Tips for recording phone interviews

I would always recommend conducting interviews in person, in a quiet room, with a good quality audio recorder placed on a table between the interviewer and respondent… but we all know that in the real world that isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to do interviews in noisy cafes or echoey boardrooms. And sometimes you can’t actually get in the same room, and you have to conduct your interview over the phone.


Phone interviews present a unique set of challenges in terms of transcribing. As both a researcher and transcriber myself, I’ve tried a number of ways of recording phone interviews to make the transcription as easy as possible. While I still haven’t mastered the art of getting perfect quality audio from a phone interview, hopefully this will help you to see what the various options are.

The best options:

If you’re in a quiet office with a landline and are willing to spend a small amount of money, you’ve got a number of choices.

Some offices with high tech phone systems have a call recording facility built in, and this is great if this is available. The only downside I’ve found to these is the complexity to entering various codes and PINs and constantly being concerned that it’s actually recording, but this has generally worked well for me in the past. Audio quality is not perfect, but definitely good enough for transcription.

If your phone system doesn’t have a conference calling/ recording function, there are relatively low cost services you can buy. I’ve found Powwownow to be fairly simple to use, and they make it easy to access your call recordings on their website afterwards. But if you’re looking for a way to record calls that is actually free, don’t be fooled. Powwownow’s “free” plan requires you to call into an 0844 number (which they estimate as 4.3p per minute from a landline but 12.5p per minute from a mobile).

Finally, if you’re in a private office, you may want to just put the call on speakerphone and use your audio recorder as normal. I’ve generally found that if both the interviewee and I are on landlines, this option works pretty well.

“Making do” options:

If you’ve only got a mobile and/or don’t want to spend any money for call recording, there are still ways to record phone interviews. Unfortunately, the iPhone doesn’t allow you to record phone calls, which has really frustrated me. My solution to this – which hasn’t always worked perfectly – is to use the speakerphone and audio recorder trick. The iPhone speaker isn’t great, and if the person at the other end of the phone is also on a mobile, sometimes the audio is muddled, but adequate.

There are some apps available that allow you record your iPhone calls, such as iPadio. I haven’t tried this out yet, but it looks fairly straightforward.

What I don’t recommend:

Recording Skype or Google Hangout interviews. I’ve never conducted an interview via Skype myself, but I’ve transcribed a number of these, and the audio quality is often really terrible. There is certainly a benefit to the interviewer and respondent being able to see one another, but the connection quality is often so terrible that I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Tips for improving your phone interview

1. The biggest problem with phone interviews is that the audio is often a bit muddled, which makes it difficult to discern between letters like S/F, N/M, and P/T/D, in particular. If you’re talking about any acronyms, it may be worthwhile to repeat these for the benefit of the transcriber.

2. It’s always a good idea to try and take good notes during the interview, just in case. You may understand your interviewee fine at the time, but there might be interferences in the recording.

3. This should probably go without saying, but try and conduct the interview in the quietest room possible.

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