Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – advantages and disadvantages

04 Sep

Have you considered using an app to transcribe interview tapes or dictations, rather than doing it yourself or hiring a transcriber? Today I have a guest post from my friend Mary Ellen about her experience using a transcription app. When she told me about how she’d used one to transcribe the interviews she conducted for a magazine article, I was very interested and asked her to write me something about how it all went.

I’m not saying don’t use apps – but if you have the funds and you want an accurate and quick transcription, it’s worth learning from what she found out.

Recently, I was commissioned to write an article about visually impaired runners. Being inexperienced, I blithely accepted the challenge to interview five runners without realising the effort that is needed in getting all of their interesting stories into text.

Aware of the fact that there are people who transcribe interviews for a living (like my lovely friend Liz), the fact was that my fee was a free copy of the periodical and so the budget did not cover the expense of paying a transcriber. The instructor for the writing course I was taking recommended the transcription app Otter so I put it on iPad and used it while interviewing.

It had occurred to me to transcribe it myself, but as I was also working full-time as a teacher time was at a premium. So, with a deadline looming, I cracked on with the interviews which I loved doing. However, after each one I was soon to realise that the app was not ideal for getting their words into print accurately. Oh the errors! The software, to be fair was able to differentiate between the person I was interviewing and me. Aside from this, the text it transcribed was disjointed and while some words fit, most of the sentences made little sense. After each interview, 
I had to correct the errors in the transcription.

Luckily I had written notes so I knew roughly the quotes I wanted and could then listen to the sections I wanted to quote from. However, this was labour-intensive as I then had to hand write the correct words and then re-type the corrected quotes. Worse still, I was writing the article on the iPad I had recorded the interviews on and so had to hand write the correct words before I typed them. This was frustrating, since I knew if the app had transcribed the words correctly this was a step I could have avoided.

So my first adventure in interviewing for an article was great since I loved talking to interesting runners but really, I could have done without having to retype the faulty automatic transcriptions. It makes me tired just thinking about it now. I am determined to continue pitching ideas to periodicals and hopefully get a paid assignment soon. I would definitely pay for a transcription by a trained professional for an article I was being paid for since it would make better business sense. Not only would it save me time, it would also allow me to take on more work, since I wouldn’t have to spend precious hours transcribing. Given that it took me about about an hour and a half per interview to type out my quotes, that is about 7 and a half hours.

In the end, I think the transcribing app, though free, was a false economy that made the article much more labour-intensive than it had to be. Live and learn!

Mary Ellen Flynn writes about special educational needs and disabilities and running. You can find her at @mareflynn on Twitter.

Other relevant articles on this website

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use


Posted by on September 4, 2020 in Skillset, Transcription


Tags: , ,

5 responses to “Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – advantages and disadvantages

  1. Al Hajny

    September 5, 2020 at 3:01 am

    I’m a retired engineer (but I do enjoy reading things from LibroEditing) so I may have a different take on this.

    Recently I received an eight page handwritten biography from 1943. I told the sender that I would try to transcribe it with Otter, as I had used it before for a newspaper clipping (OCR’s don’t work much at all on them) and another small handwritten article.

    Turns out the only microphone I have was a built-in one in an old laptop, and it put a bad buzz on everything, which didn’t bother Otter at all. I went into a quiet room and read directly into the microphone, carefully, so this is not like an interview situation. Previously I had read into an audio editor (Audacity) and clipped out my mistakes, this time right into Otter, thinking I’d edit text instead to see how that worked out.

    It came out quite well, I think. I had to adjust for sentences and paragraphs as expected. Some of their attempts at surnames were hilarious.

    As an advanced hunt and peck typist, I would have never attempted this transcription, unless I really had to. It saved me a lot of time, effort, and frustration. Happy here.


    • Liz Dexter

      September 5, 2020 at 6:37 am

      This is interesting and thank you so much for sharing your experience. So, useful for one person in a quiet room speaking slowly, and a good use case here for getting something handwritten or printed into editable form in Word.



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