8 Tips For Preparing Audio Scripts For Recording

tips-for-preparing-scriptWhat does it take to turn a storyboard into a script that a narrator can easily read? Whether you are recording at a studio or in-house, whether you are using a professional voice over artist or a coerced colleague, there are certain conventions that make the task easier.

Here are tips for formatting and organizing your script that apply to all types of recording—at work, home, and in professional studios. Some are known conventions and some are simply what I have discovered through trial and error.

1. Double-check for Errors

Every script has errors. It could be incorrect content or a misuse of grammar. Each error you discover during the recording session slows things down and stops the narrator’s momentum. If the error requires contacting the SME, that can be a real headache.

Therefore, go over that script with a thorough eye for detail and read it aloud. Ask someone else to review it for errors too. Making real-time corrections during a recording are not uncommon, but the less this happens, the smoother your recording will go.

2. Indicate Emphasized Words

I remember the first time I was at a recording for a script that I wrote, I was surprised that the voice talent didn’t always intonate sentences the way I intended. In hindsight, this seems obvious. How could someone else, who is not even familiar with the content, read a script with the same voice modulation I had in my mind.

That’s when I started to add emphasis in every script. Typically this is done through text formatting, such as using bold or italicized text. To avoid confusion, use one method for the entire script and communicate this convention to your narrator in a prerecording briefing.

3. Provide Pronunciation for Little Known Terms

Using terms that are unique to a field can slow down a recording. If you use medical, technical or other specialized vocabularies, find a way to communicate the pronunciation of these words and acronyms in the script. Point these out to the narrator before recording begins.

For example, you can write out the phonetic spelling of a term in brackets, so the narrator can quickly see the pronunciation. If the script uses acronyms, indicate whether the term should be pronounced by its letters or as a word. For example, when the letters alone are used, I write it with dashes, as in U-S-A.

4. Indicate Where You Need Pauses

If you allow for pauses in the script, it is easier to accommodate graphical changes on the screen, such as animations and progressive reveals. You can add an ellipsis (three dots) to the script or write the word “pause” in brackets when you need that extra half-second of silence.

Let the narrator know that at these points, you would like a pause of “one beat.” That nearly imperceptible moment of silence will help you synchronize the audio and visuals seamlessly during course production.

5. Insert Page Numbers

During a recording at a professional studio, one of my team members created a script without  page numbers. The audio engineer teased him about this the whole time. That was enough to ensure I always remember page numbers. They are essential because during a live recording because everyone present will need to reference them. Also, be sure the page numbers are located in a very obvious place, such as bottom center.

6. Avoid Page Turns

When using a paper version of a script (which I find many professional voiceover artists prefer), be sure that he or she will not need to turn the page in the middle of a sentence or paragraph. The sound of paper turning usually gets picked up by the mic. Actually, this is a good tip even if the narrator is reading the script online. The time it takes to find and press the Page Down key can ruin the sound byte.

7. Name Your Audio Files

When recording for an eLearning course, I like to prepare the script so that the audio segment for each screen is associated with a unique file name. Devise a naming strategy that makes sense in your production environment. For example, m2s3.wav indicates this is the audio file you will be using in module 2-slide 3.

Therefore, my scripts have two columns—a narrow one on the left and a wider one on the right. The column on the left indicates the name of the audio file; the column on the right holds the script. This ensures that everything is well-defined for the person (even if it’s you) doing the postproduction work of breaking up the audio into smaller files.

8. Make it Easy for the Voice Talent

Regardless of whether the script is read online or from a print-out, double-space the text and use an easy to read typeface so the script is highly legible. The physical attributes of the script should be transparent to the narrating process.

Always provide the script to your narrator a few days before the recording session. Professionals always ask for a script ahead of time, so it makes sense to give it to your colleagues too. Not only will the recording have fewer retakes, your narrator will feel more comfortable and prepared.

Do you have any tips for preparing a script for production? Comment below.

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  1. Dave Ferguson says

    Two tips for when you’re recording your own voice:

    First, give each clip a label, especially if you’re doing your own editing.

    “Clip 1, take 1.” Or even better, “Clip 5, Frequency of Task, take 2.” Makes it a LOT easier to figure out which clip you’re working with later on.

    Second, if you make a mistake in mid-recording but can just start over, clap your hands near the mike, pause a beat, and restart. You don’t have to renumber the take, and if you’re doing the editing, the sharp sound of the clap is really easy to find in your audio software.

    “Clip 5, Frequency of Ticks… oops… [CLAP} … Clip 5, Frequency of Task. “

  2. Taruna Goel says

    Those are great tips Connie!

    Here are my two tips:

    1) Provide context:

    I like to provide some context of the script/content to the recording artist. Telling them the ‘story’ is important as it provides the much needed background knowledge. This context can include some salient characteristics of the main characters in the script (like their mood or position/stake in the conversation).

    I have found that once the artists know the characters as people, there is a new found empathy. This empathy by the recording artists makes the story and characters more realistic and therefore the learning experience more enriching.

    2) Instructions for recording alternate versions:

    Even after including notes about emphasis, pauses and pronunciations, a script may not be as ear-friendly as we would like it to be. Also, technical editing can make the script sound ‘unnatural’. An issue like this coming up in beta review is disastrous for the budget and the timelines.

    To avoid this trap, I encourage my audio artists to record alternate versions of sentences or paragraphs when they feel uncomfortable about the flow of a particular sentence or conversation. I tell them to say it in a way that feels most natural to them even if it is different from my notes. I have often used these alternate version recordings in my courses and it is money saved when these alternate versions are recorded while the bulk of recording is being done!

  3. Barb Roland says

    I like to use Word formatting to make sure that a paragraph stays together on the page. Follow this with a plain return without formatting between each paragraph.

    I leave a few seconds between takes and give myself audio cues. Normally, I record without stopping and cut up each paragraph in post production.

    I learned from my colleagues to write on the script so I know which “take” to use. A hash mark or two works great. And a “carrot” indicates a pickup line in the middle of the paragraph.

    These are all exellent tips!! Thank you!

  4. Connie Malamed says

    Excellent tips, Barb. I too write production notes on the script. I think I’ll add that as a bonus tip. Thanks. And yes, I think it’s typical to record without stopping, but I may have the narrator read the file name, which helps in post work.

  5. Connie Malamed says

    Hi Taruna,
    Everything you have said is completely true and I do both of things. Preparing the talent is so important. It almost seems like I need another article for “during the recording.” Thanks for your excellent input!

  6. Linda Smith says

    I attach the script to the course so the learner will have it available. I also make notes to the voice-over talent in the script but use a different font. For example, my script is typed in Calibri normal and my audio notes are in Times New Roman Italic. I put in pronunciation tips, pauses, etc. in the audio notes. Once I have sent the script for voice-over, I use the MS Word replace command to replace all Times New Roman Italic font with Times New Roman Italic Hidden font. This way I can easily hide the notes when I create the .pdf of the script, yet still have them for reference later.

  7. Connie Malamed says

    Great tips, Linda. I like the idea of using a different font for your narrator notes and then hiding it. Also, giving the learner the script outside of the lesson is an interesting idea. Good contributions.


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