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Effective Focus Group Transcription

Tips on conducting effective focus groups. The interviewer should always be in control and think carefully about which type of equipment to invest in.

Qualitative researchers have many research tools and resources at their disposal, depending on client spec, but one of the most effective tried and tested methods of research has to be the focus group. A wide cross-section of the public are invited to discuss various products and services; sharing their opinion and experiences, if applicable, on everything from double-glazing to baby food. Members of the group are from different age groups and socio-economic backgrounds. Because of their very nature, focus groups tend to become chaotic very quickly, with participants talking over each other and the moderator, in an attempt to have their opinion heard.

It is absolutely crucial that the moderator of the group remains in complete control at all times, gently guiding the conversation and allowing each person to speak in turn.  A good moderator will always be aware of the need to capture precisely each person’s speech and will try to keep any over-speaking to an absolute minimum. This is especially important for recording purposes.  Most researchers either video or audio record the group and have the conversation transcribed afterwards.  This is important so that the moderator does not have to make notes throughout and can focus solely on the group.  It is also important so that every word that is said can be captured verbatim later by the person transcribing the tape, clarity is very important for good quality focus group transcription.

This is easier said than done, however, for the transcriptionist to make a good job of transcribing the content, the speakers must be clear and not talking over each other, otherwise the transcript that comes back may not be of much use to anyone! Even the best, most professional transcription companies would have difficulties in transcribing some of the more disordered focus groups. Transcribing is a skilled occupation, requiring very fine listening skills, though even the best transcriber with state of the art equipment can struggle. Things to watch out for would be, as mentioned, participants all speaking at once, also whispering; speech which is barely audible on the tape, and muttering.  A gentle reminder of the respondent to speak a little louder would not go amiss.

Also, the importance of having good quality recording equipment can not be underestimated. Some interviewers make the mistake of using a central microphone, not realising that the speakers who are closest to the mic will be heard above others who are further away. It would be better, instead, to invest in individual microphones for the group, or strategically placed microphones around the table to pick up as much of the conversations as clearly as possible. It is worth remembering that, when using transcription servicesPsychology Articles, the fees will be considerably lower for those audio files which are clear and of good quality.


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Resource: the author is a professional transcriber and proofreader and has worked for many leading transcription companies. Now the owner of

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