Crowdsourced interview tips and nuggets of wisdom

Crowdsourced interview tips and nuggets of wisdom

On the 2nd of April a gentleman called Dr Matthew Donoghue published the following tweet.

interview advice

The resulting conversation was incredibly useful and should be shared as widely as possible – go read it now, add your own advice and retweet it!

We’ve decided that such a great thread shouldn’t be lost to the Twitter archives, so with permission from Dr Donoghue we’ve taken some of the best replies (at time of writing) and turned them into this blog post.


A lot of them are transcription-based, which is how the thread came to our attention in the first place, such as this tweet from Ben Campbell.

recording device

Which, as you probably already know, is a bit of a sensitive issue for us. We spend our days dealing with recordings and we’re happy to say that the majority of the audio we receive is decent quality. This is an area in which technology has caught up sufficiently that as long as you’re in a quiet space, the recording apps on most new(ish) smartphones are actually generally pretty good. But if you have access to a really good recording device from a colleague, friend or your institution, use it!

Replies to this particular tweet highlight the importance of knowing what format your device is recording in. This matters a lot. If you’re recording in .mp3, then you’ll be fine because they are universally playable and do not take up a huge amount of room on a drive. Other file types, such as .wav, are much bigger and could end up filling the memory card/internal storage of your device if you’re not instantly backing them up and deleting them from your recorder. If you need to share your audio with colleagues, it’s also a consideration – there’s often a limit to the size of email attachments (both sending and receiving).

There are some recorders where the default file type is proprietary such as Olympus’ .ds2/.dss/.DS2 – The latter of which (the capitalisation made the difference) has caused an issue for us here at Transcription Centre as we have received a couple of batches of audio that we could not convert, no matter what we tried. There is a setting on most devices which allows you to choose the format of the file recorded. Make sure you’re using one which is compatible with your own software and doesn’t fill up your storage.

Related to this topic is the issue of using a backup device to record the interview. Roz Surtees picks up on this in their tweet – as well as our favourite issue with hearing your own voice back. We’re working on a separate blog post dedicated to this phenomenon.

two devices for recording

Good advice, and the point about not listening properly because you’re worried about the batteries is not something we’d thought about before.

We do have caveats to this one if you’re using your phone as a backup recorder. You must make sure that it’s on airplane mode, otherwise you run the risk of ruining both recordings. Take it from us, the old ‘bip-du-de-bip-du-de-bip-du-de-bzzzzzz’ noise on your car stereo when a text message was arriving is nothing in comparison to what all of the data emitting from and being received by your phone will do to your primary recording device. Also, any notifications that make your phone vibrate on a hard surface are distracting in the room and ear-bustingly loud on the recording.

run through

This is a great idea from Rebecca – sometimes a question can look great on paper but when you come to ask it you realise that you’ve either inadvertently created a tongue twister, or you’re not actually asking the question you think you are. Having a sympathetic but critical audience for a dry run is excellent preparation. It’s better than having to follow up with someone to rephrase a couple of questions or running the risk of alienating your subject for the sake of an hour over a coffee with a friend.

Relatedly:

Questions
questions 2

There are a few tips in the conversation that are close to our hearts, none more so than the first part of this one

noisy recording

It should be recognised that if you’re recording something, it’s because someone is going to listen to it again. If that person is you and you’re transcribing your notes yourself then you’re going to fall out with your former self for thinking that Sainsbury’s cafe at 1pm was a suitable location to perform an interview. Often you have no option – and we get that – but if you’re paying someone to do the transcription for you (oh, hello) then you’re going to pay more if there’s a lot of background noise, because it takes longer to transcribe. You’re also running the risk of getting an inferior transcript because the work experience kid inevitably drops the bucket of dirty cutlery all over the floor just as your respondent was getting to the most useful part of an answer.

One tip that we added recently is about full verbatim. Do you need your transcript to be full verbatim? Our answer to this is: Unless your ego is bulletproof and/or you're undertaking discourse analysis – you probably don’t want or need full verbatim transcripts. If you have a hard time listening to your own voice then you're going to hate reading a transcript of exactly how you actually talk. More on the subject of ‘What is full verbatim?’ can be found here.

The whole conversation is very much worth reading. There are too many points in there to add to a blog post for a transcription company, but there may be a few nuggets from an experienced academic in there which will make a difference to how you conduct or prepare for your interviews.

Many thanks to Dr Donoghue for having the thought to ask the question in the first place. Twitter can be a depressing place at times, but there are humans in there trying to make a positive difference.

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