29 November 2011

Top tips for identifying voices in Focus Group Transcription

If you’ve ever worked on focus group transcription you will know how difficult it can be to identify people from their voices. Hardly surprising, you’ve got a bunch of people you’ve never met before and the only way you can identify them is by the sound of their voice.

This can be very tricky especially when you’ve got several of the same gender in a group with similar voices.

Someone once said to me it’s like being a blind person in a room full of strangers. A pretty good analogy I think.

So I asked some colleagues for their top tips for identifying speakers during focus group transcription and these are some things we came up with:

  • A good facilitator of a focus group will ask the participants to introduce themselves at the beginning and say a little about themselves. This is your opportunity to make a voice map. Get yourself a piece of paper and write the names as they are introduced. Imagine they are sitting around a table and place the names around that table as they introduce themselves. 

  • Make notes about each participant. 

  • Make a note of the time in the recording when each participant speaks next to their name on the voice map. This will be useful for checking back to that time to check voice identities. 

  • Can you tell whether the person is on the left or right of the microphone or are they more audible through the left or right headphone? 

  • Have they got an accent or any recognisable features to their voice, e.g. quietly-spoken, loud, nasally, deep or any other describing word you can think of to describe the way they sound? Or perhaps they sound like someone famous like an actor. Write these descriptions on your voice map. (Don’t worry; you can destroy the voice map when you’re finished). 

  • Make notes about each person such as where they work, where they are from, if they've got children, a partner, a dog. This can come in useful later if they mention it and you can check back with the ‘find’ function to make sure you've got the right name for the right voice. 

  • As well as loading the sound file into your transcription software, also load it into Windows Media Player so you can use this if you need to check back and forth to identify voices without losing your place in the transcription software. 

Thanks to Cathy, Suzanne, Pat and Kate for your really helpful tips.

Have you got any tips or techniques you use to help identify voices during focus group transcription? If so we would be really interested to hear them. Please leave your tips in the comment box below. 

If you would like more information or a quote for transcription services take a look at focus group transcription on the KATTS website. 


  1. Catherine Poole says I would love to hear people's tips! I've done quite a few focus groups lately, some with voices that all sounded the same, thus impossible to differentiate, but I find if I focus on the differences in people's accents and intonation, depending on the sound quality on the recording, that always helps.

  2. These are great tips Sarah. I always write little notes to myself with the person's name and characteristics of their voice which makes it so much easier. I have to say, I'm always relieved when the client says they don't need names against specific voices!

  3. Thanks Bridie. I think a lot of transcription experts flinch slightly on being told the voices in a focus group need to be identified. It can certainly add a lot of time to a focus group transcription sorting out who is who.

    Usually I find myself flicking back and to in the recording to listen to voices again. That’s why I found opening the sound file in Windows Media Player as well as my transcription software such a great tip from Pat.

    I’ve been very lucky on a couple of occasions where the focus group facilitators have quietly said the person’s name each time they spoke, this was an enormous help and it would be great if all focus group facilitators did this.

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