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, though we recommend getting a voice recorder ((check out our great post on choosing the best voice recorder for research interviews), 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.
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, recording high-quality audio 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:
- Public places: restaurants, cafes, cars, et. al. These are venues where you have little or no control of the background noise and interruptions.
- 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. Cars are surprisingly good places to conduct interviews.
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.
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-UX570 (here’s a detailed review of the UX570).
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 recorder/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 below…
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 »
thnx fr the tips,,,,,
Those are some pretty good tips. Thanks!
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 »
Muna, that’s a great tip. And it’s a great way to break the ice and get the interview process started, though you need to be careful not to “formalize” it. I find that for many researchers it becomes mechanical – and they usually read it verbatim from the interview guide. That’s tends to introduce a very formal tone to the interview and the interviewees become guarded, which is not what you want. You want them to be relaxed and eager to share their opinions/thoughts. Keep in mind the 3rd tip, the interview is not about you and your research, it’s… Read more »
Great tips for my interviews I am so glad I read these before I started my interviews. I feel a little less anxious now.
My pleasure. If you need anything else let me know…
Thanks for the tips.
One question, do you recommend some sort of microphones as well, or are the devices usually sufficient?
Brad, in quiet surroundings, a decent digital recorder is more than sufficient.
Most of them have very good in-built microphones.
If you plan to record the interviews in a noisy environment, I’d recommend microphones…here’s a great post on how to record your research interviews at a noisy location.
Is there a cloud audio storage secure or hipaa compliance to store clinical research interviews?
Can you provide a list of the cloud service?
Jose, most cloud sharing services, dropbox, box.com, google drive – to name a few, are HIPPA compliant. All you need is to enter into a BA agreement with the cloud service. It does require a bit of paperwork, but they already have the functionality to encrypt, track, and restrict access of files. We use Google, because our business associate agreement covers email, drive, and a number of other services.
Here’s a list of HIPAA compliant cloud storage for researchers.
what about recording on Skype or other methods where you must conduct the interviews with participants in other countries – thanks
Zeta, Skype is probably the best way to conduct “over the phone interviews”, here’s a great post I recently wrote on how to conduct research interviews using Skype.
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!
It sure does, thanks Titus.
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
Hey Chris, Since I don’t know the type (mac or pc) and version (windows 10 or Sierra) of operating system you’re going to run on the computer, I’ll give you a few generic options that are likely to work with most operating systems. Windows comes with a built in recorder, search for sound recorder, simple and straightforward to use. If you are looking for more options, try Audacity. It’s a FREE, open source, professional audio editing and recording software. They also have a mac version. Quicktime works very well on Macs – it’s the built in media player. You can… Read more »
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?
Hey Lety. Here’s my 2 cents. Buy a digital recorder. And here are a few digital voice recorders that I recommend for recording interviews. Digital recorders are so easy to use, and you’ll get high quality audio. Having said that, it is possible to record the interviews using a microphone and your Mac. If you decide to go down that route, I suggest you get a USB microphone – I’d recommend the Samson Go Mic, and a software called GarageBand. That’s it. It’s easy enough to set it up for someone who knows their way around a Mac. For additional… Read more »
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.
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!!!
Thank you, excellent advice !!
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.
Yes, location is key. So, did you reschedule the “one” interview or…?
This is insightful!
Thanks for this great topic
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
Edy, I’d recommend you buy the sony icd ux560. Very good recorder, easy to use, compatible with windows 7-10, OS High Sierra et al (here is a recent review of the recorder). The Sony ux 560 does come with a transcription mode(ability to pause and play the recording while you transcribe), but it’s a very inefficient way to transcribe – wouldn’t recommend you try it. Best option is to transfer the files to a PC computer and use the Sound Organizer software (doesn’t work on a mac computer) that comes with the Sony to transcribe the files. Or you can… Read more »
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?
Rebecca, I have no clue. But URL and date accessed should suffice. The main purpose of any referencing is so that other researchers can find/access the source material…
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.
Louise, thanks for getting in touch. If you plan to conduct interviews using a cell phone, I recommend you use a call recording app. If you’re using any other type of phone, use the sony icd-ux560 and the Olympus TP-8 telephone microphone (been testing out this setup and it’s pretty good).
And this is a great post on how to record skype interviews.
All the best.
Louise, I’ve penned a more detailed reply to your question.
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?
Strongly recommend you try us.
Get in touch with our sales team via the contact form and they’ll be more than happy to assist you with your transcription request…