Do you have content that needs to be transcribed but aren’t sure how or where to get transcriptions done? When it comes to general transcriptions, you essentially have the following options to choose from:
Many people first consider option A, particularly if they don’t have a high volume of tasks. But even if you fit into this category, is DIY transcription really worth your time? A file that contains 1 hour of audio or visual content can take up to 6 hours to transcribe. Outsourcing the work is far more likely to lower your total transcription cost.
Automated transcription might seem like the next logical choice, but is it worth the risk? Many automated programs or services are only 30-40% accurate and require substantial editing time by a person. This method is particularly inefficient for content that contains any accents, is jargon-heavy, or uses a high volume of proper nouns.
Perhaps finding a freelance transcriber on sites such as Upwork or Fiverr is your best bet. You will find a wide range of options and competitive transcription rates on freelance sites, but it may be difficult to come across reliable and highly accurate transcribers here, particularly if your content is focused on a certain niche. There are also minimal legal protections for secure transcriptions with freelance transcribers.
In this guide, we will explore the advantages of selecting option D and outsourcing your transcriptions to a service with a group of experienced and specialized transcribers. While options A through C do have some constructive applications, general transcription services offer the most competitive transcription pricing relative to accuracy and security. As you explore this option, feel free to follow along or skip ahead to one of the following sections:
Transcriptions are utilized by people from different fields or industries. Many territories and institutions require transcripts in extending the accessibility of their multimedia to various audiences.
In the US, for example, Section 508 is a federal law that mandates that all electronic and information technology should be as effectively accessible to people with disabilities as to those without. In this vein, with the help of transcriptions, videos and audio recordings are made more accessible and information is effectively distributed and made available to everyone.
Here are more types of organizations or individuals who might need the help of transcription services:
If you’re not very concerned about security, turnaround time, or bulk transcriptions, you may find an independent transcriber who suits your needs. Freelance sites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Elance are good places to look for independent transcribers. All these sites have various ways of rating freelancers that can help guide you in the direction of someone who is qualified to meet your needs.
Freelancers’ transcription prices are the most basic indication of their experience and what you can expect in terms of quality. For instance, on Upwork, rates can range from $8 per hour to over $60 per hour. You can examine how many hours freelance transcribers have worked, their job success rate as determined by previous clients, or narrow your search for particular skills such as bilingual transcriptionists.
If secure file transfer, deletion, and protection are vital to you and/or you have a high volume of transcription work, consider looking for a general transcription service online. A simple Google search for “transcription service” will probably leave you overwhelmed, however. You are more likely to find a service you’re satisfied with if you search for a specific and relevant field. For instance, Google searches for “legal transcriptions,” “marketing research transcriptions,” or “conference call transcriptions” would direct an attorney, market researcher, and corporate professional respectively to the services that would best meet their individual needs.
Marketing researchers conduct phone, web-based, and in-person interviews and focus groups which are more easily reviewed once they have been converted into a text format. Transcriptions facilitate these professionals’ note taking, analysis, and sharing of research findings with colleagues and clients.
Conference calls can be transcribed either to document what was said or for note-taking and reference purposes. Corporate managers and executives also use V2T transcriptions for a variety of purposes. Notes can be dictated after meetings, inspections, trade shows, conferences, or networking events and used for documentation, reference purposes, or keeping colleagues up-to-date.
Professors, doctoral students, and other professionals working in an academic research setting can improve their workflow by getting transcriptions of research interviews, group discussions, lectures, or dictated notes. Transcriptions help streamline data-gathering, data-analysis, writing, and publishing research.
Doctors and medical professionals can use V2T to record patient notes and more efficiently document, reference, and share their observations and treatments with colleagues through transcriptions.
Legal and insurance professionals may use transcriptions in a variety of capacities; dictated notes, recordings of interviews or statements, recorded hearings, phone recordings, and other audio or video files can all be transcribed to assist these professionals with building cases, sharing evidence and arguments with colleagues, and documenting client interactions.
Transcriptions of seminars and webinars can be used as notes for attendees to later reference and highlight. They can also be shared online to make them more widely accessible. Because search engines only index text content, transcripts make seminars and webinars easier to discover online.
Similarly, transcriptions improve podcasts’ search engine optimization. People can find relevant episodes and podcasts more easily via search and hearing impaired individuals can benefit from the text format.
Pastors and preachers can likewise make their audio or video-recorded sermons more visible online and accessible to a wider audience by converting them to transcripts. They can also use transcripts to repurpose their sermon content at retreats, in newsletters, on blogs, or in other published material.
Transcripts of video content can be used for video captioning—subtitling in the same language as the source content. Alternatively, the transcript can be translated to create subtitles in different languages. Once again, these techniques improve both content accessibility and visibility on search engines.
Transcription cleanup is helpful for anyone using voice-to-text software that needs more accurate transcripts. A transcriptionist can remove unnecessary filler words such as “uhh” and “uhm”, false starts, or edit unrecognized or misrecognized words and phrases. Transcription cleanup is particularly helpful for accented English and jargon-heavy content that is likely to be misinterpreted with automated transcription.
Some projects do not require verbatim transcripts and these non-verbatim versions—where grammar is corrected and filler words are removed—may be preferable for easier reading. However, in many applications (e.g., academic research, market research, and legal) a verbatim transcription service is a non-negotiable requirement.
In some cases you may want a smart verbatim transcript where interjections, stutters, false starts, and repeated words are transcribed just as they are said and not removed or formalized. Or you may want a pure verbatim transcript where every utterance and non-word is also included. By keeping conversational fillers such as eh, ah, uh-huh, uhm, hmm, and others, the text preserves every single element of what was spoken.
With reasonably good audio recordings, transcription services will accurately identify speakers and attribute content to the correct speakers. Services can use standard designations (e.g., Moderator/Respondent 1, Defendant/Plaintiff) or identify speakers according to specific titles or names chosen by you. When speaker identification and attribution is poor, transcripts are much less useful.
Timestamps make transcriptions easier to reference and review. They can be placed at specific time intervals (e.g., every minute), at speaker changes, or customized to your needs. Timestamps allow the reader to quickly identify the corresponding time in the audio file, making search and playback of particular sections more efficient.
Audio tagging is a particularly valuable feature that inserts short audio links into your transcripts. These allow you to listen to audio clips of sections that a transcriptionist has marked as [unintelligible], [inaudible], or [crosstalk]. Audio tagging can also be used in sections where a transcriptionist is fairly but not fully confident in what he or she has heard.
A general transcription service should have the flexibility to customize transcriptions to a specific template or your preferred format. Services understand that you may need to adjust their standardized format or wish to create your own standard for all your submissions.
A major reason that transcription services can offer faster turnaround times, greater accuracy, and the highest level of security and confidentiality is a fine-tuned transcription process from upload through storage.
As the client, you have the option of uploading your audio or video files directly to your chosen service’s secure platform via an online account with them. Alternately, you can send links of recorded content to the transcription service from the cloud. You may have files stored on Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, or another location in the cloud. Sending links is also a smart option when content is located on a streaming service such as YouTube or SoundCloud.
One of the reasons V2T has poor rates of accuracy is that many recordings are not clear enough for software to work effectively. Transcription services will process your audio files and clean them so that they are optimized for transcriptionists to accurately hear what was said.
Once an audio file has been optimized, it is assigned to a single transcriptionist. This is considered best practice by transcription services because it guarantees consistency; transcriptionists become familiar with the speakers, accents, and terms that are repeatedly used. In cases where a recording is exceedingly long and must be assigned to multiple transcribers, an editor is in charge of checking the content for consistency. As the client, you can mitigate the possibility of errors on longer files by providing a list of specific terms used in the recording, a copy of a discussion guide, or sending any other clarifying material.
During the transcribing phase, high-quality transcription services help protect your confidentiality and add a layer of security by limiting access to files. Only the transcriptionist or transcription team assigned to your files should be able to open them.
2-Step Editing & Review
Transcription is followed by a 2-step editing process. First, an editor proofreads the transcript and corrects any errors. The transcript then goes to a reviewer who reads it for consistency and correct terminology. The reviewer may do additional research to confirm any text a transcriptionist was not fully confident about.
A final reviewer may then do one last sweep before sending you the transcript. After looking over the transcript yourself, you may want something to be revised or reformatted. Some services will do this step for you for free while others will charge a fee for any subsequent changes.
File Deletion and Data Security
Throughout the process, transcription services protect confidentiality through password-protected files, limiting access to in-progress files only, and requiring their employees to sign oaths of confidentiality. This final portion of the transcription process further protects your data and confidentiality.
Once transcripts are delivered to clients, files will be securely deleted from the transcription management system your service uses. Only employees with the highest levels of security clearance should be able to access transcripts or files that clients have requested to place in secure storage for a set amount of time. Protecting your data both during and after the transcription process is vital.
Despite all the previously listed advantages, your decision to use or not use a service may ultimately come down to one factor: transcription price. If you are driven primarily or exclusively by price, automated transcription services may appear to be an ideal alternative that rests between DIY or full-service transcription service options. Rates can be as low as $6 per hour of recorded audio and in most cases you can save more money with a subscription option if you have a higher volume of work.
However, you will have to ask yourself if cheap transcription services are ultimately the most cost effective option for you. While automated transcription appears cheaper and faster than hiring trained transcriptionists, you will still have to take the time to edit inaccuracies yourself. Alternately, you will need to pay additional money for a service to do transcription cleanup. Many automated transcription services use the same back-end—Google’s Speech API—and it is their subsequent processing of the text that creates such a wide range of quality from acceptable to very poor. Unsurprisingly, higher quality automated output can cost you closer to $75 per recorded minute because cleanup is already embedded in the price. Depending on your needs for accuracy and turnaround time, automated transcription may be neither cheaper nor faster.
Transcription prices at services that use human transcribers vary according to turnaround time, audio quality, and the addition of non-included features. If you are looking for accuracy levels as close to 100% as possible, you can expect to pay between $1.25 to $4.50 per recorded minute for transcriptions. By planning ahead and using best practices for recordings, you can bring the cost down to less than $80 per recorded hour.
Business demands and timelines can change suddenly, however, and you may care most about turnaround time. Many services offer delivery within 24 hours if necessary. Should you have a job that requires more immediate rush delivery, a service like TranscriptionWing offers turnaround times as fast as 4 hours when your files are delivered by 2 p.m.