Useful interviewing tools

Non-fiction authors often need to interview people. Of course you should record the interview, and electronic recorders are so inexpensive that they are commodities. Besides, most smart phones will record full interviews and let them be downloaded to your computer, where you can play them back.

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What used to frustrate me was finding my way around long recordings. An hour or two of talking takes a long time to skim.

One of the few applications I regretted giving up in my last PC-to-Mac transition, about four years ago, was Microsoft OneNote. And my very favorite thing about OneNote was this: You can tell it to record audio while you take notes. Then, the audio is indexed by your notes.

So you can go back to your notes and click anywhere, and OneNote will play the portion of the audio that was being spoken at the moment you made that note. Very, very, very powerful.

Circus Ponies’ Notebook on the Mac did this, but it also crashed, lost stuff, and corrupted several months worth of notes irretrievable. I don’t trust that product, even though that miserable experience was three years ago.

I just discovered Pear Note from Useful Fruit software, a wonderful audio- and video-note taking app that focuses on this issue. It is beautifully designed and works. I haven’t been using it long enough to remark on its robustness, but it feels very good to me.

Another useful tool–at least for shorter interviews–is the LiveScribe Echo. It’s a pen with a built-in recorder. You take notes on special paper. The pen records (excellent quality) what’s being said, and also captures your writing or drawing. Dock the pen with your PC or Mac, and both the audio and the writing/drawing are now accessible.

Touch the pen to your writing, and it plays back what was being said at the time of that particular piece of writing. That also works on the computer, without the pen.

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The recording is optionally binaural. When you record binaurally in a noisy environment, you can pull every softly spoke word out of the background with ease (when you also listen binaurally, of course).

My only complain about the pen: Battery life. I never get more than just over two hours. I’d carry a second pen for long meetings, but the syncing scheme makes that complicated.

EDIT: Just learned that Word 2004 and 2008 on the Mac, in “Notebook” mode, also do this!

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