Recording for focus group transcription – some useful tips

If you’re thinking of running some focus groups and having them transcribed, here are a few things to think about from the transcription point of view. If you take these things into account, you should get the best possible recording, which (so long as you use a good quality transcription service) will lead to the best possible transcription! 

  • Check with the participants before the group starts that they do not mind being recorded for later transcription. Do this well in advance as if one person objects you may have to abandon the recording and rely on notes. If you’re conducting the group, making notes at the same time will be very hard!
  • Provide explanations about your research and give background information before switching on the recorder, to save on transcribing time. (With transcribing, time really is money, as we charge per minute of audio.)
  • If you need to have the different speakers identified in the transcription, ask each person to introduce him/herself. This introduction must be more than just a name, as it is needed for the transcriber to get to know that person’s voice. A couple of sentences minimum is needed. If you make it relevant to your group discussion, the participants will feel less self-concious. For example, if interviewing a group of people about their experiences in a particular shopping centre, don’t start by asking how many pets they have and whether they love horses or not; instead, ask them to say their name and roughly how often they visit the centre and what their favourite shop is and why. 
  • Lay down the ground rules to participants before you start e.g. remind them not to talk over each other as this will cause problems for the transcriptionist.
  • Use an external microphone on your recorder. Internal mikes are only suitable for dictation (one voice). Ideally, if you have more than four people, use a series of microphones.
  • Record the group in a quiet place. Background noise can drastically reduce the quality of the recording and increase the time taken to transcribe.
  • Make sure you use a recorder that has a facility for transferring files to a PC
  • Use a file format that is compressed, so that it can be transferred over the internet to your transcription service
  • Check your recorder is recording before you start the group, and check a couple of times at least during the focus group, just in case the battery has run out or any other minor disaster has occurred! 
  • Do not serve food while recording the group as the noises of eating, passing plates, pouring drinks and whispers of ‘pass the crisps, would you?’ will obscure participants’ speech!

For more information please see the focus groups page at Penguin Transcription.


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