11 Secrets from an Experienced Interviewer
One of the unwritten rules of writing a book, an article, or
any sort of material that requires the writer to interview
experts or people "in the know" is to tape record the
conversation. Whether the recording occurs via phone or in
person is irrelevant. This rule is a good one.
This leads to the following questions:
* Do you transcribe every tape?
* Who owns the transcription?
The answer to these questions does have an "it depends" so
let me explain. It depends on your state's or countries
laws on the tape recording issue. It depends on the how
much you're getting paid for the project. It depends on
whether you can use the interview notes more than once. It
depends whether you are using interviewing as an escape -- a
procrastination technique because you enjoy that interview
process more than the writing.
Okay, we got the "it depends" listed and out of the way.
Let me present a few of my secrets -- the things I have
learned as a writer and teacher over the last many years.
Secret 1: Just because you tape recorded the conversation
doesn't mean you have to transcribe the tape. The tape is a
great safety net for reviews.
Secret 2: You don't need to transcribe the whole tape.
Many times all you need are the important parts.
Secret 3: Tapes are cheap, buy plenty instead of reusing,
and keep them for a few years.
Secret 4: Create a tape master finding system. Microsoft
Excel is a great way to track with a numbering system.
Include the year somewhere in the numbering. Color coding
adds visual effectiveness. Large colored dots are available
at most office supply stores.
Secret 5: The storage container and where you store the
tapes is important as to how long they last. Heat and
moisture destroys the quality. Find small, thin, plastic
containers with a tight seal with a one-layer depth.
Secret 6: Don't place a magnet anywhere near them. So keep
the paperclip magnet and the phone (many have magnets in
them) away from the tapes. Palm Pilots too.
Secret 7: Use rubber bands to consolidate tapes for a
similar project or topic but be careful not to wrap them
vertically over the open part of the tape. Wrap
horizontally. After a few years rubber bands dry out and
Secret 8: Delegate the task, it always cheaper either in
dollars or patience. Place an ad at the local college and
offer $30 to $45 per tape. I have found several through the
Business Centers at high schools and community centers. If
the interview is rare or precious, hire a professional
service and pay the higher rate. Have at least 10 ways you
can get a tape transcribed reasonably and fast at your
disposal. Start with the Yellow Pages. Rate them on
fastest and quickest. Consider using FedEx to deliver and
pick up the tapes, for safety, and to save time. I never
recommend sending the tape out of your country to save
Secret 9: Don't sign a contract, ever, if they have a
clause in it, "All notes, tapes, materials and transcripts
must be turned over to the publisher." Cross it out and
don't agree to this. If the publisher is paying for the
transcription and your time separately for the interview,
they are yours.
Secret 10: Prepare the questions ahead of time and stick to
them. Preparation saves time all around. If you are not
sure what questions to ask, ask the publisher what questions
do they want to have answered when they give you the
assignment. It is a good procedure to provide the questions
before hand to the interviewee. This helps them prepare.
If they read from their typed notes then ask questions
differently or drift with one question then return. They
will usually stop reading, think, and not return to their
Secret 11: If you are a fast typist you will most likely be
able to type and capture 75% of the conversation. Learn to
leave out repetitious information and use a keyboard
shorthand. After the call, review the notes immediately and
expand the shorthand. If you use a common shortcut, use
"find and replace" in your word processor as a time saver.
Also explain that you will be typing their response so that
the sound of the keyboard doesn't distract from the
conversation. If you prefer, you can even ask for
permission: "I hope you don't mind, I'm a fast typist so I
prefer to type my notes as we talk." It's like asking for
permission but not quite.
(C) Copyright 2005, Catherine Franz. All rights reserved.
Catherine Franz is a writer and author of over 1800
published articles, books, and on various subjects. For