To Transcribe or Not To Transcribe Interviews?

11 Secrets from an Experienced Interviewer

One of the unwritten rules of writing a book, an article, orany sort of material that requires the writer to interviewexperts or people "in the know" is to tape record theconversation. Whether the recording occurs via phone or inperson is irrelevant. This rule is a good one.

This leads to the following questions:

* Do you transcribe every tape?

* Who owns the transcription?

The answer to these questions does have an "it depends" solet me explain. It depends on your state's or countrieslaws on the tape recording issue. It depends on the howmuch you're getting paid for the project. It depends onwhether you can use the interview notes more than once. Itdepends whether you are using interviewing as an escape -- aprocrastination technique because you enjoy that interviewprocess more than the writing.

Okay, we got the "it depends" listed and out of the way.Let me present a few of my secrets -- the things I havelearned as a writer and teacher over the last many years.

Secret 1: Just because you tape recorded the conversationdoesn't mean you have to transcribe the tape. The tape is agreat safety net for reviews.

Secret 2: You don't need to transcribe the whole tape.Many times all you need are the important parts.

Secret 3: Tapes are cheap, buy plenty instead of reusing,and keep them for a few years.

Secret 4: Create a tape master finding system. MicrosoftExcel is a great way to track with a numbering system.Include the year somewhere in the numbering. Color codingadds visual effectiveness. Large colored dots are availableat most office supply stores.

Secret 5: The storage container and where you store thetapes is important as to how long they last. Heat andmoisture destroys the quality. Find small, thin, plasticcontainers with a tight seal with a one-layer depth.

Secret 6: Don't place a magnet anywhere near them. So keepthe paperclip magnet and the phone (many have magnets inthem) away from the tapes. Palm Pilots too.

Secret 7: Use rubber bands to consolidate tapes for asimilar project or topic but be careful not to wrap themvertically over the open part of the tape. Wraphorizontally. After a few years rubber bands dry out andbecome brittle.

Secret 8: Delegate the task, it always cheaper either indollars or patience. Place an ad at the local college andoffer $30 to $45 per tape. I have found several through theBusiness Centers at high schools and community centers. Ifthe interview is rare or precious, hire a professionalservice and pay the higher rate. Have at least 10 ways youcan get a tape transcribed reasonably and fast at yourdisposal. Start with the Yellow Pages. Rate them onfastest and quickest. Consider using FedEx to deliver andpick up the tapes, for safety, and to save time. I neverrecommend sending the tape out of your country to savemoney.

Secret 9: Don't sign a contract, ever, if they have aclause in it, "All notes, tapes, materials and transcriptsmust be turned over to the publisher." Cross it out anddon't agree to this. If the publisher is paying for thetranscription and your time separately for the interview,they are yours.

Secret 10: Prepare the questions ahead of time and stick tothem. Preparation saves time all around. If you are notsure what questions to ask, ask the publisher what questionsdo they want to have answered when they give you theassignment. It is a good procedure to provide the questionsbefore hand to the interviewee. This helps them prepare.If they read from their typed notes then ask questionsdifferently or drift with one question then return. Theywill usually stop reading, think, and not return to theirnotes.

Secret 11: If you are a fast typist you will most likely beable to type and capture 75% of the conversation. Learn toleave out repetitious information and use a keyboardshorthand. After the call, review the notes immediately andexpand the shorthand. If you use a common shortcut, use"find and replace" in your word processor as a time saver.Also explain that you will be typing their response so thatthe sound of the keyboard doesn't distract from theconversation. If you prefer, you can even ask forpermission: "I hope you don't mind, I'm a fast typist so Iprefer to type my notes as we talk." It's like asking forpermission but not quite.

(C) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.

Catherine Franz is a writer and author of over 1800published articles, books, and on various subjects. Formore:

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