Recording research interviews is a great way to capture qualitative data in thesis or dissertation research and ensures descriptive validity. While taking notes and writing down your observations is important, it’s likely you’re going to miss out on some details. An audio recording of an interview also allows you to refer back to the interview and take a fresh look at the interview data, these are some of the advantages of recording interviews in qualitative research.

While recording an interview can be as easy as placing your iPhone on the table and tapping record, researchers tend to underestimate the challenges of getting an interview recording with good audio quality. This, coupled with the fact that the descriptive validity of qualitative data is directly related to the quality of the recording, means that researcher need to pay closer attention to how they record their research interviews.

Recoridng Research Interviews
Recording Research Interviews

Why is audio quality so important?  With interview transcription, the accuracy of the transcribed transcript is dependent on the quality of the recording. Poorly recorded interviews tend to have more errors and are usually incomplete due to in-audibles. Furthermore, most transcribers charge a 50% mark-up fee for poorly recorded research interviews as they take 50% longer to transcribe. A crisp-clear recording of an academic interview makes transcription of the interview easier and faster.

Thus, getting a high-quality recording of your research interviews ensures descriptive validity and reduces research costs.  Over the last 10 years, we’ve transcribed hundreds of hours of research interviews. 90% of the researchers could have greatly improved the quality of their audio interviews and lowered their transcribing costs by following these 3 simple tips.

Tips for Recording Research Interviews

1. Location, location, location

This is the key factor that determines audio recording quality. It’s, surprisingly, the most often overlooked. Researchers tend to be laissez-faire about the location of the interview. While it’s important to give choice to the interviewee in choosing an interview location, there are two venues you should avoid at all costs. 1) Public places: restaurants, cafes, cars, et. al. These are venues where you have little or no control of the background noise and interruptions. 2) Outdoors: parks, sidewalks, on the beach, et. al. Again you have little or no control of the noise level. If you’re in a bind and have to conduct the interview in a noisy location, this is a great how-to post. 

One of the best places to hold an interview is across the respondent’s kitchen table. Most participants don’t realize you can go to their house or office and conduct the interview. If you’re researching business or corporations, most of them have board rooms and office space that they’d be glad to let you use to conduct the interviews. Your home, the library, or a hotel room are great places to interview your participants. In essence, try and hold the interview in a place where you or the interviewee can control background noise and interruptions.

2. Equipment

Interview audio recording equipment is dirt cheap! You can buy a brand new high quality interview recorder for less than $80 $70! I’d recommend the Sony ICD-ux560 (here’s a detailed review of the ux560). There is absolutely no need to use your iPhone or iPad to record 1-on-1 research interviews. They generally offer very low quality recording, because they are designed to capture audio in close proximity.  In addition, if you receive a call or SMS, it will interrupt the recording (here’s a great post on how to record phone interviews.) 

The best way to record an interview is to use a digital sound recorder; and we have a great post on how to choose the best voice recorder for interviews. The main advantage of these type of recorders over magnetic tape recorders is that they make no mechanical noise that might be captured by the microphone. It’s also very easy to transfer the recorded interviews from digital voice recorders to your computer.  And finally, they have very good microphones for capturing audio interviews.

However, I also would recommend buying an external microphone, which are also very affordable (less than $50), if you are going to conduct your interviews in a noisy environment or in the “field”. A laptop with an external microphone works great for recording interviews. Just make sure you place the laptop at some distance away (at least 6 feet) from the microphone.

One more thing, you want to record the interview using an uncompressed audio format, usually PCM or AIFF.  These become your master recording (that you can archive), and then you can make copies, compress and share with your transcriber. Compressing audio files while recording, for instance recording using the .mp3 format, greatly decreases audio quality and increases the difficulty of interview transcription.

3. It’s all about the Interviewee

It is important to keep in mind that the reason for conducting the interview is to gather information from the respondent. So, you want to place the microphone closer to the interviewee. Their answers are more important than your questions! You already have some form of an  interview guide, with your questions written down, that you can use as reference if your questions are not captured in the recording. So don’t worry too much about capturing your questions, but be very concerned about accurately capturing the interviewees responses.

Let your interviewee talk. A lot of researchers tend to cloud out their respondents with questions and interruptions. Let them talk. Don’t jump in with questions. Silence is golden: use the silent probe. Often, truths follow silence.  Use non verbal probes: nod, smile, tilt your head, raise your eyebrows, et. al. All these are great ways to enlist more information without interrupting the conversation. When you need to ask a question, wait until the interviewee has finished talking, count to five and then ask the question.

These are the top 3 tips I’d like to share on how to record research interviews. Over to you. What’s the one tip on recording interviews you’d like to share with other researchers? Let me know in the comment section…

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Paul Woods
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Paul Woods

When I started my research interviews as part of the data collection for my Thesis I was petrified that the audio recording wouldn’t be good enough to transcribe the content easily. Your second point makes perfect sense! I tried using my mobile phone to record at first but it was very difficult to listen back to. Instead I purchased a digital voice recorder to conduct my interviews. I didn’t use your “silence is golden: silent probe” approach in my first few interviews, but I will make sure I keep that one in my kit bag of interview techniques for the… Read more »

rupak baishya
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rupak baishya

thnx fr the tips,,,,,

D_Fields
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D_Fields

Those are some pretty good tips. Thanks!

Muna Bilgrami
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Muna Bilgrami

These are excellent tips and I’m glad to say I applied the first and third assiduously. However, having inherited an almost brand new iPhone from my son, I decided to use that placed close to the respondent, and feel that the quality has been really good. It was not connected to any mobile service, nor were my mobile phone or the respondent’s switched on during the interview. I’d have to look into which format it was saved in, so thanks for flagging that issue up. My one tip would be to reiterate at the start of each interview the purpose… Read more »

Barbara Bryant
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Barbara Bryant

Great tips for my interviews I am so glad I read these before I started my interviews. I feel a little less anxious now.

Brad Shuber
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Brad Shuber

Hello!

Thanks for the tips.

One question, do you recommend some sort of microphones as well, or are the devices usually sufficient?

jose
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jose

Is there a cloud audio storage secure or hipaa compliance to store clinical research interviews?

Can you provide a list of the cloud service?

zeta
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zeta

what about recording on Skype or other methods where you must conduct the interviews with participants in other countries – thanks

Titus Livingston
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Titus Livingston

Issac, it’s really good advice for researchers. Quite often the recording has background noise or the respondent’s voice is feeble. Certainly good quality audio saves researcher’s budget and time!

Chris
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Chris

Isaac,
I will be purchasing an encrypted laptop for recording interviews. Is there a particular recording software that I should purchase and use for recording the interviews? Additionally does this software compress the digital data for sending to a transcriptionist??
Thank you for your advice

Lety
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Lety

Isaac, thanks so much for these tips. I’m trying to decide if I just buy I microphone and record on my Mac or if I buy a digital recorder. I will be interviewing only 5 people in a quiet office room. What’s your take?

Cheers,

Tom Clark
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Tom Clark

Thanks Isaac for sharing the tips with us. Quality of the recording equipment plays a crucial role in order to enhance the recording quality. From the next time, I will definitely apply all the tips you have mentioned here.

poonam
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poonam

It’s actually a great and helpful piece of information. I got so much information through your blog, keep sharing this type of information. thanks for sharing!!!

Patricia Mitchell
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Patricia Mitchell

Thank you, excellent advice !!

Soni
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Soni

Have recently finished about 20 interviews and used a ‘Voice Recorder’ app downloaded to my phone. Everything was crisp clear except for one interview in a ‘quiet’ restaurant that later became noisy – so yes i agree with you about location.

Vivian Charles
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Vivian Charles

This is insightful!
Thanks

Mayoungbeh kamara
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Mayoungbeh kamara

Thanks for this great topic

Edy
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Edy

I am having 3 seniors with speech impediments to record their life stories for my genealogy research. I would like to know what digital recorder with audio transcription, ease of use and Windows 7 and 10 OS compatibility you recommend. I really need some direction in purchasing 3 recorders. Thank you, Edy

rebecca
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rebecca

Hi Isaac!

I am wanting to reference this article as part of my dissertation in my methodology section. How would be best to reference this, in regards to Harvard referencing?

thanks!

Louise
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Louise

Hi Isaac, what would be the best way to record telephone or Skype interviews. I’m interviewing busy business people who have agreed to telephone and Skype interviews.

James O'Barr
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James O'Barr

Isaac,

Thanks for the UX560 encyclopedic workup–I’m looking to upgrade from my old Olympus DS-30. Now what I need is a transcription service for my interviews. Tried SPOKEO, a low-cost Canadian online operation, but they strongly encouraged asking for help, and never responded to my several asks when the system was dysfunctional. Any suggestions?