What does 'Transcribing' mean?
Transcribing or 'transcription' is a synonym for ‘writing out’ or 'typing out' and also a crucial part of qualitative research. During the research, discussions are often held with people (1-to-1 interviews, group discussions, focus groups etc.) that have to be analyzed. The conversations must be typed out for the analysis.
If you have never had to deal with transcription, do not underestimate it!
Transcribing is a subject in its own right because there are different forms and guidelines to make the right transcript for the right application and because it is a time-consuming process.
What forms of transcription exist?
There are 2 forms of transcribing: verbatim and edited. Depending on the purpose of transcribing, one or the other is more suitable.
Literal transcription, also called verbatim, aims to record the way 'how something is said'. During literal transcribing a letter-by-letter transcript is written out which the speakers follows as accurately and completely as possible.
This also means that stopwords, repetitions, snaps, words that are broken down or colloquial words are literally typed out, such as::
Safe words: Euhms and aahs
Repetitions: 'I just say, the region ... the Brabant region euh, that euh, that's the focus'
Stutter: "It's mainly about the the the region in Brabant."
Demolished words: 'We will be back to the municipal meeting next wee-, what is the name? City council meeting together '
Spoken language:' Here we are all together '
Because people often do not speak grammatically correctly and sentences can often become long, it takes more time and effort to read literal transcripts. Yet in many cases it is necessary to transcribe literally.
When is it important to transcribe literally?
In qualitative research where the intonation of respondents is important
In research where the way in which something is said, is crucial
In psychological research
In transcripts for legal purposes
Edited transcription, also called 'clean' transcription, aims at the content of a conversation in a clearly legible form. Half sentences, aborted words and stop words are ignored and the transcriptionist writes the conversation grammatically correct (as far as possible). With an edited transcript, the content of a conversation is perfectly reproduced, while the way in which something is said is less important.
When is edited transcription used?
For interviews that serve as a basis for articles or documentaries
For qualitative research where the content of the conversation is in focus
At meetings that have to be published
Notes that you have only recorded for yourself
Read here more about verbatim vs. edited transcribing.
Transcribing yourself or outsourcing?
If you have to make transcripts for an investigation or for another project, you have 2 choices. You either do it yourself (which takes a lot of time) or you outsource it and have it done by a professional agency (which of course costs money).
Transcription takes a lot of time. Transcribing an interview with a duration of 1 hour or a group conversation normally takes 5 to 6 hours.
Read here: How much time does transcription take?
For an investigation with 10 hours of interview material you can easily lose 50-60 working hours.
There are tools such as software and hardware that can help you, but transcription remains a process that you should not underestimate.
The question of whether you are going to do it yourself or whether you will outsource it is only a matter of the budget you have at your disposal.
Transcribing by an agency
There are agencies on the market that specialize in transcribing interviews and group discussions. The advantage is that you often get the transcripts back quicker and that you do not have to spend hours transcribing yourself.
When outsourcing, third parties are often less familiar with your research. It is therefore possible that your technical terms or product names are won’t be correctly transcribed. It is also true that people who were not present during the conversation sometimes can not understand words 100% correctly. Even though these are professional agencies, you can not expect the transcript to be 100% correct, but that it has a high probability of 99%.
What does transcription cost?
The price for a transcript is determined on the basis of the length of the audio file. So you calculate, for example, per audio minute or per hour of audio.
Factors such as 'number of speakers', ‘comprehensibility’, 'sound quality', ‘edited VS verbatim’,' with or without time stamps’ and 'accents' are a reason for many agencies to increase the price per audio minute.
The difference between the prices of different agencies is quite large. Currently, the market price per transcription minute is between 1.30 € and 5.00 € (including VAT). So transcribing an interview of 60 minutes can cost between € 78.00 and € 300.00 while the quality of most desks is equally good.
Transcribing yourself takes a lot of time, but it also has the advantage that you go deeply into your own research. Every time you listen to the audio recording, you secretly already do a large part of your analysis. You understand what speakers mean and how something is said and then save valuable time during the analysis.
Read here: 6 handy tips to transcribe your interviews faster
But you don’t want to waste time. There are several tips to transcribe faster using software, hardware and a structured process.
Transcription software are programs that make it easier to transcribe by, for example, offering shortcuts that automatically add time stamps or speakers their name. You can also easily play and pause the audio. The biggest difference is whether you opt for a software with or without automatic transcription.
Automatic transcription software
Automatic transcription software such as AmberScript uses artificial intelligence and speech recognition to automatically transcribe interviews. You can upload your audio files and you will receive an automatically generated transcript.
Because the accuracy is rather sensitive to poor audio quality and because the technology is not perfect yet, you have to check and correct the automatic transcript again.
The advantage of automatic transcription is that you only have to correct it instead of having to write the whole text all over again. If your interviews are recorded with good quality, you can save a lot of time and thus transcribe more interviews in less time.
Read here: 4 Tips for recording your interviews with high audio quality
Non-automatic transcription software
There are a number of software tools that can help you save time during typing. In a handy editor you can quickly type out the text, play the audio faster or slower, and insert time stamps. Here a short overview of the most common programs:
F4 (windows) and f5 (Mac):
F4 and F5 offer cheap student licenses (from € 25.00). The program is easy to operate and offers all the functionalities you need to transcribe quickly. So you can easily play and stop the text, you can set the speed of audio, you can easily name speakers, insert speaker changes and time stamps are automatically inserted.
Dragon Naturally Speaking:
Dragon is a dictation software that you can train on your own voice. Once the software has been trained, you can dictate text error-free. This is called re-speaking. So you would listen to your interviews and repeat the text again via Dragon. Also commands such as 'point', 'comma' and 'new paragraph' are recognized. Dictation can save a lot of time, but you also have to spend some time training your own voice and you have to get used to 're-speaking' techniques.
Express Scribe is a cheap program that offers all the basic functionalities for transcribing. You have convenient shortcuts that let you play the audio more easily or pause. The trial version is free.
Professional transcribers work with hardware that can make transcribing easier. This includes 2 things: A good headset (or ears) and a foot pedal.
Foot pedal for transcribing
A foot pedal is used during transcribing to easily play and stop the sound while your hands can continue to type.
If you type a call of about 1 hour, the final document can often be 20 to 35 DiN A4 pages long. You will start and stop the audio thousands of times. A foot pedal ensures that you get into the flow more easily and are interrupted less often.
Foot pedals are already available under 100 €. If you have to transcribe regularly, the investment is worth the effort!
In our experience, this product is the most suitable:
Philips ACC2320 - from 89.00
There are also total solutions available where, in addition to a foot pedal, you immediately buy a good headset and transcription software such as:
Headsets or earphones for transcribing
Audio quality is one of the most important factors for transcription. The sound recording must be good enough for people (or a machine) to understand words correctly, but the sound reproduction must also be good enough to understand nuances properly.
We always recommend transcribing with headphones or with earphones. With speakers from, for example, a laptop or mobile phone, it is often difficult to understand unclear spoken words. A good headset can make a world of difference and helps you to get into the flow more easily.
In addition to headsets or earphones on your mobile phone, over-ear headphones with noise-cancellation can be pleasant to shut yourself completely down from the outside world. Cool Blue offers a nice overview of the latest models:
An efficient process to transcribe
It is extremely dangerous to waste hours of time while transcribing. To avoid this, here are a few tips that make transcribing easier:
1) Schedule time to transcribe after the interview
This way the conversation is still fresh in your memory and you will find that your words are easier to understand.
2) Avoid talking and interrupting each other.
It is incredibly difficult and time-consuming to transcribe when several people talk through each other. Fortunately, you are in the lead as an interviewer and you can influence who is speaking when. Be aware of this and actively steer that your discussion partners do not talk to each other.
3) Ensure good sound quality
The setting of a conversation and the recording equipment have a major impact on the sound quality. Quiet spaces (such as meeting rooms) are ideal for recording interviews and group discussions. Avoid crowded places such as cafes or bars if possible. We also recommend using a good microphone to avoid disturbing noises and to keep the audio quality as high as possible.
4) Give the files a clear name
Many applications that record audio give the files names like 'sound recording 1'. This way you quickly lose the overview. Names like 'Conversation Jeroen 8. January' are much easier to find back
5) Start transcribing good ahead of the deadline.
As mentioned before, transcribing takes a lot of time. The last thing you want is that you realize a few days before your deadline that you still have to transcribe.
6) Plan your breaks and try not to transcribe too
After2-3 hours, many people start making mistakes. This is because you are no longer sharp and the 'grind' comes in. Take a break or transcribe the next day, because transcribing requires optimal focus.
Summary - Transcription in a nutshell
Transcription is a crucial part of qualitative research. Make sure you choose the right transcription form for your project. As a guideline we recommend to transcribe verbatim if the intonation of the speakers is important. Edited transcription focuses on the content of the saying and is easier to read.
If you prefer to outsource the transcription work, make sure that you work with the right agency and that you submit your assignment on time. Also schedule time to review transcripts from the agency to correct specific terms and names.
If you want to transcribe yourself, make sure you use the right tools to make your life a lot easier. Use (automatic) transcription software, hardware and a structured process to complete your project on time and plan enough time so that you do not get stressed.
If you have any questions about transcription, please send us a message via the chat or to firstname.lastname@example.org