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A Primer on General Transcription Service Outsourcing

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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:

  1. Do the transcription yourself
  2. Use a software or web-based automated transcription program or service
  3. Find a freelance transcriber
  4. Find a transcription service

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:

Who Needs Transcription Services?

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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:

  1.  Researchers
    1. Individual researchers - Individuals studying particular topics or subjects may need supplementary documentation from their notes or recordings. For example, authors researching on subjects they are writing about can instead record their conversations with their interviewees instead of hurriedly writing down notes while in conversation. Individuals who might be overwhelmed with their research material can turn to transcription services who can transcribe the bulk of their notes and recordings accurately and on their desired turnaround. With transcripts on-hand, individual researchers can easily review their notes and compilation of references.
    2. Academic researchers - Research in the academia heavily relies on facts and accurate sources. Transcripts are useful in thesis or dissertation studies by students of all levels, however, transcribing can be a burden especially to students who would rather move forward with their thesis or dissertation research. Recordings of interviews involving subject experts, respondents, and all other participants in an academic study are transcribed for documentation and analysis. Transcription services are helpful in accurately transcribing the possibly overwhelming amount of materials that a student, scholar, or professor can analyze and refer back to when writing their academic research.
    3. Market researchers - Market researchers usually conduct a large volume of interviews that may involve few to large numbers of people. Because of this, simply note-taking might be insufficient when reviewing the number of discussions that has taken place. Market researchers then turn to transcription services so that they have accurate transcripts of each interview that they can then review and analyze. With accurate transcriptions, they can attribute key opinions to particular individuals they have interviewed and derive better insights for their market research on a brand or service.
  2. Speakers/lecturers - Students, trainees, journalists, and other professionals can record speaker sessions or lectures so that they have in-depth notes for later reference when writing their documentations or reports. With the help of a transcribing service, an organization holding a conference or a seminar can request that the length of their recordings be transcribed so they can later disseminate it to attendees. Seminar or lecture transcripts can also be helpful so that attendees can share it to their colleagues who were not able to attend the event.
  3. Government institutions - Since the Section 508 amendment, government institutions have been federally mandated to make all public information accessible to people with disabilities. Government institutions produce all types of media including audio and video. Considering the huge amount of media being produced on a regular basis, these institutions can commission the help of a transcription service to produce transcripts or subtitles that would supplement audio or video materials when disseminating to the public.
  4. Business organizations - Businesses and corporations rely on the effective communication of all efforts in working towards their business goals. This includes corporate announcements, investor relations calls, and even just internal conference calls. With this in mind, some business organizations turn to transcription services so they can have transcripts of internal and external meetings, conference calls, and possibly trainings held by the organization. Transcribing services can process hours of meetings and conference call recordings for transcription and still deliver within quick turnarounds in comparison to in-house transcriptions that may hinder revenue-generating processes in the organization.
  5. Religious/spiritual organizations - Religious or spiritual organizations use general transcription services to build their audiences and reach more of their members through various means. Nowadays, various religious and spiritual faiths cater to their listeners online through videocasts and podcasts that can be supplemented with transcripts so they can be disseminated more freely and easily.
  6. Media outfits - News outlets, video production firms, and other outfits that produce audio and videos acquire transcriptions to aid in audio and video editing as well as to supplement their video materials with captions or subtitles. Many transcription outfits have streamlined services where they can process the audio or video for transcription and then integrate the text onto video captioning. Transcripts also help these media outfits in ensuring the audio and video assets they publish online are easily found through search engine optimization.
  7. Medical organizations - Various types of research in the medical field require extensive analysis of critical data and information. Like market research and academic research, medical research such as pharmacological studies, clinical trials, or medical device research may involve hours of recordings and interviews. To cater to these specialized needs, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, or other medical research institutions hire transcription services who have extensive experience with medical terms or jargon to ensure the accuracy of every transcription. These transcription services are required to be compliant to the United States HIPAA requirements which safeguards all kinds of medical information.
  8. Legal/investigative organizations - Legal proceedings are recorded and documented with transcriptions done by court reporters or stenographers. These proceedings can either be transcribed while it is ongoing or after the event. Legal transcripts can then be used by judges, attorneys, reporters, or the public, by request. Unlike general transcription, legal transcription can only be done by court-certified transcriptionists or transcription services. Investigative transcription on the other hand is commissioned by organizations that conduct investigations that require interviewing individuals for supporting evidence - this can include police investigations and insurance investigations. While this type of transcription can be done in-house, legal or investigative organizations may commission a transcribing company to accommodate bulk recordings for transcription that may otherwise slow down an ongoing investigation.

Advantages of Outsourcing Transcriptions

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Outsourcing work to a general transcription service offers you a wide variety of particular features and three fundamental advantages:
  1. Time savings - The time you aren’t spending transcribing files or editing automated transcriptions is time you can spend more productively in your particular professional role. Whether that means seeing more patients, meeting with more clients, having more time to research, or something else entirely, you will experience the benefit of using your time more productively.
  2. Ability to handle bulk transcriptions - When your work involves a high volume of content—and particularly when that content is not generated on a set schedule—you need a solution that can handle bulk transcriptions with accuracy and ease. For instance, if you are a market researcher, your projects may create a high volume of transcription work in short bursts with timelines that are difficult to predict in advance. You might need transcriptions of twenty recorded interviews for one client followed by thirty for a different client, each with different and shifting deadlines.
  3. Expertise - Transcribing services are experienced and bring a level of focus on perfecting transcripts of your recordings that freelancers and voice to text (V2T) options cannot match. Transcribing services are well-equipped with tools that improve efficiency and accuracy, are well-versed in a wide variety of tasks and formats, and offer secure transcriptions backed by legal guarantees of confidentiality.   

Where to Find Transcribers and Transcribing Services

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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.

Types of Transcribing Services

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The field of transcription encompasses a wide variety of applications. Following are some of the most commonly used types of transcriptions.
Market Research

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 and Corporations

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.

Academic Research

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.

Medical

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

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.

Seminars and Webinars

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.

Podcasts

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.

Sermons

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.

Video Captioning and Subtitling

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

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.

Must-Have Transcription Features

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General transcription services will vary in terms of the features they offer you but some elements are fundamental. Following are five must-have features to look for when finding a transcription service.
Verbatim 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.   

Speaker Identification

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

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

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.

Template and Format Customization

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.

Fool-Proof Transcription Process

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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.

File Uploading

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.

Audio Processing

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.

Transcribing Phase

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.

Final Review

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.

Transcription Pricing and Turnaround Time

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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.

How Much Do Transcription Services Cost?

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.   

Conclusion

Outsourcing your transcriptions to a service can feel like a daunting task at first but it should ultimately be an effortless and rewarding process. To find a transcription service that meets your needs, ask yourself what your transcription priorities are:
  • Do you need the highest possible level of accuracy? Automated transcriptions still lag far behind human transcriptionists when it comes to accuracy. Only a general transcription service like TranscriptionWing can provide accuracy rates over 90 percent.
  • Are you concerned about the security of your recordings and transcripts? TranscriptionWing takes security seriously; its culture of confidentiality is backed by processes, technology, legal guarantees, and an independent compliance audit to give clients the utmost peace of mind.
  • Do you rely on features that make transcripts easy to search and reference? TranscriptionWing’s audio tagging feature ListenLink™ was the first in the general transcription market and it can customize a range of embedded features. Customization and flexibility are possible in everything, from uploaded file types and transcript formats to feature combinations and delivery times.
  • Do you want a seamless process from upload through delivery? A user-friendly interface and attentive customer service are among TranscriptionWing’s guaranteed features. You can upload up to 10 files at once, easily adjust turnaround time, make notations and special requests, and always reach a customer service representative if necessary.
  • Do rush jobs keep you awake at night?  TranscriptionWing offers turnaround times as fast as 4 hours or the following business day. Find a pricing and turnaround option that works best for you!
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