How to transcribe an interview – and maximise the benefits

Stop scribbling and start listening. Capture more value from your interviews with transcription.


      An interview is a dynamic process, like a game of tennis, with the flow of conversation determined by how the ‘players’ deliver each question and answer. For an interviewer to obtain maximum value from the interview, therefore, they must be able to focus fully on the responses coming back over the net from the interviewee.

      Any distraction from what the interviewee is saying could result in the interviewer missing a vital comment, misreading a crucial point of emphasis or delivering questions that fail to capitalise on earlier responses.

      It’s not a good idea, therefore, to stop paying attention during an interview so you can scribble down the bits you did hear. So, how can an interviewer achieve the best interview while maintaining a detailed and accurate record of what was said?

      Fortunately, there is a simple solution: transcription. Simply record the interview then transcribe the recording into the written word.

      Why transcribe an interview?

      Here are 10 ways that interview transcriptions can benefit you and your business:

      1. Carry out better interviews

      Knowing that an interview is to be transcribed allows you to keep your notebook, laptop or tablet out of sight and concentrate on what you are actually there for: the interview. Without having to constantly jot down notes, you can engage with what is being said, look the interviewee in the eye and build rapport.

      2. Capture every detail

      Scribbled notes taken during an interview usually require deciphering afterwards. Struggling to make sense of barely legible scrawl and rewriting the bits you can salvage takes time. Recording the session and having it transcribed, however, allows you to review a full, accurate and clearly presented account of the entire interview.

      3. Quote with confidence

      Word-for-word accuracy is essential when quoting your interview subjects. Indeed, attributing an inaccurate quote can result in legal consequences and the loss of credibility when attempting to arrange interviews in the future. A transcript helps you avoid this potential pitfall. It also provides a definitive source should there be any dispute over what was said at the time.

      4. Search with ease

      Listening to an entire recording of a lengthy interview each time you want to locate a specific comment is not an effective use of time. A transcribed interview, on the other hand, gives you a searchable text document, where a single word or phrase can be found instantly and effortlessly.

      5. Collaborate with colleagues

      Interviews and the subsequent analysis of the content often involve more than one person. Transcription replaces the large, unwieldy audio and video files that result from an interview’s recording with much smaller, more manageable text files – making life easier for the whole team. The accuracy of a transcript also ensures that colleagues who were not involved in the interview themselves can interpret and quote what was said without error or loss of context.

      Download our free transcription template

      Get started with transcription. Here you will find templates for both detailed transcription and standard transcription. You can use the formats and examples in your own working document.

      6. Recycle content

      The words spoken during an interview can be valuable on more than one occasion, especially for those in the journalism or content creation business. The written text of a transcript is easy to edit, summarise and expand, making it relatively simple to extract different elements of the interview and adapt and reuse them in various forms, from a terse tweet to a full-length article.

      7. Generate video captions

      Subtitles (a text alternative to video dialogue), closed captions (subtitles plus all other relevant elements of the soundtrack, such as background noises and phones ringing) and foreign-language captions (translated from the initial text) all require a time-indexed transcription of the original video before they can be created.

      8. Keep lasting records

      Having conversations in transcript form makes it possible to compile, collate and review your interviews past and present. This is particularly useful when you need to carry out further analysis, settle a dispute or evaluate an interview alongside newly acquired data, for example. Whether printed on paper, stored in a laptop or uploaded to the cloud, organising, retrieving and sharing your notes becomes easy and convenient.

      9. Increase accessibility

      Audio recordings are, by their nature, restricted to the hearing community. A transcript of the recording, however, is accessible to the hard-of-hearing, the deaf, those who do not have a fluent understanding of the language, and those who don’t speak the language at all.

      10. Assess your performance

      Typically, interviews take place away from anyone other than the participants. Examining a transcript to identify the effectiveness of the questioning and the subtle interplay between interviewer and interviewee can be a valuable learning opportunity for the interviewer. Unlike imperfect and subjective memory, a transcript provides a dispassionate view of precisely what was said in the interview room.

      Want to know more about Semantix transcription services?

      When are interviews transcribed?

      There are a wide variety of situations where someone would want to transcribe an interview. Here are six examples of when it makes sense to transcribe:

      1. Transcribe interviews for qualitative research

      Qualitative research involves collecting and analysing non-numerical data, such as interviews with individuals and focus groups. In business, qualitative research is a long-established part of a product’s journey to market. As well as using these interviews as source material, it is important to record and preserve them for the sake of accuracy and future reference. Written transcripts provide qualitative researchers with the ideal medium for this.

      2. Transcribe interviews for a dissertation

      Interviews undertaken for academic work can be transcribed to create an easily editable version of what was said. Furthermore, transcription is often used within educational organisations such as schools, colleges and universities to improve the quality of teaching, the accessibility of learning resources and to provide students with searchable versions of lectures and seminars online.

      3. Transcribe medical interviews

      The work of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners is often too fast-moving to be able to log written notes after each medical interview. Dictating remarks into a recording device, however, is quick and can be transcribed into text afterwards, maximising medical care while maintaining reliable records.

      4. Transcribe legal interviews

      The legal profession relies on huge quantities of easily accessible written records. From wills to witness statements, court proceedings to arbitrations and mediations, transcribed recordings of interviews can be presented at a later date, safe in the knowledge that they correlate exactly with what was said during the interview.

      5. Transcribe insurance interviews

      When insurers interview claimants, witnesses and other relevant parties, any discussions are legally binding. It is essential that every word is logged with absolute accuracy. Transcription transforms audio and video recordings of interviews into written legal documentation that can be used to assess and process an insurance claim.

      6. Transcribe interviews for journalism

      Interviews are central to the work of any journalist or reporter. With a need to recall vast amounts of information, and a duty to quote people correctly and report events as they happened, transcription offers a valuable method of capturing and presenting what was said with absolute accuracy.

      How to transcribe an interview verbatim

      With so many applications for transcribed text, it is no surprise that there are also many different types of transcription to choose from.

      ‘Verbatim’ transcriptions include every pause, every repetition, every noise and every er… um… yeah… you know. The transcriber can even add notes regarding such details as the tone of voice being used to ensure the reader gets as much information as they would if they were listening to the original recording. If every little detail matters, verbatim transcriptions are probably the best choice for you.

      If you can manage without the extraneous coughs and stammers, an ‘intelligent’ or ‘word-for-word’ transcription offers an edited version of the interview – but only edited to the degree that all the inessential noises, interruptions, etc. are removed.

      The next step away from the verbatim transcription is the ‘edited’ transcription. This is similar to the intelligent transcription, but with grammatical mistakes corrected, unfinished sentences completed and so on. The result will appear more formal than the original interview, but it will be easier to read and understand.

      Intelligent and edited transcriptions offer more workable versions of the verbatim transcription, but they should only be used if you are certain the interview’s audible extras and style of delivery are not required to provide useful insight.

      How to mark timestamps and speakers in an interview

      As well as the words spoken during the interview, a transcript includes two more vital components: timestamps and speaker identification. Knowing who is talking and when allows users to jump straight to specific points in the interview without having to work through the entire recording.

      Typically, a new speaker is identified wherever they change. Timestamps specify the hours, minutes and seconds – in [HH:MM:SS] format – from the start of the audio recording at which the given text was spoken.

      There are several different ways in which timestamps and speakers are inserted into transcriptions. For example:
      • Timestamps that indicate when actual speech begins and ends are useful when a recording does not have dialogue right from the start.
      • Timestamps and speaker identification placed whenever a new person speaks can help to locate key moments in an audio recording.

        Interviewer: (00:17:30) Have you ever met anyone famous?
        Joe Smith: (00:17:32) Well, I’ve never told anyone this before, but I dated Beyonce for a while back in the 90s.

        A more granular marker can be provided by adding a new timestamp every sentence (though this can result in a cluttered transcription).

        (00:00:00) This is a brief example of a transcript. (00:00:02) The time each new sentence begins is displayed in the timestamp. (00:00:05) This is just one of many timestamping options.
      • A more common requirement is the periodic timestamp, which is added at predetermined time intervals (such as every three seconds or every 30 minutes).

        (00:00:00) Here is an example of how a time-stamped transcript can incorporate a (00:00:03) timestamp every three seconds by including the (00:00:06) timestamp within the written text.

      How to transcribe an interview automatically using apps or software

      Transcribing an interview can be a time-consuming task, which is why many people take advantage of the numerous technological speech-to-text solutions that are on the market.

      There are several transcription software options for Mac and PC users to choose from. For example, Windows 11, Microsoft’s latest operating system, which has the advantage of operating without the need for an internet connection.

      In addition to most smartphones’ built-in speech-to-text application, there are a variety of downloadable transcription apps for mobile devices. These apps provide a dedicated, portable tool for transcribing interviews. Some apps, such as Dragon Anywhere, sync with the desktop version of the software and save storage space by being cloud-based. The downside of this feature is the requirement for an internet connection.

      There are also many free transcription tools available online, offering varying degrees of effectiveness. oTranscribe, for example, is a free, open-source product with a simple interface that can be used straight from a web browser.

      Remarkable though transcription software and apps are, the greatest accuracy is delivered by skilled human transcribers. It is always a good idea, therefore, to carefully proofread any interview transcribed by artificial intelligence.

      Read more: What are the best transcription apps and tools?

      Ready to transcribe your next interview?

      Creating a transcription of an interview gives you a complete, searchable, shareable document that not only boosts the quality of your research, it also saves you time and money and helps to increase the integrity of your work.

      So when you have an interview to conduct, don’t think of transcription as an ‘extra’. In today’s content-driven world, it is indispensable.

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      Download templates for both detailed transcription and standard transcription. You can use the formats and examples in your own working document.