Category Archives: Transcription

Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 2: automatic closed-captioning

There has been a lot of talk lately about automatic transcription, or AI (artificial intelligence) transcription. This includes speech-to-text software and means that a transcription of your voice or recording is made automatically rather than by a human. I’ve recently experienced working with clients who use voice-to-text software and receiving an automatic closed-captioning file from a video meeting platform, and I’m taking the opportunity to share my experiences with both. Last time, I looked at features to look out for with speech-to-text software and this time I’m talking about automatic closed-captioning.

Using closed-captioning to create live subtitles and texts

A client for whom I’m transcribing focus groups (so discussion groups of several people with one facilitator) had one group that included a participant living with a hearing impairment. They turned on the closed-captioning feature in the video meeting platform they were using, so that the participant could read what the other participants were saying. As it recorded everyone’s speech in real time and then generated a text afterwards, my client sent it to me to see if I’d find it useful.

As I’ve been thinking about offering an automatic transcription editing service next to my full transcription service, I was really interested in seeing how this worked.

What does real-time closed-captioning or automatic transcription look like?

In my opinion, automatic real-time closed-captioning is not there yet in terms of generating a good, usable transcription. Here are the downfalls I noticed in the tape (you’ll notice some of these if you turn on the subtitles on the news, etc. – which are very rarely produced by humans these days).

  • Time stamps were added every few seconds which is great for some clients but my focus group transcription clients usually only want it every ten minutes.
  • There was no differentiation of speakers, although new utterances were usually started on a new line (this could be a new utterance by a new speaker or a new utterance by the same speaker).
  • If two people spoke at once the speech was jumbled.
  • Even captioning of the slowest, clearest and most “accentless” (Received Pronunciation) speaker was full of errors including homophones, missed words and repeated words.
  • If someone had an accent (regional or English as an additional language), it pretty well failed to cope at all.
  • If someone spoke quickly, it pretty well failed to cope at all.
  • Ums and ers were not recorded, which is understandable in terms of a participant needing to know what the others were saying, but is not useful when your client has requested a full verbatim transcription (see my article on the types of transcription here).

In summary, the transcription produced for this session by the closed-captioning software would not have been of any use to the researcher without extensive editing.

I have also had a look at the automatic transcription on various video playing platforms such as YouTube and the same issues have appeared there, too.

Is it quicker to edit an automatically generated transcription than to transcribe it from scratch?

With this particular client, while the participants varied over the groups, I had transcribed a fair few groups and had an idea of how many audio minutes I was transcribing per hour. It’s also worth noting that I’m experienced in editing other people’s transcriptions, as I used to be the go-to transcriber for tricky sessions at a big worldwide conference.

Bearing those points in mind, using the closed-caption transcript and editing it to the same standard as one I had done from scratch took exactly the same time as transcribing it from scratch would have taken! There was less actual straight typing, but more mouse work and clicking, so I don’t think it saved me much risk of RSI, either.

I will keep looking at this issue over the next few years, as automatic closed-captioning and the transcripts it produces are bound to improve with improved technology and voice recognition.

In this article, I have discussed the use of automatic closed-captioning and whether it can be used to generate transcripts that replace or can be used as a basis for human transcription.

If you have experience of using automatic closed-captioning, particularly in languages other than English, please comment with anything else you’ve noticed that it would be useful for people to know.

Other relevant articles on this website

Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 1: voice-to-text software

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – pros and cons

What are the types of transcription?

What information does my transcriber need?

How to be a good transcription customer

How long does transcription take?

Recording and sending audio files for researchers and journalists

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use


Posted by on November 22, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 1: voice-to-text software

There’s a lot of talk about automatic transcription, or AI (artificial intelligence) transcription, also known as voice-to-text software. This means that a transcription of your voice or recording is made automatically rather than with human input. What’s the state-of-art of this at the moment? I’ve recently experienced working with both a client using voice-to-text software to generate text that I edit and receiving an automatic closed-captioning file from a video meeting platform, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my experiences with both. This article looks at speech-to-text software and the next one will examine closed-captioning.

Using voice-to-text software to create text documents

A couple of my regular editing clients use voice-to-text software to create documents which they send to me for me to edit. I have also worked with a number of students who, because they live with a visual impairment or a physical issue (for example, RSI that makes typing painful and difficult), have used this method to generate sometimes very long documents.

What common features of voice-to-text-generated documents can an editor look out for?

Here’s what I’ve noticed about what documents look like when the client is using voice-to-text software

  • The outcome is a lot more accurate when using more sophisticated voice-to-text software that can “learn” the speaker’s voice, rather than out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all software.
  • The outcome is also a lot more accurate and able to cope with “standard” (Received Pronunciation) slowly and clearly spoken English (in this case; I’m guessing it’s the same with other languages but would love to know for sure). The software can struggle with accents and fast speakers.
  • The most common issues with voice-to-text software are
    • Homophones – the software doesn’t know which spelling the speaker wants to use out of two alternatives that sound the same – bear/bare, which/witch, etc. This is really common and can lead to some very odd sentences and potential embarrassing issues. Note that these can’t be spotted by having the software read the text back to the speaker, as the words sound the same.
    • Added words – the software registers two separate words when there’s only one: “repeated distractions” becomes “repeat and distractions”.
    • Missed words and parts of words – if the speaker speaks quickly and skips over short words or swallows the middle of words, they might not register in the software: “paddle boards” becomes “pad boards”; “fruit and nut” becomes “fruited nut” or “fruit nut”.
    • Missed punctuation – this usually has to be spoken in in a set formula by the speaker. If they don’t do that, the punctuation won’t be there.

These issues are quite different from the usual ones met in editing people’s texts, whether their English is their first or additional language. Just as particular Language 1s will bleed through into writers’ other languages (as an L1 English speaker, I am likely to put French and Spanish sentences into an incorrect English word order, for example), dictated English has its own little oddities and patterns that you need to look out for.

How can the speaker and editor combat issues with speech-to-text documents?

There are a few things the speaker and then the editor can do to mitigate these issues.

  • The speaker could speak slowly and clearly, enunciating all the words and their endings and putting the punctuation in as required.
  • If there is an option to “teach” the software the speaker’s voice, I recommend doing that for optimum results.
  • Always have someone check a speech-to-text-generated text.
  • The speaker/client could let the editor know that they’ve used such software, so the editor can be on high alert for the features listed above (remember that Spellcheck won’t necessarily notice correctly spelled homophones).
  • The editor could watch for oddly worded sentences as well as the grammar / spelling / punctuation issues they usually look out for.

In this article, I have discussed voice-to-text software that is sometimes used to generate documents, what the client/speaker can do to make sure the text they generate is as accurate as possible and what the editor of such documents can look out for.

If you have experience of using speech-to-text software, particularly in languages other than English, please comment with anything else you’ve noticed that it would be useful for people to know.

A friend talks about this issue with regard to an interview she conducted – read about her experience in this guest post.

Next time, I’ll talk about my experience of automatic closed-captioning on a video meeting platform.

Other relevant articles on this website

Automatic transcription – some real-world case studies 2: automatic closed-captioning (coming soon!)

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – pros and cons

What are the types of transcription?

What information does my transcriber need?

How to be a good transcription customer

How long does transcription take?

Recording and sending audio files for researchers and journalists

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use


Posted by on November 8, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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How do I prepare my focus group for transcription?

If you’re running focus groups for your research, information-gathering or market research, it’s likely you will want to record them and get them transcribed. How do you get a transcript with the voices labelled? How do you work with your transcriber to get the best possible transcript output that is most useful for you?

Top tips for running your focus group if it’s going to be transcribed

When you get a focus group transcribed, you probably want your transcriber to differentiate the voices, adding the participants’ names to their utterances. Most transcribers are really good at telling different voices apart and labelling the speakers. However, you can help them by following these good practices:

  • If you are recording a focus group in real life (as opposed to on a video chat), place your recorder in the middle of the group or table so that everyone can be heard equally.
  • Ask the speakers to introduce themselves at the start of the session, with their name and a brief sentence – this can be about anything but helps your transcriber to match names to voices.
  • Encourage speakers not to speak over each other, but to allow the current speaker to finish before they speak – if it’s in real life, the transcriber will hear two overlapping voices; if it’s a video call, the first speaker will typically be silenced by the second one.
  • Every now and then, confirm who is about to speak or has just spoken – “What do you think, Jim?” “Thank you for that contribution, Sophie”. This really helps your transcriber to check they are still matching the correct voices to the names.
  • When you send the recording to your transcriber, include a list of the speakers’ names – it’s also useful to note if one comes in part way through the recording. Then they can double-check who they’re listening out for.

Sending your recording to your transcriber

When you send your recording to your transcriber, do make sure that you …

  • Include a list of the participants’ names, as mentioned above
  • Specify what kind of transcription you need (verbatim, tidied up, etc. – see this article for more on the types of transcription). Transcriptions of focus groups often need to be absolutely verbatim, ums and ers and everything, and you need to tell your transcriber this.
  • Provide any other basic information your transcriber might need – see this article for more detail

In this article, I’ve explained how you can run your focus group, then record and send it, in the best possible way in order to get a transcription that’s exactly what you need. Please ask any questions in the comments, or comment and share if you find this useful.

Other relevant articles on this website

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – pros and cons

What are the types of transcription?

What information does my transcriber need?

How to be a good transcription customer

How long does transcription take?

Recording and sending audio files for researchers and journalists

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 27, 2021 in Skillset, Transcription


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

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


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Transcription work for ghost writers – hints and tips

Ghost writers often use transcribers to turn their taped interviews into the basic material for their book. How can we transcribers help them best?

What is a ghost writer?

A ghost writer is someone who writes a book or other materials on behalf of someone else. Celebrity autobiographies are often written in this way – just take a look at the title page for a “with John Smith” note or in the acknowledgements (some don’t acknowledge using a ghost writer). People use ghost writers when they’re not confident of their own writing ability or don’t have time to write a book. A good ghost writer will capture the style and “voice” of the celebrity so it really does sound like it has been written by the celebrity themselves (this is where we can help).

How does the ghost writing process work?

Typically, the writer will spend a set amount of time interviewing the subject. This might be done in an office, in the subject’s home or out and about with them. Sometimes, the subject will submit their own tapes they’ve dictated themselves.

The writer will send the transcriber the tapes to transcribe. These are typically quite long, as they want to get the value out of each session. They might go through the subject’s life chronologically, they might not. Sometimes they will interview other people in the subject’s life, and sometimes there will be a two-person interview. Often there will be a few interviews after the initial rush where the writer seeks to clear up issues or confusions.

Timescales can sometimes lag a bit here, as you’re working with your client, the writer, and their client, the subject, so there’s lots of room for delays. Expect these, but also tight turnaround times when the tapes do come in.

Special features of ghost-written projects

Ghost-written projects have some interesting and unique features which it’s worth knowing. When in doubt, remember that you’re there to a) help the writer, b) help represent the subject in their own words. I’m assuming you will check what the writer needs in terms of time stamping, etc., at the outset.

  • Retain the voice of the subject. The book is going to be written in “their words”, therefore the writer needs you to take down exactly what they say and how they say it. Once you’ve checked whether they want you to include all ums and ers, make sure you copy the way the subject speaks as precisely as you can. Get known for this and you will be recommended on from writer to writer (this happened to me).
  • Don’t mock the subject. If they have a very Yorkshire accent, for example, don’t go overboard with taking down their accent, all oop t’mill this and that. It will look like mockery and the writer will have to undo it all.
  • Do your research and keep a glossary. If it’s a musician, look up their band member, album and song titles. A film star, have a list of their roles and co-stars handy. I take down notes in a glossary and ask my writer if there’s something that comes up a lot that I can’t make out. They will still fact-check but make it as easy for them as possible.
  • Admit when you don’t know. Use [unclear 01:45] for something you can’t hear at all, and [? 10.45] for something you’re not sure of. Then the writer knows they need to check the tape and clarify what their subject said. If you plough on regardless, guessing what they’ve said, the writer will assume that’s what they said and might not have time to check every word.
  • Set expectations – after a few tapes you know how long an hour of this person’s voice takes you to transcribe. Don’t be a hero or offer to work all night: set sensible expectations.
  • Be discreet. You might well have to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) – I have a standard one I send out anyway. Don’t tell everyone whose book you’re working on.

It’s fun working on ghost-written projects and seeing “your” book on the shelf in a few months’ time. Some ghost writers are given acknowledgements of their own and you might see your own name in there! But usually they are pretty hidden and so you’re completely hidden: no, that’s probably not fair, but that’s how it goes.

I hope you found these tips for working with ghost writers helpful.

Other transcription articles on this blog

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


Posted by on February 27, 2019 in Transcription



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



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.

Leave a comment

Posted by on January 16, 2019 in Transcription



What do I actually do? What do you actually do? Who does an editor or transcriber work for?

Taking a well-earned coffee break this week, my friend Jen challenged me to draw a Venn Diagram of what I actually do, for whom. I accepted the challenge.

Libroediting services venn diagram

Especially if you have a portfolio business, where you offer more than one service, can you draw out your customer base and services? How many attempts do you have to make (four for me!)? Can you see any patterns?


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What information does my transcriber need?

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



Posted by on November 8, 2017 in Business, Transcription


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What are the types of transcription?

What are the types of transcription?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Verbatim transcription

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!

Edited transcription

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

If you’ve found this article useful, please do comment below – I always love to hear from my readers! There are sharing buttons there, too, so you can share this on whatever social media platforms you use. Thank you!

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


Posted by on March 22, 2017 in Business, Transcription, Word


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