Even with Business Friend’s many years of transcription experience, transcribing focus groups, or a recording with three or more speakers, are more challenging and time consuming than transcribing, for example, a one-to-one interview. 

Business Friend has been transcribing focus groups since 2003, and during this time, we have come across both good quality and poor quality recordings.  Therefore, we know that the quality of a recording can certainly affect the quality of its transcript!

We want our clients’ transcripts to be as accurate as possible, as they are likely to form an important part of their research.  Therefore, we have put together some potential solutions for the five main issues we have come across:

IssuePotential solution
The participants sound very similar.
Ask each participant to introduce themselves at the beginning of the recording.  Ideally, this is not just their name, as the longer the participant speaks during their introduction, the longer the transcriber has to familiarise themselves with each person’s accent and tone.  For example, you could them to say their name, where they were born, and where they live now. Or their name, their position in the company and how long they have worked there.If you do not require individual identification for your focus group, this step is not necessary as we can just identify between participant and facilitator in the transcript, rather than participant initials.  We offer discounted rates for focus groups where individual identification is not required as this is one of the time-consuming factors when transcribing multiple speaker recordings.
There can be more background noise.Try to ensure the focus group is held in a quiet room where you are unlikely to be interrupted.  Ideally, the room should be large enough to accommodate everyone comfortably, but not so large that there are echoes and the participants have to sit far away from the recording device.If there are refreshments, we recommend these are served in breaks, rather than on an ad-hoc basis.  People getting out of their chairs to pour drinks during a discussion, or leaning over the table to reach for a glass, can cause a lot of background noise and make it difficult to hear what is being said. 
The participants can over talk each other.Participants often talk over each other in their eagerness to share their experience or opinion.  Because of this, focus groups can sometimes get very animated and can be a challenge for the facilitator to control!  Therefore, we recommend discussing this potential issue before the focus group commences by covering the following points:Explain how everyone’s view is important, and, therefore, it is vital that everything said is captured clearly.Ask the participants to respect each other and not to interrupt.  Confirm that whilst everyone will have the opportunity to talk, this should be in a controlled manner, otherwise what they are saying may not be heard by the transcriber and, therefore, not analysed in the research.As the facilitator, you may remind everyone of these during the focus group discussion!
The recording device is not placed in the correct position.Ensure the recording device is centrally placed, rather than at one end of the table and away from some of the participants or the facilitator.It should also be in position where it is unlikely to be knocked, and not where background noise could be nearby.  For example, it shouldn’t be placed close to where water will be poured for drinks while people are talking.
The recording device is not suitable for recording focus groups.Whilst phone recordings have progressed significantly over recent years and can produce good quality audio for dictation and interviews, it is best to use professional recording equipment wherever possible, especially for focus groups.  Digital recording equipment, such as that provided by Olympus, Sony and Philips, can record in formats that are easier for the transcriber to work with during the transcription process, for example, .wav, .mp3, .wma and .dss.  It is also worth considering the size of the recording, as .wav can take a long time to upload to your transcription service provider, whereas .mp3 will be a lot quicker.Whilst it is not necessary, it would be beneficial if your recording device has an external microphone that can be centrally placed, or can be passed around the speakers.  Individual microphones for each participant would be even better, but again, certainly not necessary! 

Once your focus group is recorded, it is time to securely transfer the audio to your transcription service provider!  Most professional transcription companies will have a secure file transfer service for their clients to use, although there are free services such as Dropbox or WeTransfer you may prefer.

Another thing to consider when sending your focus group recording for transcription, is if participant identification is required, it is useful for your transcriber to have a list of participant names to ensure they are spelt correctly when they are transcribing the introductions.  We also recommend providing a short summary of the subject matter. Professional transcribers will research project specific terms, jargon and place names to produce a high quality transcript, therefore, to have some background information on the topic being discussed will help this process and ensure minimal inaudibles or phonetic guesses in your transcript.

We hope you have found this article useful.  If you have any questions about Business Friend’s Focus Group Transcription service, please Contact Us to discuss your requirements.  We would be delighted to assist you with your project!