May 6th, 2011
design research
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Transcribing Interviews on Mac, My Way

How do you deal with your voice recording after the interview? When multiple people can be present at the interview, the team could split their roles as an interviewer and a notetaker. Usually this is enough, however, in some cases, because you have to be there on your own or could not take the note properly, you have to return to the voice recordings.

When project affords, I use transcription services. It is high quality, and I do enjoy when someone else does it for me, as I am quickly released from the stress and anxiety, particularly when I have to conduct multiple interviews in consecutive days and have no idea when I could sit down to make sure that I have not missed important elements from the interview. I also like the sense of not missing any information and the fact that textual information provides me for further analysis.

Despite of its exhausting effort, I must say I am sometimes more satisfied with the outcome when I do it myself. The process allows me to relive the interview and reminds me of the discussion vividly and because of the slow progress, it gives me an opportunity to digest the material like a cow digesting the grass, giving me inspiration and somewhat, urge, to move on with the data to the next level. And maybe, this might be totally irrelevant to some of you, but I personally feel happy that someone else is released from this daunting task; for someone who was not present during the actual interview, even if that person is a professional transcriber, it requires a lot of imagination to understand the flow and the context of the conversation in the audio file.

Below are two approaches I take as I conduct interviews to people, mostly in context of home or work place. First solution is to simply bring a laptop to upon the interview and take notes to the transcription software on a laptop (in this case, Mac). Another solution is a classic pen and paper solution, supported by portable IC recorders.

For interviews with a laptop
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Whether recordings come in video or audio, my favorite application on Mac for the task is PearNote. You can have a trial for 30 days otherwise costs $39.99, which I find it reasonable after knowing the feature.

If you are going to record during the interview from a laptop, the simplest way is to simply record directly to this application. Simply open this application and write down as you record audio. What is great about this application (although there must be numbers of applications which do such things), is that it roughly remembers the location of the cursor as you record. The functionality becomes particularly useful after the interview as you can simply write down a few words and then complete them afterwards as you quickly jump to the recordings as you go.

For interviews without a laptop
But to my experience, in most cases, bringing in a laptop to the interview is not an option. In such cases you can bring in a voice recorder. I suppose people have different preferences over which model to use, but for me important criteria are:

  • Stereo recording. It simply makes it easier for you to recognize who is speaking and grasp the circumstance. Either the voice recorder itself comes with an in-built microphone, otherwise, you can buy one of the accessory microphones to enhance the recording.
  • USB plug-in & charge. Once you become accustomed to the connection without cables, it is difficult to live without. Recent models also enable you to charge not only to transfer data: that is also handy as you can make sure you are ready for next recording as you save data onto your laptop.
  • Compatible file format. Some voice recorders record voice in WMV files, which can only be played on Windows. Because I am a Mac user, I naturally prefer MP3 file format.
  • These criteria narrows down your selection of IC recorder fairly quickly.

    • Sony. As of May 2011 I see they have four series depending on its feature set. Models which fill the above criteria are SX and UX series, two higher end models of the four.
    • Olympus VoiceTrek. I am VoiceTrek user myself. Although my model is relatively old and do not fulfill conditions above, I am quite happy with its audio quality and the lasting battery. Looking at the website, the most high-end model unfortunately do not come cable-free. I personally would recommend V-series for interview purpose.
    • After recording the interview, PearNote once again comes handy. All you have to do is import video or audio file and start transcribing on the editor window. Importing files would require time as the file size increases, and naturally, video would require your some patience to start. But otherwise, the application allows me to have easy AV control. If the interviews are recorded in multiple files, you can import them accordingly, by selecting where to insert the file. And let’s not forget the 30-seconds-rewind button, although this is needless to say the most important functionality you seek in transcription software. The button makes me realizes how dense 30-seconds can be, and how much information can fit in such a small time slot.

      (click to jump to

      What I like about this application is that despite of its reasonable set of features, it appears fairly simple. Because in principle the main text editor is a simple text, you can simply copy and paste a part, or if needed, all the text onto other applications such as Microsoft Word.

      Pear Note:
      Sony IC recorder website:
      Olympus IC recorder website:

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