The Interviewee

Let’s start with the subject of the interview - the interviewee. Is it yourself? Perhaps it is a grandparent, parent, sibling, or friend? Maybe you seek information for a research project and want to get the
first-hand story of an expert; you may require information, say, about your grandmother, maybe you want to have a memory from someone who knew her. If it is information about a past event or place, perhaps you seek a firsthand account of someone who was actually there. He or she can be old, young, a rebel or saint. The interviewee is the hero of your story, the main character if you like. It is our job to bring life to the main character, to draw out the memories so that character lives on.

Contact us to find out more

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The Pre Interview

At a pre-interview or casual meeting, which usually lasts around 30-45 minutes, we will get to know
a little bit about the interviewee and the scope of the project. We’ll delve into why it is you want to record the memories – is it for a particular research project or a family history project? Or is it a tangible reference for a biography or an autobiography? Maybe it is merely to have some information for posterity – to leave a legacy for the next generations to come. After the initial pre-interview, or meeting, we will draft some questions about the topic or era, or situation (the memory or life story you want to have recorded) so the actual interview will run smoothly, and we cover as much as we can in the time we have available. How long we conduct interviews for and how many are done will depend on the scope. If we are capturing memories from an early age right up to the present – that take on book-like proportions – then it will take considerable time. How long and how often we conduct interviews will depend on your budget as well. We prefer to do interviews in one-to-two hour “blocks”. You might be surprised at how easy it is to talk once you get going, but it is also quite exhausting and best-done bit by bit. It also means we can review after each interview to ensure we don’t go over old ground and tie up loose ends at the next one(s).

The Interview

Interviews are conducted one-on-one, generally in the privacy of your own home, although an alternative venue can be arranged, if that suits the interviewee better. We have found people feel more comfortable in their own surroundings and more amenable to talking, especially about personal, private matters, to someone they have only met briefly. They or you, are, after all, telling a personal story. Interviewees may feel apprehensive and a little vulnerable at first, but it is our job to put them at ease so that once they start on their story, they won’t want to stop! But we don’t just turn up and turn on the recorder and start asking questions. We spend a little bit of time getting to know you - the storyteller.

Once we have set up and tested the recording equipment, we will begin by asking some pre-set questions (which we determined at the pre-interview). The interview, although structured, is also free-flowing. We won’t stop you if you have something relevant or important to say. We are there as a facilitator, to keep you on track and ensure we capture your story as best we can.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to interview and record people’s life stories. It is often an enriching, delightful, and insightful experience for all parties. It can also be traumatic, especially if the interviewee recounts distressing aspects of their past. Please let us know if what you will be telling us might make you uncomfortable or result in distress. If that is the case, then we recommend having a friend or support person sit-in on the interview, or be available after we have finished recording.

On the Record adheres to the guidelines of ethical practice set out by the Oral History Association of Australia. Please ask us for a copy of these guidelines.

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The Interviewer

We ask the right questions and draw out the wonderful, and sometimes not so pleasant memories of someone’s past, and succinctly capture the story our clients wish to tell. It requires integrity and trust, as well as an ability to put the interviewee at ease. Our role is to gather, coax if necessary, all those fantastic stories in the recesses of memory. To get the best outcome, we may need to do preliminary research or groundwork, so we have a sound understanding of the subject matter, and therefore know the right questions to ask during the interview. We are patient, respectful, and empathetic when need be. But we do structured interviews and try not be drawn into a chat-fest!
One of the most important abilities of the interviewer is to listen. We are attentive listeners and know when to interrupt when to remain silent, and when to ask in-depth questions.

There are always two parties to an interview, having a good interviewer is only part of the equation, having a good interviewee is even better!

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It is the part that is the trickiest to get right but is relatively straightforward when the right equipment
is used. There is nothing quite as disappointing as a poorly recorded audio file, especially when being used for transcription of oral history. We use MS Surface Pro notebook for recording with an external USB mounted bi-directional microphone. And to be on the safe side, we use a digital audio recorder as back-up. Even with the most reliable technology things can go wrong. Power failures don’t usually come with pre-warning.

On the Record, files are recorded in WAV (Waveform Audio File format) but can be converted to just about any audio file for quicker downloading and client playback.

There are some do's and don'ts when it comes to audio recording, but we will cover that at the pre-meeting. One thing we won’t do is record interviews in a café or restaurant. As lovely as it sounds to record in a café over a cappuccino, these are almost the worst venues, running a close second to airport departure lounges, for an intimate recorded conversation. It is much better to record the interview in the privacy, and comfort of our client’s home. If the preference is to record elsewhere, then we will happily source an alternative venue.

A good interview session usually is between one to two hours in duration.

We prefer to interview individuals on their own, so that we get a singular dynamic perspective, without the influence of, or interference from another person. The answers people give in a one-on-one situation may be entirely different to ones they give when another person is listening in! Group interviews can be conducted, but be aware that over talk and interruptions, such as coughing or uttering in the background makes it harder to provide a quality recording.
It is often impossible to discern who is speaking in groups of three or more, and speaker identification cannot be guaranteed.

We’ll send a copy of the audio files (the recordings) via our secure online portal – requiring a login and personal password for access, which can be downloaded directly to your computer. We can also provide the file on USB.

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The transcript

A transcript is a typed document of a recording (audio or video) that details what was said by the speakers or participants in an interview. A transcript is not a perfect document, merely because people’s speech is imperfect – we stop, start, stammer, change our minds mid-sentence (or, mid-word), forget where we were, go off track, mumble, sigh, laugh and interrupt. A transcript does not read like a well-edited business document. Transcribing sensible text is often a tricky task that takes a well-trained ear and skilled transcriber.

Most of the transcripts completed by On the Record are smooth verbatim. We transcribe mostly word for word, with minor editing, that is, we remove ums and aahs, listening affirmations (yes, I see, okay, uh-huh), oft-repeated speech mannerisms, such as ‘you know’, and stammering. We also leave out false starts from interviewer and interviewee, where they are irrelevant or without meaning.

False starts that indicate changes of mind are transcribed. Verbatim transcripts capture , significant [pause], , broken sentences --, and speech mannerisms within the transcript. We also spell words correctly, replacing mispronounced words, such as ‘aksed’ or ‘excetera’, with asked and et cetera (for example). ‘cos or ‘cause is transcribed ‘because’.

How long it takes to transcribe a recording depends on the quality of speaker voices and the quality of the audio. On the Record transcribes our audio recordings, so we have an excellent understanding of the context as well as speech recognition. A one-hour recording can take as long as three to ten typing hours. Generally though, with excellent audio, a verbatim file will take somewhere around three to four hours, plus proofing time, to transcribe.

Transcripts are Word.doc or .docx, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, and paragraphing is double-spaced unless specified otherwise. A covering page indicates the date of recording, the name of interviewer and interviewee(s), the place of interview, and the topic. Identification is with speaker initials (or with Q and A, if confidential). Summary page(s) may be included.

Clients are welcome to provide their template.

Click here to view a sample transcript.