!
5. Speak over your interviewee - in a more conversational type interview, it can be tempting to interject comments during the interview. In normal conversation, we tend to say 'yeah' or 'right' or 'okay' on a regular basis, if only to indicate to the other person that we're actually listening to them. It may be hard but try and break yourself of this habit because your interjections may drown out what the interviewee is saying. What's more important - that you capture what they're saying or your ramblings?!
6. Shuffle papers near the microphone. As this may be the source of the nearest noise, that's what the microphone will hear and it will drown out whatever is being said by either you or the interviewee. If you need to refer to a list of questions, it may be worthwhile either having them on one side of A4, if possible, or on cards for ease of reference.
7. Write near the microphone if you can avoid it. We've often heard recordings where the scribbling of a pen is the loudest sound we hear throughout the recording! Keep the microphone near your interviewee not near you.