Monthly Archives: January 2019

How to make your transcriber happy

Many journalists, academics, writers and ghost writers use professional transcribers like me to type up their tapes of interviews into Word documents. A professional transcriber can usually type faster than average, and by outsourcing to someone like me the writer can save their own time (typically it takes me 3 hours to transcribe 1 hour of tape; it often takes non-professional typists a lot longer).

If you are working with a transcriber, here are some top tips to make that transcriber happy. Because you want to keep your transcriber happy, right?

1. Book in advance

If your transcriber is good, they probably get booked up in advance. You’re likely not to be their only customer and they have to juggle their workload. For example, in the autumn of 2018 I was working on one academic project with 50 x 1 hour interviews, two book projects with ghost writers, and various other one-off journalist pieces. If you came to me with an hour’s worth of tape you needed turning around in no time at all, I might well have said no. And I hate disappointing people, so I try not to say no.

If you’re dealing with me and you have interviews booked in but not confirmed, it’s fine to say to me, “I’ve got an interview in two weeks’ time, can I reserve your time to type it up?” Far better to do that and then move or cancel it (I can cope) than to come to me in two weeks’ time with an urgent job.

2. Set expectations and realistic deadlines

Remembering that it takes your transcriber 3 ish hours to transcribe an hour of tape, even they can’t work miracles and deliver a three-hour tape overnight (commercial transcription agencies might be able to do that: if they outsource to people in different time zones, fair enough, but I’d watch the quality). It’s fine to send three tapes and ask your transcriber to deliver them as they do them, though. And if it is urgent, let us know up front as far in advance as possible. In addition, if things changes, as they often do, let your transcriber know so they can tweak their schedule.

3. Be clear on your requirements

Some of my clients like time-stamping by each of their questions, some none. Some like their words to be in CAPITALS, some in italics. Let your transcriber know your preferences – I send a little questionnaire to new clients for them to fill in. You’d be surprised how many options there are!

4. Tell your transcriber who the interviewee is

This helps with research and gives your transcriber a clue as to what the topic will be.

5. Be sensitive to your transcriber’s sensitivities

I have some set text I send to my prospective clients asking them to let me know if there are any vivid descriptions of violence or animal cruelty on their tapes. However, I really don’t mind drink and drug references or swearing (apparently a lot of the commercial transcription agencies don’t tolerate bad language which is bad news for music journalists!). So my clients very kindly let me know if there’s stuff I’m going to find hard to work with, and allow me to skip parts of tapes with extreme content (this has only happened once in my whole career so far).

It’s worth checking in with your transcriber if there is some iffy content and working out how to handle it with them, and they will appreciate it.

6. Be precise on the length of the tape you have

Again, bearing in mind that 3 x tape length time for transcribing, if you tell your transcriber you’ve got an hour’s tape and it’s actually an hour and ten minutes, that’s an extra half-hour to find in my schedule. Which is sometimes very tricky to find! You know how long your tape is, so it’s best to be precise, then it’s easier to set appropriate deadlines.

7. Make the best recording you can

It’s always going to be harder to hear someone else rather than yourself. You might be able to make out your questions and the fascinating answers through the shrieking of fellow diners and banging of cutlery; your transcriber won’t find it so easy.

Try to set your recorder to “conversation” or “interview” rather than “meeting” or “general” if you can, put it close to the subject and try to choose a quiet place to do it in the first place.

Do listen to the recording before sending it off; we all appreciate a warning if the tape quality isn’t that great or the background noise is high, and your transcriber might need to allot more time to the project.

8. If you have more than one interviewee, differentiate them

If you’re expecting your transcriber to label different people’s speech with their name, there are a few tricks you can use:

  • if you have a couple of people round a table, have one to the left and one to the right
  • always have all interviewees identify themselves for the tape
  • try to mention their names now and then as you ask them a question; that way the transcriber knows they’ve got them the right way around
  • with a round table discussion or focus group, try to have the attendees say their name before talking
  • another idea with round tables and focus groups is to film them, then it’s clearer who is speaking

9. If there’s specific vocabulary or jargon, give your transcriber a source

I pride myself on getting terms right but sometimes it’s hard to tell. If your book is about a particular art form or you know your interviewees are going to be using for example hospital jargon, send your transcriber a list of commonly used but odd terms or point them to a glossary or resource.

10. Give your transcriber feedback

I always like to check I’m doing it right, as what I want to do is produce the best and most useful possible transcription for my client. And if there’s a word or name I’ve had to mark as unclear several times, I find it really useful to know what that word was, especially for an on-going project.

Also do confirm you’ve received the transcription: some of them are very long and can get lost in the ether, and it’s always good to know it has actually arrived.

I hope these tips will help people using a transcriber to understand what their transcriber needs and how they can help the relationship and the project run smoothly.



Posted by on January 30, 2019 in Transcription



Upmost or utmost?

In this series of “Troublesome Pairs” I discuss words which people get easily confused, or where it’s not clear what the difference is between them – if indeed there is a difference. Some of these I find in my work, some out in the world at large, and some are suggested to me by friends, family and colleagues (do get in touch if you have a good one for me that I haven’t written about yet!). Some of the words are homophones (words that sound the same), some just seem to get people confused.

So today we’re looking at upmost and utmost. Words with just one letter different can be easily confused – even more so when they sound very similar. Do you confuse upmost and utmost? Here’s the difference.

Upmost is also spelled uppermost, and that might be the best one to stick with if you do mix these two words up. Uppermost means at the top, the highest in importance or rank or level.

Utmost means most extreme, the greatest amount or extent of something. That doesn’t neccessarily mean the highest of something like upmost.

“I did my utmost in training to appear on the upmost reaches of the chart showing who could lift the heaviest weight.”

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!

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Posted by on January 23, 2019 in Troublesome pairs, Writing



How to make your transcription clients happy

Whether you’re new to transcription (read this article if you’re considering becoming a transcriber) or getting into a transcription career, these hints and tips I’ve gathered from my own work might just help you do the best job you can.

Set appropriate expectations – of yourself and for your clients

Work out how fast you transcribe (e.g. it might take you on average three hours to transcribe one hour of tape). Add some wiggle room. Remember to account for breaks. Now you know you can’t promise to transcribe a three-hour tape in six hours – or even nine – you’ll probably need ten to eleven and that includes sleep time, too. Use this to set expectations first of all of yourself, and then for your clients.

Explain up front what you will and won’t do

This should be part of any business arrangement, but there are some special features of transcription work that we need to pay attention to:

  • Do you offer specialised transcription such as legal or medical transcription (which you either need training on an official course for or you need to have been a medical or legal secretary (with the relevant courses under your belt))? If not, you need to say so and you really should turn down such work until you’re qualified to do it. At best, it will take you longer than usual to do the work; at worst you will make mistakes that might be costly to the client.
  • Do you have things you can’t handle hearing and typing about? That’s fine, but it’s better to be honest about that upfront rather than returning a transcription full of gaps or not doing it at all. I state in my initial terms and conditions that I’m not happy dealing with graphic accounts of violence and/or animal cruelty, but I don’t mind swearing and drug and alcohol references (some commercial transcription agencies won’t accept tapes with swearing, I’ve discovered. Doesn’t bother me). This leads my lovely clients to warn me about off-colour jokes or apologise on tape for using the big swears, which is lovely, but they do also warn me of bad stuff, or check I’m OK to do it.

Ask exactly what your client needs then do it

Some clients know exactly what they want: their questions in bold with a time stamp by each question. They want their questions in note form but the interviewee’s responses must be written out verbatim. They might even have a template for you to fill in (this is more common with commercial clients).

When I’m arranging to work with a client for the first time, I send them a mini questionnaire collecting their preferences. I then note this down on their record and keep a note of it and stick with that from then on, unless they ask me to change.

Other clients don’t know what they want and trust you to know. If that’s the case, I have a standard set of conventions (them in italics, time stamping every 10 minutes, interviewee’s speech tidied up of ums and ers but not too sanitised) which I lay out for them and check is OK.

Don’t surprise your client with extra charges

If your client needs you to turn round a transcription in 24 hours and you charge extra for urgent work, you need to tell them as soon as you are aware it’s urgent. That way they know what the maximum price will be and can agree that with anyone they’re claiming expenses from, etc.

Do the work on time

I know this is obvious but I did once recommend a fellow transcriber for a job who then didn’t return the work on time, which was really embarrassing for me (I tend to only recommend people I know or who come highly recommended now). I usually set a longer deadline than I need, just in case.

Do a bit of research

You don’t have to have everything picture-perfect and no client I’ve had has ever castigated me for missing looking up something, but a bit of looking up to clarify song titles, colleagues or book titles shows you’re going the extra mile and makes your client’s job that bit easier. It’s also interesting to find out a bit about your subject, and it shows your client you care.

When in doubt, don’t guess

If you can’t make something out on a tape or you’re not certain you’ve got it right, annotate it however you wish to with a time-stamp so you don’t convey guessed information to your client. They will likely know what their interviewee said or be able to piece it together and none of my clients have minded having to check the odd unclear bit of tape.

I hope this has given you a few pointers on how to do a good job for your transcription clients. If you have other suggestions, please do add a comment below!

Other transcription articles on this blog

I’ve written lots and lots of articles on transcription: here’s a list of all of them.

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Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Transcription



Constantly or consistently?

What’s the difference between constantly and consistently? Find out below …

Constant means remaining the same but its primary meaning is happening continuously, and it also has a metaphorical meaning of dependable and faithful. So to do something constantly means to do it all the time, as well as remaining constant or the same (and also doing it dependably).

Consistent means done in the same way over a long period of time, including an attribute of fairness and accuracy. It also means being compatible with (as in x was consistent with y). So doing something consistently means doing it in the same way over a long period of time, which does echo the secondary sense of constantly, but constantly also includes a sense of doing it continuously, which consistently doesn’t.

For example, I am constantly taking photos that I put up on social media, every day if not more; I consistently post a books of the year round-up on the first of January every year.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


Posted by on January 9, 2019 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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