When writing a case study for a client, conducting interviews is one of the most important steps to get the rich and detailed information you need for your story. Done right, these interviews contain many gems ready to showcase how the featured technology or product has helped the end customer in their business.
You want to interview at least one key person on the end-customer side, if possible face to face or otherwise over Skype or telephone. And before that, it’s usually necessary to also conduct one or two pre-interviews with your actual client, the maker of the featured product or technology.
Each of these interviews can easily last an hour and up to 90 minutes. Of course you are going to take notes during the interview too – at least I do. But these serve me more as a reminder during the interview, so I can come back to certain questions or to dig deeper into a specific topic.
Well-written case studies aim to paint a specific picture of how a product or technology has helped the bottom-line of the end-user. But the valuable insights and figures that hopefully come up during the interview are now buried in the audio, as you certainly had no time to write them all down while talking.
I recommend a full transcription instead of only taking notes
But what are you going to do with your notes and the audio file now that you are ready to sit down and write your case study?
I know some copywriters will listen to the audio once or twice while taking notes. I guess that’s fine and it’s certainly the fastest way to proceed. But what if you are in the middle of writing your copy and you remember some small detail your interview partner mentioned that you want to include after all, but it’s not in your notes? Are you going to listen to the full 60 minutes again in order to find it? Or leave that piece of information out because you can’t locate it?
My personal suggestion is to really get a full transcription of the audio. Because let’s face it, nobody wants to listen to 60 or 90 minutes of audio again and again just to find that one detail that would really make a case study outstanding.
Best case scenario: the case study writer also does the transcription
How to go about a full transcription? Your client may not want to pay for your time doing that, because transcription is a very time-consuming process. Just to give you an idea, one minute of audio easily contains 150 words and might require 5 to 7 minutes to transcribe. It can take even longer if several people are talking at the same time, or background noises make it difficult to understand what was said.
If you ask an outside party to do the transcription, the cost will often be lower, but there’s of course a downside to it: the person doing the transcription is not familiar with the topic and wasn’t there during the interview. As a result, the transcription may contain factual errors. Mistakes I found were ranging from wrong figures, negative statements turned into positive ones and vice versa, words that made no sense in the context, and whole passages left out.
So what is the best way to proceed, if you as the case study writer will do the transcription? You’ll want to be as efficient as possible while maintaining the quality of your transcription.
Here is what I used for my case study interviews.
Use your phone or an external device for the recording of interviews
To record the telephone interview with the client, I used the recording function of my IP telephone software, of course with permission from my interview partner. If you use a landline and don’t have a recording function, another option would be to put the call on loudspeakers and use an external recording device. Once the interview is over, you transfer the recorded file onto your computer.
For a face-to-face interview, you can use the recording function of your mobile phone or an external recording device – again, don’t forget make sure you have the permission of your interview partner(s) before you begin.
In my case, I used an iPhone, which comes with its own recording function and worked really well. It is important though to be in a quiet environment, e.g. a separate room; we placed the phone in the middle of the table while speaking.
Once the interview is over, you transfer the recorded file from your phone onto your computer as well.
Otter.ai and easy transcript are efficient transcription helpers
Now that you have the audio file(s), you can start with the transcription.
There are several options available: If the interview language is English, one cool application you can use is otter.ai: You upload your audio recording and it is transcribed for you automatically. While otter.ai works really well with English audio, you still need to ensure that everything has been transcribed correctly of course.
If the language of your interview is not English, but for example German, as in my case, you have to take a more manual approach, but you can still use software to help you speed up the process. I used easy transcript, a tool that is free of charge and can be installed locally.
The most important feature of easy transcript is that it lets you stop and rewind the audio in adjustable, predefined steps, so that you can go back and forth while transcribing without doing that manually. You basically listen to the audio and type the text, and whenever you have to go back, the software helps you with that. The tool also lets you set the speed of the audio replay, which I found very useful.
Easy transcript has many more features that I didn’t use for this simple transcription I needed for writing my case study.
The hard work pays off
So yes, the transcription took me some time, but was it worth it? Absolutely. Not only did I have everything at hand when I needed it, but listening that intently to the interviews again and typing them up myself made me truly digest the content and highlights. As a result, once ready to write, I could dive in and craft a compelling case study with as many specific details as necessary. For me and for my client, this was definitely time well spent.
What’s your opinion?