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.