A few weeks ago, I wrote about setting expectations with service providers and how to make sure you’re giving the person who will potentially be working for you the information they need to be able to quote for you and do the work. I promised then to add some detail about particular kinds of work that I do and what I or another person will need in order to quote and book you in. I’ve already covered what your editor needs to know here, so let’s look at transcribers.
What is transcription?
I’ve covered this in more detail in this article, but basically transcription means taking words that have been spoken and recorded on some kind of audio file and turning them into words typed on a page via a word processor. You can use transcription for many things: here are some examples of the kinds of people I’ve worked with.
- A journalist who has interviewed a celebrity and needs to write an article based on the words on the tape
- A journalist who has set a tape running while two people talk and wants an exact record of that conversation
- A student who has interviewed people about their topic and needs it turned into text to study
- An academic doing a long series of interviews for a book without the time to type them all out
- A psychology student who has taped some practice therapy sessions and needs to analyse them
- A student who has taped their lectures and needs to have them in writing
- A ghostwriter who is producing a book and needs their subject’s voice captured accurately from their interviews in order to write “their” book
- A member of the public recording their parent’s memories to turn into a printed memoir
- A blogger who does podcast interviews and wants to produce extra content for their subscribers in the form of transcripts
- A marketing company who has recorded people being interviewed about a product they’ve tried and needs to provide quotations and feedback to their client
- A marketing company who has recorded interviews with a client from which to produce content for their marketing materials
- A financial company that does monthly dial-in phone calls and needs a record of what they and their clients said
- A translation company hired to produce a printed record of an entire conference
Other common transcription tasks which I don’t provide myself:
- Medical transcription – typing up dictated letters from consultants, etc.
- Legal transcription – typing up records of interviews with defendants, etc.
What does your transcriber need to know in advance?
So there are lots of reasons to use a transcriber: what do they need to know before they can give you a quotation (if you’re a new client) or book you in:
- How long is your audio file (in minutes)? This is really important for setting expectations. It takes me an average of three hours to transcribe one hour of audio. And I’m quite fast. This can change dramatically (I’ve written about that here).
- Have you got the audio ready to send over to me now?
- What is your deadline (see the first point. I have to have enough time to a) type it up at approx. three hours per hour of audio b) take rest breaks, eat and sleep. Yes, a nine-hour tape will theoretically take me 27 hours to type up, but I won’t be doing that continuously!)?
- How many people are speaking on the tape?
- What is the format of the recorded session (e.g. is it an interview with questions from the audience at the end, a focus group, your own thoughts spoken into a microphone)?
- What is the general topic of the session (very important if it’s medical or legal, as some people (e.g. me) don’t have the specialist training to work on such topics)?
- Is there any content that might offend or upset the transcriber (some agencies won’t deal with swear words, apparently; some people don’t like drunk people talking about drugs; I like to be warned of any descriptions of violence or cruelty and might turn extreme content down)
- Are the speakers native English speakers (I specialise in non-native English speakers; some people don’t have experience working with accents and potentially non-standard English)?
- What type of transcription do you require – verbatim, tidied, rewritten (see my post about this here)
- Do you require the transcriber to type the transcription into a template? If so please provide a copy.
- What time-stamping do you require (see below)?
This is a big topic as it can really alter the amount of time it takes to complete a transcription. Time-stamping means inserting the time into the document at prescribed intervals. It helps you to find places in the tape or reference particular parts of the tape easily.
If you need a note of the time entered every 10 or 5 minutes, that can be done without interrupting the flow. That’s why I include these options in my basic pricing, for example.
Other options include time-stamping:
- Every time the interviewer asks a question
- Every time someone new starts speaking
- Every few sentences
- Every time someone starts a new sentence
- Every time someone starts a new clause or part of a sentence
For the last three, it’s vital to explain what you mean and give examples, so that your transcriber produces exactly what you want. If you want to have this extra level of time-stamping, be aware that this will add a lot of time to the process (it’s hard to do it automatically, especially if there’s a template to enter the information into) and will therefore add to the cost.
I work for an agency and we are doing a quotation for a client
This is often the case and that’s fine: you just need to find out all this information from your client in advance. I will ask you to do that anyway, so if you come fully equipped, that process can be done sooner.
Note that all the extra information I discussed for agencies in my original post apply here.
- Let me know this is a quotation not a guaranteed job
- Get the information from your potential client in advance
- Let me know when you will know whether you have succeeded in getting the job
- Let me know whether or not you have succeeded in getting the job
I already work with this transcriber: what do they need to know about my project?
You might already work with a transcriber, in which case you will have their pricing and terms already. However, when someone emails me to let me know they have a job for me, I still need to know the basics:
- How long is the file (in minutes)?
- Do you have it ready now?
- When do you need the transcription back from me?
- Is anything different from usual (tape quality, number of interviewees?)
Why does my transcriber need all this information?
Your transcriber needs this information because without it they can’t give you an accurate and fair price and turnaround quotation.
For example, if you contact me to say you have about an hour of tape that you need time-stamping, I am likely to reserve a three-to-four hour slot in my schedule and quote you my basic price band for a customer of your type.
- If it turns out to be a legal transcription, I can’t do it.
- If it turns out to be 90 minutes, that’s an extra 1.5 hours of working time for me
- If it turns out that you need time-stamping every sentence, that will add about an hour to the time
This is why I ask for all this information up front. The more you give me initially, the more accurately I can let you know a) whether I can do it, b) how much it will cost, c) how long it will take. If you don’t give me this information until a long way down the process, in an extreme case I will have to cancel the job and leave you looking for someone else.
In this article, I’ve discussed what information your transcriber needs before they can prepare a quotation and let you know if they can do a job. Miss out information at this stage, or provide inaccurate information, and you may be disappointed.
I hope you’ve found this useful – do hit the share buttons or comment if you have!
Other useful articles on this blog
Setting expectations with your service provider
Working with an editor 1: Asking for a quote
Working with an editor 2: Negotiating and booking in
How long does transcription take?
What are the types of transcription?
Recording and sending audio files for researchers and journalists