There are many different types of transcription, and when you work as a transcriber, you might be asked to do any or all of them. Later in your transcription career, you may choose to specialise in one, and this can be useful for your career. It’s important to know about the kinds of transcription so that you can provide the best possible transcript for your client – if it’s important to them to include everything everyone says and you do an intelligent transcription, your transcription might not even be any use to them!
The different kinds of transcription
These are the main types of transcription. Be careful, however: some clients might describe these different types in different ways, using different language or explaining what they want rather than using a particular term.
Phonetic / linguistic transcription
Phonetic or linguistic transcription is a highly specialised form of transcription which records not only the words used but the tone taken by the speakers and the exact overlap when two people speak. It is used when the client need to record what is said and how it’s said, because they need to analyse speech acts by a speaker or the exact nature of the interaction between two or more people.
I have encountered this kind of transcription being requested by linguists or clinical psychologists. In fact, I’ve also seen it in books and academic works about speech and interaction.
In phonetic transcription, you record the pronunciation of the words and the rise and fall of the sentence, overlapping utterances, etc., using specialised notation. Linguistic transcription does everything except the phonetic aspect.
For both kinds of highly specialised transcription (which is so highly specialised that I don’t offer it), you will be expected to use a range of symbols and probably a special template.
Time and pricing This is the most time-consuming type of transcription by far – expect to take twice as long as your normal speed, if not more. However, as a highly specialised type of work, the rate per audio minute is higher.
Video / descriptive transcription / captioning
If you’re doing video transcription of a film which is not simply of one or two people speaking, you may be asked to provide descriptive information or take down the text that appears on the screen. The purpose can be either to provide captions on the film in the same language, or to provide a script for translators to translate into another language.
This can involve two different aspects:
- Recording the wording in any information that appears on the screen: this could be marketing information, information about the speaker’s job and company, wording on diagrams, etc. This is usually requested when you’re producing text that will be translated.
- Recording the movements of people and other noises than speech, e.g. slamming doors, a car pulling up outside. This will usually be requested when your client is captioning the film.
Captioning itself is a specialised art and I refer any true captioning jobs over to a friend and colleague who is experienced with it.
Time and pricing: This again is specialised work and takes extra time to do; for example, the words on the screen might appear at the same time a voiceover is saying something else, so you might need to go over the same tape twice. Therefore there’s an argument that you can charge a little more. Captioning is a specialised art and commands higher rates, but you really need to know what you’re doing.
When we do a verbatim transcription, we record every single the speakers say, but using standard typing and symbols.
This is used by, for example, legal clients, researchers and marketing companies and anyone who wants to get the full flavour of how the person was speaking. Many of my ghost-writing clients also want verbatim transcription so that they can catch the exact way the subject speaks and capture that to write their book to sound as if it’s written by the subject.
Time and pricing: I use standard pricing for these three kinds of transcription from here onwards, as they actually take around the same length of time to do: the time typing errs and ums and repetitions can be used up by thinking about how to rewrite someone’s words!
An edited transcription is a slightly tidied up version of a verbatim transcription. It is usually requested by general interviewers and journalists, and also some academic researchers and writers. Ghost-writers might ask for a small amount of editing just to limit the number of ums they have to remove before they can write up their book.
So the editing can have various levels, but usually means removing ums, ers, and repetitions, as well as any “speech tics” such as repeatedly adding “you know” or “d’you know what I mean”.
You do the editing as you type, as it would be far too time-consuming to type out a verbatim transcription and then go back and edit it. Once you’re used to it, it’s quite quick and easy to do.
Intelligent / smoothed transcription
In this type of transcription, you will typically turn non-standard or non-native English into standard English. You are likely to be altering grammar and even wording, as well as doing the activities involved in an edited transcription.
I have two types of client who ask for this kind of transcription:
- Companies that produce conference or meeting reports – they want standard English throughout, and any speaker who is a non-native English speaker or even one that is a native English speaker but has a very idiosyncratic way of speaking will be smoothed out and standardised.
- Marketing companies that are doing research on a client’s product with its customers, for example. All they want is what the client thinks, straight and simple, to report back to their client, and may well ask me for an intelligent transcription.
Time and pricing: This is quite a specialised variety of transcription, as you need to be very confident in your own ability to write a good, grammatical sentence, to understand what someone has said and rephrase it. As a by-product of the kind of speaker whose words you are smoothing out, you need to be good at understanding non-native English accents. Not everyone is skilled at this, but if you are, it’s really fun to do, as it involves more thought than the other standard varieties of transcription. It does take a little longer than verbatim and edited transcription if the speaker is hard to understand, and I may charge a little more on that basis.
How do I find out what type of transcription my client wants?
If a client wants captioning or linguistic transcription, they will usually know this and provide templates and instructions: they will also check you know how to do this (don’t try to guess if you don’t have any training in this: it won’t work and it will end in tears!) and might give you a test.
To find out whether my client wants verbatim, edited or intelligent transcription, I include this question in my initial questions to the client:
“Do you want the transcription to have a complete record of all ums and ers / to be tidied up of ums and ers and repetitions / to be tidied into standard English and complete sentences where possible?”
This will usually get them to confirm what they want, even if they don’t use the specific terminology.
This article has explained what the types of transcription are and when they might be used, as well as examples of what they look like and some information on their particular challenges. You now know about linguistic transcription, film transcription and captioning, verbatim, edited and intelligent transcription.
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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
How long does transcription take?
My book, Quick Guide to your Career in Transcription is available in print and online