Glossaries for transcription: What, why, when and how?

18 May
Glossaries for transcription: What, why, when and how?

It’s sometimes useful for and sometimes imposed upon a transcriber to use a glossary. What is a glossary, why would you use one, when should you use one and how do you use one?

What is a transcription glossary?

In my opinion, a good transcriber is an accurate transcriber. They look things up rather than sticking down the first thing they (think they) hear. When I’m transcribing, I always have some kind of reference resource open, whether that’s Google, the subject’s website, Wikipedia or something specific like discogs for looking up band and album information.

A glossary is a list of technical or subject-specific words or phrases which appear regularly in (usually a long series of) transcriptions. It helps you to avoid having to look things up more than once. The glossary acts as a reference for you, so you need only look up, say, the place the subject was born or the names of her children once, note them down, then have them to hand when they crop up again. It’s like a style sheet in many ways.

You might also be given a glossary as part of a corporate transcription project – this will happen where (usually) a company requires you to use certain specific terminology or acronyms in your transcription. I always ask for one of these at the start of a big corporate project, as it saves annoying the company by (for example), typing Park Run throughout the transcription rather than parkrun [that’s a completely invented example; I’ve never transcribed anything about parkrun].

Why should I use a transcription glossary?

As I said above, a good transcriber will look stuff up. If you’ve got a series of transcriptions, for example a set of interviews for a ghostwriter, a set of lectures about a particular topic or a set of tester interviews for a cosmetics company, it makes sense to keep a note of specific or technical terms and phrases. For example, if someone’s made a number of YouTube films, having a list of them is easier than looking it up each time.

Using the glossary will save time, as instead of looking up your subject’s children’s names three times, you’ll look it up once, note it down once, then cast your eyes over your glossary next time.

Of course, as I also mention above, you might be asked to use a glossary (or word list, or list of terms) by your client – usually a corporate client.

When should I use a transcription glossary?

There’s no point in putting together a glossary for a one-off interview or other transcription job. These are some examples of when I’ve used glossaries [these are disguised due to NDAs]

  • working for a ghostwriter writing a book about an entertainer – place of birth, film-making colleagues and YouTube video titles were all checked and written down
  • working for a marketing agency testing lipsticks with a panel – lipstick colour names, technical terms to do with lipsticks and general cosmetics terms
  • working for a student researching attitudes to perfumes – technical perfume terms, companies making perfumes and perfume names
  • working for a financial company taking down lectures and discussions, I was given a list of technical terms and acronyms to use

How do I put together a transcription glossary?

I have a Word document open alongside the one in which I’m typing my transcription. As I look up a name or term, I pop it on the list. I will usually divide up the list by people, places, albums, etc.

I then keep both documents open, so I can see the glossary as I’m typing, which means I can just flick my eyes across to the glossary when the interviewee says “Mytholmroyd”, I know how to spell it or indeed what they’re saying [apologies to anyone from there].

This article has explained what a transcription glossary is and when, why and how you might find one useful in your work as a transcriber.

If you’ve found this article useful, please do comment below – I always love to hear from my readers! There are sharing buttons there, too, so you can share this on whatever social media platforms you use. Thank you!

Other useful articles on this blog

How do you start a career in transcription? – are you suited for it?

The professional transcriber – the technology you need

10 top tips for transcribers – what every new transcriber needs to know

Why do you need human transcribers, anyway? – I explain why!

Keyboards, ergonomics and RSI – the risks and keeping safe

Transcribing multiple voices – hints to make it easier

Why do transcribers charge by the audio minute? – explains it all

My book, Quick Guide to your Career in Transcription is available in print and online


Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Business, Transcription, Word


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2 responses to “Glossaries for transcription: What, why, when and how?

  1. Sally-Anne Watson Kane

    May 19, 2016 at 4:44 am

    I have been transcribing for years and use (virtually) exactly the same methods. Well said.


    • Liz Dexter

      May 19, 2016 at 8:18 am

      Thank you, glad to hear I am on the right track, as I’m not part of a large community of transcribers and have developed my methods as I’ve gone along. You have some great blogs posts, too.



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