Tag Archives: Transcription

Transcription tips: How do I transcribe a tape with multiple voices?

keyboard earphonesAlthough transcribing interviews by journalists or students that only involve two voices is the most common work I do, transcribers often have to work with tapes with more than two voices on them. How do you tell the voices apart so that you can differentiate them on your transcript? This article shares some tips I use to tell different voices on a tape apart.

What’s the problem with transcribing multiple voices?

I was transcribing an interview with two fashion designers today; my client had said it was OK not to differentiate them and the women themselves said that their voices were often confused. How did I tell the voices apart so I could produce a transcript that had the correct words attributed to the correct people?

Although it’s sometimes very easy to tell the people who are talking on a tape apart, for example if they’re a man and a woman, or one has a very strong accent, sometimes it can be difficult. Because it will help my client to know who said what, it’s important for me to try as hard as I can to differentiate the voices and make the transcript as useful as possible.

Before the interview: who are the interviewees?

If you know it’s going to be an interview with more than one participant, you can ask your client to help you from the very beginning.

Either they could ask their interviewees to introduce themselves by name at the beginning of the tape. Even if they are all, for example, young male voices, you can pick up a lot of information from this that will allow you to differentiate between them …

Or they could ask people to introduce themselves every time they make a point (this works in a more slow round table discussion at a conference, for example)

Taking the first option once led to a very sweet tape where the musicians in a band introduced themselves by name to me, mentioning my name, at the start: “Hello Liz, my name’s … and I hope you can understand me”. Aww!

After the interview but before you start typing: checking who is who on the tape

If you didn’t get the option to ask your client to get the interviewees to introduce themselves, it is OK to ask them who is who – for example, who speaks first, who has a voice that is distinctive in some way. They might also mention that, for example, the lead singer talks most and the person who only talks about one track is the drummer.

If you’re working on a discussion at a conference, you might be able to get some information from the conference website. For example, there might be a video up already that time stamps each person’s speech with a note of their name. Play the video, check the speech against your tape, and there you go.

When you’re transcribing: how do you differentiate between the different voices?

If you have no clues about who is who or who says what, there are still ways in which you can differentiate between voices on a tape. It can take time to get used to doing this, but it is useful.

  1. Check the video. This one sounds obvious, but if you have a video to transcribe, do look at it carefully. There may well be captions stating who is speaking, at least for the first time, and you can recognise who is who by their appearance. If there’s the option of a video for a conference or marketing meeting / focus group, do take it, even if it takes longer to download.
  2. Check where people are in space. In the tape I’ve been working on most recently, the speakers were sitting either side of the tape recorder. So, even though their voices were similar, one came from the left and one from the right. Result!
  3. Check the sound level/volume. If one person is sitting further away from the recorder, they will sound fainter.
  4. Check for even slight accents. There may be a non-native-speaker or regional accent on the tape: listen for different vowel sounds or intonation.
  5. Check the ums, ers and filler noises. These really vary across speakers and can make a difference. Person 1 might say “like” constantly, while Person 2 “ums” and “ers”.
  6. Check for clues in the environmental context. Does Jane order food but Sally just have a coffee? The one talking through her dinner is likely to be Jane.
  7. Check for clues in what they say. I often switch off from the content when I’m transcribing, just letting the words come into my ear and out of my fingers. But people will refer to each other by name, and this gives you a good clue to who is who, or reinforces your first thoughts (If the person you think is Pete refers to “Pete”, unless you have several interviewees with the same name, he’s unlikely to actually be Pete!).

I have two other handy hints to add, which I use all the time …

  • Draw a plan or write notes! When I work out who is who, I will write a little diagram out or make notes – “Bella … Jean” for the left/right ones, “Jim: high-pitched. Bob: rumbly and quieter” etc.
  • If you can’t put a name by each participant, at least try to break the text up into paragraphs spoken by different people. You might be able to go back and add the names if Julie says, “As Veronica said earlier, it’s difficult opening a tin of Spam”, for example.

It can be challenging when you find you need to transcribe a tape with more than one or two voices on it. As you have seen, there are things you can do to make this easier before the interview even starts, once you receive it and during the transcription process.

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share! If you are a transcriber and have any tips to share on this topic, please do comment below!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute and not per word?

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers

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Posted by on December 18, 2015 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute, not by the word?

keyboard earphonesWhat is the industry standard and fair way to charge for transcription work? Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute rather than by the typed word? This article explains why and offers a fair and standard pricing structure, too. It’s part of a series, and you can find the other articles in the series and a link to my popular book on the subject at the bottom of this article.

I was working with an agency on presenting an offer for a transcription job to a company. As usual, we provided a per-audio-minute rate. This works well and is the industry standard, as it’s predictable in advance and doesn’t change according to how long it takes the transcriber to do the job (of course, it’s up to the transcriber to check the tape and make sure they’re charging a per-minute rate that’s fair to them and the client. Mine is based on two speakers, a clear tape and non-urgent turnaround time, with fair and transparent add-ons per minute for more speakers / tape issues / urgent turnaround).

In this case, the client wanted a quotation by the number of words typed and/or the time it was going to take me to transcribe the tape. So they wanted to know my words-per-minute typing speed for a standard transcription.

Is there such a thing as a standard transcription speed?

In a word: No. There is no such thing as a standard transcription typing speed.

For a start, the speeds you can calculate from your own documents are not worked out in the same way the typing test people work out your official typing speed. That’s done on the basis of a standard five-letter word plus one space (I worked this out, because I’m like that, and a document that showed as 11,582 words would be 10,459 “standard words” which gave me a typing speed of 50 or 45.5 words per minute).

For another thing, the typing speeds you are measured on as a copy-typer are different from those you can achieve doing audio typing / transcription. I can type at about 70 wpm, but my transcription speeds vary WILDLY, as you can see below. If a client is used to hearing about a good typist typing 70 wpm, are they going to be impressed if we offer them a price based on 35 wpm? Probably not.

Of course, when transcribing, it’s rare to be able to keep up with the speakers without pausing the tape. It’s also rare to be able to hear everything perfectly first time – everyone has to rewind and check. In addition, a good transcriber will fact-check as they go along – company names, people’s names, the names of albums … and this slows things down, too, of course.

In addition, it’s completely impossible to calculate a standard transcription speed as it will vary according to

  • Number of speakers
  • Accents of speakers
  • Speed that the speakers speak
  • Turn-taking versus overlapping speech
  • Background noise
  • Quality of the tape
  • Degree of accuracy / in-transcription editing the client wants (e.g. turning non-standard English into standard English, transcribing every um, er and repetition vs. tidying the tape up slightly to not include ums, ers and repetitions)

I actually went back and checked a few transcriptions that I’d done recently (I note how long jobs take me and could take the word count from the Word document. My words-per-minute varied between 35 wpm and 60 wpm over a range of transcriptions, and that variation was not predictable by the type of client or the type of content (I do mainly journalists’ interviews and corporate work transcribing presentations, videos and conferences).

What is a fair way to charge for transcription?

The fair way to charge for transcription is by the audio minute. This is fair on the transcriber, if they have a range of pricing to suit different situations, and is fair for the client because they will in most cases know the charge up front (an exception to this would only come if they booked in 30 minutes and sent 90 minutes of tape with more speakers than expected and suddenly super urgent: if the client specifies exactly what they have, the transcriber will be able to quote clearly in advance for them).

I charge …

  • A minimum rate per audio minute for up to 2 speakers, speaking clearly on a good quality tape and not urgent (with 24 hours for up to a 60-minute tape)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for each additional speaker
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for a particularly challenging tape quality (checked beforehand and only used if it’s a truly terrible tape or with huge amounts of background noise)
  • A certain amount extra per audio minute for urgent turnaround (under 24 hours for up to 60 minutes; negotiable over that tape length)

This charging structure has worked well for me over my transcription career so far.

If you are asked to provide other kinds of pricing, do bear in mind my points above, and feel free to refer your client to this article to explain further!

If you’ve found this article useful, please click to share!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts in the series:

How do you start a career in transcription?

Why you need a human to do your transcription

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers

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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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My business books are now available in print editions!

In case you’re not following my books blog but are interested in the books on starting and growing a business and specific aspects of business such as networking, social media and transcription as a career (and on lowering your cholesterol, that popular outlier to my oeuvre), I’m pleased to announce that all of my books are now available in print as well as e-book editions. Look – proof:

Business books by Liz Broomfield

You can read all about what I’ve been up to in this blog post.

I’ll be sharing a how-to on creating your print book in Amazon’s CreateSpace and I’ll let followers of this blog know when that happens.


Posted by on April 1, 2015 in Business, Social media, Transcription


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Your transcription career: RSI, ergonomics and keyboards

mechanical keyboardWhen you’re a transcriber, you’re going to end up working at a desk for long periods of time, using a keyboard. This can lead to problems with your posture, and possibly to RSI.

There are loads of different arguments and positions with regard to the ideal workstation position. Here, I’m going to give a summary of what I’ve found to be good myself, and some of the ideas that are around, too. The best thing to do is:

BE AWARE – keep an eye on how you’re sitting, how you’re feeling, and any aches, pains or niggles.

Typing position

This is what suits me: the old-fashioned way I was taught at Pitman typing college back in the early 90s: back straight, knees at 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor or a footrest. Shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90 degrees, belly button a hand-span away from the front of the keyboard, hands hovering OVER the keyboard so your wrists are straight and your fingers drop down onto the keys. Eyes aligned with the top of the monitor.

However, recent research that I’ve seen has suggested that you should lean back in your chair rather than sitting upright. I’m an upright sitter anyway (years of pony riding as a child?) so I find this uncomfortable.

There is also a lot of talk about standing desks, and I have several colleagues who have adopted these to great effect. I did try this and it made my feet hurt and made me type less quickly, so I did abandon it, but it’s worth trying.

A note on laptops: laptop keyboards are really not suitable for large amounts of typing. They are very flat, even if propped up, and can really strain the hands and wrists. If you need to use a laptop as a computer, buy a plug-in keyboard to use in front of it.

Preventing RSI

The best ways to prevent RSI and other aches and pains are …

  • Be aware of any problems when they start
  • Be aware of your position at the desk (are you contorted or twisted? That’s never good)
  • Stretch and refocus every hour at least – move away from the desk, squat, stretch UP, stretch DOWN, walk up and down the stairs, do some squats
  • Exercise regularly outside the house – I find that a good rowing session at the gym helps ease those shoulders
  • If you get any suspicious pains, look at what you’re doing and see if you can change it
  • If you get a recurring pain, go to the doctor sooner rather than later

Your keyboard

Most people use the standard keyboard that came with their PC or Mac. That’s fine for everyday use, but you might find the standard shape uncomfortable to use at high speeds, and the standard keyboard mechanics might slow down your typing. Here are some ideas:

  • Try one of the “ergonomic” split keyboards. They’re split in half, with a hinge, so you can open or close them as you wish.
  • Try using an alternative key assignation. The most famous is “DVORAK” and you can read its Wikipedia entry here. This assigns different letters to different keys, and is supposed to help with RSI issues by balancing how you type (we all know that the standard QWERTY keyboard was designed thus to stop the mechanics of the typewriter getting caught up with each other by putting commonly used pairs of letters in particular positions).
  • Try using a mechanical keyboard. Standard keyboards have a membrane under the keys which transmits the keystrokes to the switches. Their technology means that you have to press each key right down to get the connection and produce the letter. But mechanical keyboards have one individual mechanism and switch per key. You don’t have to press them all the way down to produce the letter. They are much more responsive and you can type more quickly on them, and they apparently last a lot longer – but they are expensive I found a really good article about them here.

I’ve recently invested in a mechanical keyboard. Once I got used to it, it’s very comfortable, and I think that I’m typing more quickly and more accurately, although I’ll only be able to judge when I have some big, long files to transcribe.

A note on keyboard labels: If you type a lot, you will notice that the letter labels wear off your keys, especially the most heavily used ones. This seems fine if you’re a touch typist anyway (and has the added benefit of really annoying anyone else who tries to use your workstation) but is irritating if you have to look down to type in passwords, etc.

The problem arises because most keyboards have the letters and numbers applied via transfer, which can wear off. You can get keyboards where the letter is actually moulded through each key, like a stick of rock. Wear your key down all you like, and the letter will still be there. Something worth looking into if you do wear off the letters on keyboards. You can even get light-up keyboards for when you want to type in the dark …

What’s best for you is best for you

I’d suggest having a play with different types of keyboard at an office or computer supplies shop, especially when it comes to the more expensive mechanical type keyboards. Whatever you feel comfortable with and doesn’t produce any aches or pains after a week of eight-hour days typing is what you should stick with, whether you’re standing on your head or using some kind of odd keyboard that you invented. RSI can ruin your career and your health, so do take it seriously.


You can read more about transcription in these related posts.

Why you need a human to do your transcription

How do you start a career in transcription?

Being a professional transcriber – software to use to help

Ten top tips for transcribers

Or, if you want all of my transcription careers advice in one place, consider investing just £1  or the equivalent in my book on the subject: A Quick Guide to Your Career in Transcription.


Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Business, Transcription


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How to record, transfer and send audio files – for journalists and researchers

keyboard, headphones and penOver the years that I’ve been providing transcription services to journalists and researchers, I’ve found that my clients haven’t always been as au fait as you would expect with recording, downloading and sending audio files of their interviews.

Here are some handy hints that I’ve developed to help my clients – any journalists or researchers who have to record and transcribe interviews should find this information useful.

Recording your interviews

You might be using a dedicated dictation machine or your Smartphone to record your interviews. Whichever you are using, here are some hints to get the best out of your recording:

Set and test the recording levels. You will  probably be able to alter the volume, at very least, and maybe the graphic equaliser. If you’re going to be doing a lot of interviews, it’s worth doing a test session with a friend, and checking the quality of the recording. Then leave the levels set at that point.

  • If the levels are too loud, when it’s played back, it will be distorted, even if the level is turned down on the machine that’s playing it back.
  • If the levels are too quiet, when it’s played back it will be really quiet still. Your transcriber will strain to hear it. Even if they up the volume at your end,  there’s only a certain amount they can do
  • If the bass or treble are set too high, the recording will pick up and amplify all bass or treble noises, such as cars going past or cutlery rattling

You may have some pre-set recording levels in the menus on your recording device. Oddly enough, you need to choose one that reads something like “interview” or “one to one”, rather than “meeting” or “concert” or “outdoors”. This will ensure that the device picks up you and the interviewee, rather than the conversation at the next table or the inexorable whoosh of the cappuccino machine.

  • If an inappropriate pre-set recording level is chosen, your transcriber may be bombarded with cutlery and glassware sounds and other people’s conversations, or just hear voices booming around like they’re in the bottom of a bucket.

Check each time that the recording level is correct – it is not unknown for the buttons on the recording device to get pressed in the journalist’s bag on the way to an interview, leading to a transcriber with ear-strain and a transcription full of gaps!

Transferring your audio files to your computer

Once you’ve saved your interview files, you’re going to need to get them off your recording device and onto your computer.

There are usually two ways to do this:

Option 1 – connect your recording device to your computer using a USB cable

Option 2 – send the file from your recording device to your computer via email

Option 1 is the easiest. If your recording device comes with a USB connection, plug it in to your computer. You will find that the computer treats it as an extra drive, like the C or D drive. Use the file navigator to find the file and copy it across to your computer, ready to send to your transcriber.

Option 2 is more tricky, as most phones will have a limit as to how long a file you can send. You may need to break it up into chunks, or zip the file on your phone / dictation machine first.

There is an Option 3 which you can use if your dictation machine is an analogue one, i.e. uses those little tiny tapes (or big ones!). Go into a silent room. Set a microphone up connected to your computer. SET THE RECORDING LEVELS very carefully and test them. Play the tape and record it digitally. Note: please don’t do this if you can help it. The tape quality will always be affected (think what the tapes were like that you recorded off the radio as a teenager. Exactly). Your Smartphone will have a voice memo app pre-loaded onto it, or you can download one. Do that: go digital. Your transcriber will thank you!

What to do when your iPhone voice memo is too big to email …

This is a topic in itself and one I’ve been asked about time and again.

If you need to transfer an iPhone voice memo to your computer to send to your transcriber, and you try to email it to yourself or them, you will probably get a message telling you that it’s too long to email. Don’t break it up into chunks, do this instead …

Turn on your phone, connect it via USB cable to your computer and open iTunes.

iTunes should have a tab called My iPhone.  Click on the Sync button in this tab if it doesn’t do it automatically. It will then record it into your computer’s memory.

Under Playlists, click on Voice Memos. Find your recording (it will be labelled with its date, which should help you to find it), right-click and choose Get Info. This will tell you where the memo is saved on your computer. Copy it into the file where you want to keep it, and send it to your transcriber.

For other phones, I always recommend connecting the phone to the computer rather than trying to email it.

Sending your audio file to your transcriber

Most audio files are really big and won’t send easily as an email attachment.

The first thing to try is zipping it. Go to the file in your computer’s folders, and right-click. You should be given some kind of option to Zip the file. This makes it smaller, like putting a duvet in one of those vacuum pack bags. Your transcriber will unzip it at their end to work with it.

If this is still too big, there are lots of services online that will transfer your file for you. My two favourites are YouSendIt, now called Hightail, and Wetransfer.  Both of these have free versions – you pay more to get more feedback and send larger files.

You can also use Dropbox, which acts as an extra, secure drive for your computer, living out there in the ‘Cloud’. Sign up (again, free) and copy your files into this folder. Then share it with your transcriber, or send the file so they can download it.

This article has hopefully helped to make technical matters clearer for journalists and researchers who want to record interviews and transcribe them themselves, or have them transcribed by a professional transcriber.

Related posts:

More on transcription and careers in transcription starting here.

Why you need a human being to do your transcription

My book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Found this useful? Do share using the buttons below, and/or send me a message via the comments box below!


Posted by on December 18, 2013 in Transcription



Ten top tips for transcribers

keyboard, headphones and penI’ve been advising a colleague on how to develop the transcription side of her business recently, and these tips and hints came out as being the most useful for her – so I’m sharing them with you, too. Do comment if you find these helpful or have more to share!

1. Make sure that you can do it!
Before you launch into your first transcription project, check that you can do it first! This includes:
  • Being able to touch type
  • Being able to type quickly
  • Having the requisite technology

You can have a look at this post to check you’re suited for the work, and this one about the technology to use. Transcription jobs often come in at short notice and have tight turnarounds, so it really pays to be prepared.

2. Make sure that your ergonomics are tip-top

Transcription is the most demanding of my tasks. Typically, you’re pounding a keyboard for several hours at a time, typing as fast as you can while straining to hear the tape. Here are some of the things I and my colleagues have learned:

  • Use a proper keyboard with little legs, not a laptop keyboard, even if it’s propped up
  • Make sure that your chair is adjusted so that you can sit straight, looking slightly down at the screen, with your forearms sloping slightly down to your hands and your hands arched over the keys
  • Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor with comfortable bends to the knees; if not, put a box or footrest in front of your chair
  • Make sure that the cable on your headphones is long enough to reach your computer without you having to bend at all sideways or twist your head
  • Make sure that your headphones or earphones are comfortable
  • Take regular breaks to stand up, stretch, give your ears a rest and refocus your eyes – once an hour at very least (I do some squats and calf raises every hour as I seem to store tension in my legs when I am transcribing)

3. Get software to manage your transcriptions

Professional transcription software allows you to control the tape using function keys or even a pedal (like in the old days of audio typing) and will make you much quicker at doing the work. More information on software here – make sure you get used to it first!

4. Make sure that you understand what the client wants

You wouldn’t believe how many choices are involved when it comes to providing transcriptions for clients. Here are just some of them:

  • Do they want  you to type out exactly what the speakers say, take out the ums and ers but retain the rest, polish up the sentences so they make grammatical sense, or make non-native English speakers sound like native English speakers?
  • If you are transcribing an interview, do they want you to include the full questions or just notes?
  • If the person who they are interviewing says that something is off the record, do they want you to stop typing, or take it down and mark it up as off the record?
  • Do they want you to include and mark pauses, and how?
  • How do they want you to mark unclear sections or words that you can’t understand but can type a phonetic version?
  • Do they want you to timestamp the document (i.e insert 05:00, 10:00 etc. at the relevant points in the document), and how often, if at all?
  • How do they want you to differentiate between the speakers? (this could range from first initial, surname, in bold, with a colon to putting the questions in italics with no names)
  • Do they want US or UK spelling? Oxford -z- spellings or “British English” -s- spellings?
  • Do they have a special font or line spacing they wish you to use?
  • Do they have a template that they wish you to use?

I have experienced all of these variations in my own transcription work. You may be working in a team where it’s vital to have all transcriptions looking the same, or the client might just work with the transcriptions in a particular way.

I have a standard list of questions I send out to clients if they don’t specify, so that I can make sure that I’m doing what they want.

5. If it is anything but a general text, ask for a list of terminology

When I work with music journalists, I always ask for the band name so I can check the album and song titles and band members’ names – I feel more professional if I get that right for them.

If I’m working with a particular kind of client and there seem to be a lot of specific terms, I ask for a list of terms, or send my own list and ask them to check if they’re correct, especially if it’s a long-term project. Again, this makes you look professional and avoids the client having to do any extra work to correct your interpretation of terms.

Of course, it helps if you know a bit about the topic to start with. I always turn down medical and legal transcription jobs because they’re very specialised, and I like to think that I know about music, but I did have to ask a client if I’d heard “Bowel Bass” correctly (I had!).

6. Get to grips with Word’s auto complete function

Auto complete can save you keystrokes and time by allowing you to type a few letters or a word fragment and have it expand into a word or phrase. I’ve written an introduction to this topic with more detail on personalising it, if you want to read up on this. Being able to type “tyv” and have “thank you very much” appear in your document, or having your “beh” turn into “behaviourally” is key to cutting down the time taken to type out that tape.

7. Monitor how long it takes you to do an hour or whatever, on average

Once you’ve got into transcribing, monitor how long it takes you to transcribe an hour of tape, on average. This will help you to predict workflows and give your client an estimate of how long you will take to complete their work.

However, do note two things here:

  • Time taken can vary considerably (see Point 8 below) so always under-promise and over-deliver. My average rates vary from 2 hours typing to 4 hours typing for one hour of tape, although my absolute average is around 3 hours typing for every hour of tape
  • Don’t forget to build in breaks – if I’m sent 3 hours of tape at midday, it will not take me until 9pm!

8. Be aware of the variables

I’ve known people who are new to transcribing to get upset when a tape takes them a long time. It might be just that the job is difficult or has some factors that would make it take longer for ANYONE to complete.. It can really vary – here are some reasons why a tape could take longer to type than average:

  • It’s a new client or project – I always speed up as I get used to the client’s voices and terminology and the way the conversations go
  • The sound quality is poor, leaving you to have to rewind and go over much more than usual
  • The job involves taking down every single word the speakers say and they have a lot of repeated words and / or talk very quickly
  • The speakers have heavy accents
  • There are more than two speakers and they are difficult to differentiate (that’s why I charge more for more than two speakers)

As I said in Point 7 – try to have a listen to the tape before you make any promises on timing, and always under-promise and over-deliver!

9. Be a perfectionist but not too much of a perfectionist

It’s brilliant if you take great care over your transcription and try to make it all as good as you can. It’s not brilliant if you spend hours labouring over every tiny section of tape, trying to make everything out or frantically Googling for obscure titles of album tracks:

  • Sometimes the tape will be unclear and no one could hear it – mark it as unclear, pop the tape timing down and move on
  • Sometimes people talk over each other and you can’t hear what one or both of them is saying – mark that and pop the tape timing down and move on
  • Sometimes people use words or talk about people whose names you cannot make out – have a go at sticking down what you can hear, mark with a question mark and the tape timing and move on

I know that when I’ve read some of the stories that my journalist clients have written, I’ve thought – “Oh, THAT’s what they said!” and I’m very experienced at this work. The clients don’t mind, as long as you get most of it and tell them about what you can’t make out. Often they will be quality checked by someone else, or the journalist will know much more about the band than you do, or they might have a little giggle at a mis-hearing and move on from it. The world will not end, and I don’t believe that anyone can transcribe a whole long tape completely perfectly.

10. Ask for feedback

Each time that I complete the first job for a new client, I ask them if there is anything that I could do differently that would help them to work with the text I produce. And if I don’t get any feedback at all from a corporate client (some of them only feed back when there is an error, which I find a bit challenging!), I will ask them for it. If you really didn’t grasp a section of tape or fear you mis-heard an important term and it’s going to come up again, ask for feedback.

And if the feedback is good AND the client says it’s OK to use it, pop it on your references page!

Thanks to Laura Ripper for helping me to put together this list. Was it helpful? Is there anything else that I haven’t mentioned that would have helped you when you were a new transcriber?

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts on this blog:


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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Business, Transcription


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Working as a professional transcriber

In  previous posts I’ve talked about why it’s necessary for humans (rather than machines) to do transcription work and how to work out if this is a career for you. This article goes into more detail about the technology you can use to help you, and how to produce a professional transcription that will bring you repeat and recommended business.

Technology for transcription work

The first thing you need is a word-processing package, of course. I use Microsoft Word. Then you need some software to manage your recordings. I use NCH ExpressScribe. It’s also a good idea to sign up to (the free options of) services like Dropbox and YouSendIt, and to be aware of these services, as the audio files people will want to send you might well be very large – too large to send by email attachment.

Why do I need to use transcription software?

When I mention transcription software, some people think I sneakily use special software to do the actual transcription! Not at all! What ExpressScribe does is allow me to

a) manage my transcriptions – I load all the ones I have to do into the software and I can see how long they are and keep my place in them. As I complete them, I delete them from the software (they’ll still be in my files on my PC, though).

b) manage aspects of the tape like the loudness and speed of the tape (if people are talking really slowly, I can speed the tape up slightly and get through it more quickly)

c) start, stop, rewind and fast forward the tapes using the function keys on my keyboard (or any other keys I choose to assign – I messed around with this a bit and did move one function key that I kept hitting by accident, causing the tape to slow to 50% speed!). You can connect the software to a USB foot pedal if you need to save keyboard movements and use your feet to stop and start the tape.

NCH express scribe

How can Word help me to transcribe faster?

The way Word can really help  you is through the use of shortcuts or AutoCorrects. I have written two articles about these previously (what it is and how to find it and how to use it to speed up your typing).

Basically, you need to get good at:

  • Identifying commonly used words or phrases, especially
    • longer sets of words or phrases
    • words that you stumble over typing, however short
  • Assigning keyboard shortcuts to them that you can remember when you’re typing

In this way, you can type something like:

v imp to give envl pons to all ppl in the group to save the env.

and have Word turn that into:

Very important to give environmental responsibility to people in the group to save the environment.

I’ve saved almost 50% of the keystrokes needed to type that sentence there, which does build up over the course of 20 pages of transcription!

How can people send me big audio files to transcribe?

Your clients have four options for sending you their audio files. You’ll just be sending nice, neat Word documents back, but their files might be enormous!

  1. An ftp server – this looks scary but is used by some of the larger corporates I work with. They will place the audio files on their own server. You will log in and download the file onto your own computer, then either upload the transcription or email it to your contact.
  2. Zipping – this will work for small files but a huge .wav file will still be too large for this method. Your client should be able to right click on the file in their own Windows Explorer (or Mac equivalent) and choose “Send to zip file”. This will make the file small enough to send. You will need to unzip it at your end – download the file, right click in Windows Explorer and choose “Extract”.
  3. File sharing – a file and folder sharing service like Dropbox will allow your client to save their file in a special folder that can be shared with your email address. Dropbox acts like another folder on your system, and means that you can access the file and save it into your transcription software from the shared folder. You need to have Dropbox installed yourself before you do this but you can get a free version.
  4. Download services – there are millions of these around, but I usually recommend as I’ve found that easy to use and reliable. Here, the client uploads their file to the service, enters your email address and the service emails you a link from which to download the document. Watch out, as many of these have a time limit, so get it downloaded as soon as you know it’s there! I have an account with YouSendIt for sending large files, but most of these do not require you to have an account, and the client should be able to send up to a certain file size for free.

All of these options have advantages and disadvantages. Many of my clients know what to use, but some need advising, so it’s worth being aware of the options. For options 1 and 4, it’s worth waiting a little while from when the client tells you they’re uploading the file, as it can take a while to get up onto the server and back to you, so if you’re too eager to download, you might end up with half a file!

Producing a professional transcription

I have many regular transcription clients and they recommend me on to their friends and colleagues at a remarkable rate, too. I’ve asked them what differentiates me from other transcribers, and it comes down to this:

  • I check the client’s requirements up front
  • I produce an extremely accurate transcription
  • I produce a transcription with time stamps and other features to make it easy for the client to work with the text

of course, I’m super-reliable and always set appropriate expectations, but that’s part of being a good freelancer, not specific to transcription.

Establishing client requirements

It’s important to establish what the client wants out of their transcription right from the start. I will always send my clients a list of questions. These include:

  • Do  you want time stamping every 5 or 10 minutes, or at all?
  • Do you want me to record every single word, pause, um and er / smooth out the worst bits / rewrite the text in clear English?
  • Do you want American or English spellings?
  • Do you need your questions written out in full or just in note form (for journalists and researchers)
  • Do you have any other requirements – questions in Italics, speakers’ names in a particular format (for conferences) etc.
  • Do you have a list of conference attendees and session / paper titles (for conferences)

Once I’ve established these, I will make a note of them and obey them!

Being accurate

Your client is paying you to take down what’s on the audio file for them. Often they won’t be able to check the whole thing. I believe it’s important to:

  • Listen carefully and take down the words as accurately as you can
  • Look up band names, place names, company names and other things they mention
  • If you can’t hear something, don’t guess – make a note (see below)
  • Read through the transcription when you’ve completed it
  • Run a spell check over the document when you’ve finished

I do also warn my clients that any company names, brands, album titles etc. may not be accurate and should be checked. You can’t check everything. But you can make sure you spell that village in Somerset or Kazakhstan correctly (if you can’t type Kazakhstan quickly, create a shortcut!).

Making your transcription as professional as possible

It’s relatively easy to provide a professional transcription that will please and impress your client.

  • Give the transcription a sensible title and file name
  • Type it out clearly using a clear font and a fairly large size
  • If people are talking in great slabs of text, divide it up into paragraphs at natural breaks
  • Mark time stamps at 5 or 10 minute intervals – new line, 05:00, new line, carry on the text (with no capital if it’s half way through a sentence)
  • Mark places you can’t hear like this: insert a note in square brackets with the time of the unclear section: [unclear 32:44] (unless the client requests a different format – I have one who prefers <unclear 32:44>
  • If the audio file is 50 minutes long and there’s a 5 minute gap while the interviewee goes off to answer the phone, or it finishes at 45:30 and then all you can hear is your journalist putting the phone down, sighing and typing, only charge for the audio you transcribed. It’s a nice and ethical touch.

In this post I’ve talked about the technology and details that will help  you to be a popular and professional transcriber. I hope this has been helpful – do let me know if it has, or if you have any other advice for a new transcriber!

If you want to learn more about Transcription as a career, buy my book: A Quick Guide to Transcription as a Career – buy from Amazon UK or visit the book’s web page for worldwide links and news.

Related posts on this blog:

Why transcribers need to be humans and not machines

So you want a career in transcription?

Ten top tips for transcribers

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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Business, Jobs, New skills, Transcription, Word


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